Govt clears Pillay’s air travel snag

by shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lankan government has assured Abraham Mathai, Chief Security Advisor to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, that she could fly safely to any part of the country in fixed wing SLAF aircraft or in helicopters operated by Heli Tours an enterprise managed by the SLAF.

Authoritative sources told The Island that the assurance had been given by senior security officials late last week inn the wake of Mathai asserting that Pillai preferred to fly in privately managed local fixed wing aircraft.

Pillay is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka late next month. Sources said that Pillay’s delegation would visit Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee. The delegation was likely to pass through the recently commissioned SLAF runaway at Iranamadu, in the Vanni east, sources said.

The Defence Ministry told The Island that UNSG Ban Ki moon, during his visit to Sri Lanka in the immediate aftermath of the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, had flown in an SLAF chopper.

Sources said that the government had pointed out that the SLAF operated twin-engine aircraft, but the UN had chosen a single engine aircraft.

The government pointed out to the visiting delegation that except for the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and Mattala airport, all other airports in the country are managed by the SLAF though privately owned choppers and fixed wing aircraft use them. Having toured the northern and eastern areas, the UN delegation said that Pillay would fly with the SLAF. The visit helped to dispel their fears. However, the UN ruled out flying with Heli Tours. Sources said that this was due to certain interested parties depicting a bad picture, though the airline adhered to all civil aviation regulations.

The SLAF is likely to make available a Y 12 for Pillay’s delegation.

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