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DateLine Saturday, 17 January 2009

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Security Forces capable of safeguarding civilians - Army Chief

Security Forces are ready to take up the challenge of safeguarding civilians in the Vanni liberation operation despite the ongoing battle shifting to areas where the LTTE is keeping innocent civilians under their arrest, Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka told the Daily News yesterday.

“Although we have entered into a sensitive area, we can handle this situation effectively as Security Forces did in the East,” the Army Commander said referring to the situation that existed in Vakarai and Batticaloa West and South.

He said the number of civilians entrapped in uncleared areas will be much lesser than the numbers given to the Government as the LTTE exaggerates this figure for their benefit.

“The entrapped must be less than 100,000,” the Commander added.

According to statistics, 2,732 civilians have arrived in Security Forces’ controlled areas from January 1 to 15. During last year 1,699 civilians fled LTTE controlled areas and reached Security Forces’ controlled areas.

“The number of civilians arriving in Security Forces held areas will increase within the next few days as troops are advancing into LTTE controlled areas,” he added.

Asked whether the Army is ready to open the A-9 road for civilians, the Army Commander said the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 highway will be opened soon for the public, once Security Forces take the A-9 road out of LTTE artillery range. Some sections of the road still fall within the artillery range of the LTTE.

He said it would take some time for Security Forces to clear mines along the A-9 road which is a prerequisite for the opening of the A-9 road for civilians.

However, the Army Commander said it won’t take long.

“We should pass the benefits of the liberation of the A-9 road immediately to the Jaffna people and it will happen very soon,” the Army Commander said.

He said the road should be repaired in some areas between Muhamalai and Elephant Pass before it is open for civilians and troop movements.

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