Former Defence Minister Tilak Marapana yesterday dismissed claims that the LTTE had built an operational airstrip by the time President Chandrika Kumaratunga stripped him of the Defence portfolio in early November 2003 during the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA)
The London-based LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham, at a recent meeting with Norwegian Special envoy Erik Solheim dismissed claims that they took advantage of the CFA to build an airstrip. Norway took this up recently on Sri Lanka?s request.
The Alliance government had accused the LTTE of taking advantage of the CFA to establish an airstrip big enough to accommodate fixed wing aircraft.
Balasingham had dismissed accusations on the basis that their airstrip had been existence way before the CFA came into being in February 2002.
The former Attorney General, in an interview over the phone, said that Airforce Chief Air Marshal Donald Perera assured him that there was no evidence to suggest the existence of an airstrip in the LTTE-held territory in the Vanni. This was following a thorough aerial inspection carried out by the Airforce using Israeli-built Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in mid 2003. ?Whatever was built was during the ongoing Alliance administration,? he said.
?President Chandrika Kumaratunga was obsessed with this. She raised this at the National Security Council and demanded an immediate verification,? Marapana said. Answering questions, he said that the UAVs obtained pictures of an old airstrip bombed by the Airforce during the previous PA administration. ?There were huge craters,? he said, while expressing confidence that the airstrip was in what he termed as a dilapidated when his ministry was taken over.
Marapana insisted that if an unauthorised airstrip exists in the Vanni it was definitely built after November 2003. Marapana acknowledged the existence of an airstrip but it would not be right to claim that it was put in place during the first one and half years of the CFA. The government could easily verify this with the Airforce Commander, he said.
Former Defence Secretary Austin Fernando said that he personally discussed this with Air Marshal Perera. The Air Marshal ruled out the existence of an airstrip. In fact, he was positive in his assessment based on air survey carried out by UAVs, Fernando said, dismissing ongoing efforts to blame anything and everything on the previous administration.
Austin Fernando said that they took measures to prevent the material intended for the A 9 road construction being used for any other purpose, particular for the construction of a runaway. This was following a request to relax security at the Omanthai entry/exit point, he said. This would have allowed the unrestricted supply of building materials to the Vanni. According to him the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionl Balagalle and Air Marshal Perera were consulted consequent to, what Fernando termed as, a suspicious request.