As the armed forces rehearsed in Colombo for Sri Lanka s 61st Independence Day celebration, the 58 Division yesterday notched another significant battlefield victory when it captured the seventh and the last LTTE airstrip north-east of Piramantharukulam in the Puthukudirippu area.
The LTTE had abandoned the two-kilometre long airstrip situated west of Sundarapuram, Thirivilaru after a series of confrontations in the area, the army said. The tarmac was 350 meters in length and 50 meters wide, the army said, adding that the tarmac had been partitioned into sixteen sections most probably to use it as a hangar.
All seven airstrips had been found in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts. Army headquarters said that territorial gains by fighting formations on the eastern flank over the past few days, had reduced the area under LTTE control to about 200 square kilometres.
The 55 Division pushing southwards towards recently liberated Mullaitivu on the north-eastern coast, overran an LTTE earth bund and was now poised to regain Chalai, the army said.
Today s Independence Day celebration would, in many ways be more meaningful than it has been for many decades, due to armed forces triumph over the LTTE, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island.
`We celebrate this year at the threshold of armed forces finest victory on the Vanni front,` he said.
The army, he said, was on the verge of finishing off the enemy after a gruelling battle over the past two and half years. He commended the navy, air force and police for what he called the pivotal role they played in the longest ever combined security forces campaign.
This year s armed forces parade spearheaded by the infantry will be the largest ever involving armoured fighting vehicles, mobile multi-barrel rocket launchers as well as aircraft and ships.
The army parade would involve 2,300 officers and men, a spokesman said. Armour, artillery and infantry would make their presence felt.
The SLAF parade will comprise its band, five squadrons of airmen and airwomen including one representing Regimental Special Forces. The fly-past will be led by Bell 412s of the Katunayake-based VIP squadron. They will be followed by Mi 17s, Mi 24s, Y 12s, K8s, F7s, Kfirs and MiG 27s. SLAF spokesperson Wing Commander Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara told The Island that one A 32 and two C 130s would join the fly-past. According to him, this would be the first time both C 130 medium lift aircraft would on flying in formation. Responding to our queries, he said that almost all their assets would be on display. The highlight would be an aelorn roll performed by the MiGs, he said.
Navy spokesperson Captain D. K. P. Dassanayake told The Island that their contingent on parade would include the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS). Forty three locally built craft of three categories, three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) namely SLNS Sayura, SLNS Sagara and SLNS Samudura, fast missile vessel Suranimala, two Chinese gunboats and six Fast Attack Craft (FACs) would be among the vessels on display, he said.
This wouldn t jeopardize the ongoing naval blockade off Mullaitivu. The navy has deployed a large force to deny Sea Tigers access to the sea. He said that both the SBS and RABS (Rapid Action Boat Squadron) would show their skills.