Sri Lanka is to bolster its air force by buying four Mig-27s from Ukraine as its battle with the Tamil Tiger rebels intensifies, a government minister said, according to AFP.

      Policy Planning Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Ukraine would also overhaul four identical ground attack aircraft already with the island`s airforce.

      The four new planes will be delivered shortly to the airforce, which carries out regular air raids against Tamil rebels in the island`s north and east.

      The deal is worth 9.8 million dollars, according to press reports.

      Rambukwella said he did not have price details for the second-hand, swing-wing MiGs, which will boost the airforce fleet of a handful of Israeli-built Kfir and Chinese-made F-7 ground attack aircraft.

      "What we are paying to buy four used planes is less than what a friendly country quoted for the refurbishment of four (existing) planes," Rambukwella said on Friday.

      Sri Lanka`s airforce resumed air attacks against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in April after the guerrillas were blamed for a suicide assassination attempt on army chief Sarath Fonseka.

      Kfir and MiG-27 aircraft have been bombing suspected Tiger positions despite a truce that has been in place since February 2002. The military maintains that the attacks were pre-emptive strikes.

      Sri Lanka bought MiG-27 ground attack planes in 2000, shortly after rebels overran the key Elephant Pass garrison that controls land access to the northern Jaffna peninsula in April 2000.

      In August 2000, a Ukranian pilot was killed when a MiG-27 crashed near the international airport.

      A second MiG-27 was lost when the Tigers destroyed aircraft parked at an airforce base adjoining the international airport in July 2001. Another MiG-27 crashed into a lagoon near the airport in June 2004.

      Sri Lanka`s airforce had also lost 19 aircraft between April 1995 and April 1997. Some were shot down by rebels who have at least two micro-light aircraft, according to the government, as well astheir own airfield.

      Colombo Lanka has raised the defence budget by 45 percent to 139 billion rupees (1.28 billion dollars) for calendar 2007.