Why are troops denied use of A9?

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Controversy surrounds a government decision to charter a large ferry to transfer police and security forces personnel between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai (KKS) without taking advantage of a cease-fire agreement to use the Jaffna-Kandy A9 road.

Official sources said that the government decided to charter a ferry capable of carrying about 700 personnel with a cargo capacity of 35-40 tons on a priority basis. The decision was taken subsequent to a top level political-security delegation tour of Jaffna when troops complained of extremely poor transport facilities to and from Palaly.

Security sources pointed out that under the truce agreement reached in February last year, unarmed government security forces and police will have unrestricted passage between Jaffna and Vavuniya using the Jaffna-Kandy A9 road. Troop convoys were to be permitted on the main road by April 22 last year, the sources said. "For eleven months we did not take advantage of this facility," the sources said, pointing out the LTTE took full advantage of the agreement to move overland to all parts of the North-East across government-held positions.

The government, the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) were to work out modalities in this regard within weeks after the agreement. But the government did not press on with it, the sources said, adding that chartering and deployment of a ferry would cost a big amount. It would be ridiculous not to seek an agreement on a priority basis to use the A9, the sources said, adding that the convoys would have to be protected by the SLMM.

The sources said that thousands of troops continued to face serious difficulties in obtaining transport to and from the peninsula as the airforce did not have the required number of operational aircraft to meet the demand. The SLAF’s two US built medium lift C 130s remained grounded for over a year.

The aircraft could not be re-deployed until they were subjected to what a senior official described as a complete servicing abroad. The SLAF’s fleet of AN 32s was also not fully operational, the source said.