Heavy security deployment planned for SAARC summit in Colombo (Lead, superseding earlier story)

July 25th, 2008 - 7:20 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, July 25 (IANS) The Tamil Tigers may have announced a unilateral 10-day truce but the Sri Lankan government is leaving nothing to chance for the upcoming SAARC summit. It has deployed 19,000 additional security personnel to provide protection for visiting leaders who include Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) truce between July 26 and Aug 4 was rejected by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as “a trap”.

The 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) starts at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall here Aug 2. It will be attended by leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

All these leaders will bring their own personnel to look after their security but media reports here and India indicate that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will come with scores of elite commandos of his Special Protection Group (SPG). India is also reported to be sending helicopters and bulletproof cars.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the Sri Lankan police and security forces would be in charge of the security cover for the summit.

“About 19,000 additional troops, including police personnel, will be deployed for the summit. It is a well coordinated security plan to ensure the best security cover for the summit,” Nanayakkara told IANS.

Deputy Inspector General Police Nimal Madiwaka added that the hotels where the VVIPs would stay, the convention centre and the roads leading to these venues had been declared high security zones (HSZs).

“The security for the SAARC summit will be an extension of the current security adopted in the country,” Madiwaka said, adding a special transport plan would be implemented for the HSZs Aug 1-4.

Some key roads would be closed for traffic during the two-day summit. People working in offices located inside these HSZs and important vehicles travelling into the areas would be issued special police passes. Vehicles without passes have been asked to use alternative routes.

Shuttle buses would be used to ferry passengers in the HSZ.

The Katunayake international airport has been named a high security zone, and there will be security restrictions on trains as well.

Describing the hosting of the SAARC summit as a “significant moment” in the history of the island nation, Foreign Minister Rohith Bogollagama said President Rajapaksa was “happy to showcase Sri Lanka to the international community”.

The US, Japan, China, South Korea, Iran, Mauritius and the EU will participate (at the foreign ministers level) as observer states. Australia and Myanmar are also seeking observer status.

Amid aggressive military campaigns against the Tamil Tigers in the north and a few bomb blasts in the south, the government has stepped up security measures in the capital of 650,000 people over the past year.

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