Sri Lanka to reopen crucial highway to supply 500,000 trapped civilians
Sun November 19, 2006 23:32 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The Sri Lankan government said Monday it will reopen the only highway supplying the Tamil-majority Jaffna peninsula, allowing the flow of essential supplies to half a million civilians trapped by fighting for the first time in four months.
But the rebels reacted sharply, saying the action was politically motivated.
Also on Monday, a soldier was killed in a bomb blast blamed on the rebels in Jaffna.
President Mahinda Rajapakse's office said he instructed authorities to reopen the A-9 Highway for a one-time supply run. The road was closed in August after the Tamil Tiger rebels attacked a military checkpoint at Muhamalai _ the main entry and exit point to the peninsula.
The closure of the strategic road led to the breakdown of peace talks between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government in Geneva last month.
``The president has directed government authorities to make arrangements for the transport of essential goods to Jaffna by road using the A-9 as a one-time measure,'' the president's office said in a statement.
Chief government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, told The Associated Press that the government would review the security situation and then decide whether to open the highway again.
``Security concern is the top issue and if the Tigers (rebels) behave, we will certainly open the road again,'' Rambukwella said.
``If the government is serious, it should open the road permanently,'' rebel spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan, said from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.
``This is the only logical solution,'' he said. ``The plight of the people should not be utilized for political ends, this appears to be a political gimmick,'' Ilanthirayan said.
Sri Lanka's key aid donors _ Norway, Japan and the United States and the European Union _ are scheduled to meet in Washington later Monday to review the faltering peace process. The issue of the road and the plight of the people in Jaffna are likely to figure in the agenda.
Tamil Tigers exploded a roadside bomb targeting a bus with army troops in Jaffna, said military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe. The blast killed one soldier and wounded three others.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels on the blast.
Fighting since last December _ which has included airstrikes, mine attacks, assassinations and regular exchanges of heavy arms fire _ has killed more than 3,200 combatants and civilians.
About 500,000 people in the north are facing severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies. But the government said reopening the highway would allow the rebels to freely transport weapons and fighters.
Efforts to send supplies by sea to the peninsula were hampered because of monsoon rains, rough seas and the security situation, the official said.
Rambukwella said the rebels were yet to react, but the government was going ahead with preparations. He gave no date for the reopening.
Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka citing discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before a 2002 cease-fire was signed.
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Published: Mon Nov 20 00:55:13 EST 2006