Kfir Plane Belonging to Sri Lanka AF Crashes

An Israel Aircraft Industries representative departed for Sri Lanka yesterday at the request of the latter's defense department, in order to assist the local air force in investigating the cause of a Kfir fighter jet crash earlier in the day.

The jet crashed minutes after taking off from Colombo on a test run. The pilot, who ejected from the aircraft, suffered minor injuries.

IAI sold 14 Kfir jets to Sri Lanka in two separate deals worth a total of $60 million, in 1995 and 2000. In the second deal, it was agreed that maintenance work would be carried out by Sri Lanka air force technicians, except in special cases in which IAI experts would be summoned to examine the problem. Before the jets were delivered to the Sri Lankan air force, they were upgraded at IAI's Lahav plant, which specializes in fighter jets.

The IAF has stopped using Kfir jets, due to its massive purchases of F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and Sky Hawk jets. Some 50 Kfirs have consequently been sold to countries in Asia and South America.

The jets are equipped with American engines, but the Pentagon acceded to Israel's request and approved their sale to Sri Lanka. The sale was also backed by the Indian government, which is concerned by the increasing power of Tamil Tiger separatist rebels and is worried that the group's activities will spread to southern India.

Kfir jets were used to bomb northern Sri Lanka during the government's 19-year war with the Tamil Tigers. The fighting has killed more than 64,500 people.

Several months before the sale in 2000, the Defense Ministry sold two missile ships to the Sri Lankan navy. At that time, the Sri Lankan government started laying the groundwork for full diplomatic ties with Israel and, with the help of a third party, Sri Lanka and Israel released a joint statement from Colombo and Jerusalem.