A9 highway reopens

[TamilNet, Friday, 15 February 2002, 11:14 GMT]
(News Feature) Sri Lanka's main A9 highway, the target of an abortive and bloody 18-month Army offensive in the mid nineties was reopened Friday morning from Vavuniya up to Killinochchi, as part of ongoing efforts to de-escalate the conflict. The move provides greater access for people and supplies to the Liberation Tigers held Vanni region on which successive government in Colombo clamped an economic embargo for more than a decade. Goods were scheduled to flow into the area Friday, while seven hundred people waiting on either side of the former separating line had been cleared to cross. "Civilians would be allowed to travel to and from LTTE held Vanni region through these roads after their identities are checked and only five days a week between 8 am and 5 pm," authoritative sources told TamilNet.

The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) around 9 Friday morning opened the A9 highway northwards from Omanthai and the Liberation Tigers opened the southern end of the section of the road which falls within their areas, civilian sources said.

The ceremonial function on the SLA side was held at Vilakkuvaithakulam checkpoint where three Ministers of the United National Front government, Messrs Milinda Morogoda, Noordeen Masoor and R.A.D.Sirisena accompanied by the SLA Commander Lionel Balagalle, the Government Agent, Vavuniya Mr.S.Ganesh and several others security high officials participated.

About seven hundred civilian passengers at Vilakkuvaiththakulam checkpoint were allowed to travel to areas held by LTTE. The SLA personnel checked their identities and belongings before allowing them to enter Tiger held areas, sources said. A similar number of people were scheduled to move in the other direction, the sources added.

The opening ceremony of Mannar-Uyilankulam road was held Friday afternoon around 1.10 p.m at the 8th mile post. One of the civilians who arrived at the scene to go to LTTE held Vanni region declared open the road for the public at the invitation of Minister Mr.Milinda Morogoda.

Ministers Morogoda and Noordeen Masoor accompanied by the SLA Commander Lionel Balagalle and the Co-ordinating Secretary of the Prime Minister Mr. Bernard Tilakeratne arrived by a SLAF helicopter to witness the opening of Uyilankulam road. About fifty passengers were allowed to to go to LTTE held Vanni region by the SLA after their belongings were searched.

With the opening of A/9 high way, Pirmananaalankulam entry point had been closed for civilians and vehicular traffic. The road through Piramanaalankulam - Madhu to the Vanni, which was the sole access route to the LTTE held region till Friday , has been completely sealed for any traffic.

The A9 was originally sealed when the Sri Lankan Army launched Operation Jaya Sikurui ('Victory Assured' in Sinhala) to take the highway on 13 May 1997. An access route to the Vanni for civilians was then opened through Uyilankulam, 18 kilometres southeast of Mannar. It was an excruciating detour of 112 kilometres along dilapidated dirt tracks through dry zone forests. This route too was closed when the SLA captured the region west of the A9 between Omanthai and Mankulam in mid 1999 in a series of offensives codenamed Rana Gosha ('Battle cry' in Sinhala).

The A9 was opened again as the access route to the Vanni at Mankulam through the SLA's heavily fortified forward defences. However, the route remained open only for a few days when the Liberation Tigers began a massive military offensive called Operation Unceasing Waves - III in November 1999 and recaptured in a week the vast swath of land that the SLA had fought hard for more than two years to seize and consolidate. In this offensive, a brigade group of the LTTE, backed by artillery and heavy mortar barrages, drove back the SLA to Omanthai, 17 kilometres north of Vavuniya town on the A9.

The Piramanaalankulam entry point, 28 kilometres west of Vavuniya on the raod to Mannar, was then opened for civilian traffic following the SLA debacle in the Vanni. This route too was a tedious and difficult detour of about 145 kilometres, according to Vavuniya district secretariat sources.


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