Monday, Jul 21, 2003
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India & World
By V.S. Sambandan
"The fast deteriorating runway poses a serious threat to aircraft operating to and from the peninsula's only airfield capable of taking fixed wing aircraft," the Sunday Island newspaper said, adding that "in a few months, it will not be safe to use the runway".
No further details of the nature of Indian assistance for restoring the Palaly runway were made public, but Colombo's efforts are said to be at a "preliminary stage".
During "Operation Jayasikuru" in the late 1990s, the Palaly airbase served as the main link between the north and the south for military movements. After last year's ceasefire agreement, private airlines began operating civilian flights to the northern peninsula, now a much sought-after mode of transport.
In terms of military importance, the Palaly airstrip holds the key to the Army's presence in the Jaffna peninsula for troop deployment as well as air response to any possible rebel attack.
After the fall of the strategically important Elephant Pass military garrison in April 2000, the LTTE targeted the Palaly airstrip in May 2000. The Tigers, however, halted the Jaffna advance in mid-May 2000, reportedly after the Sri Lankan armed forces purchased fresh military hardware. Presently, with its key demand for the re-location of the northern High Security Zones still unmet, military observers do not rule out the possibility of the LTTE exercising a military option.
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