Top Army official appointed to strengthen security at A'pura

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Colombo, Oct 23 (UNI) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has appointed a top military official to strengthen the security of the north-central Anuradhapura district, a day after an attack by Tamil Tigers on a key Air Force base in the region.

''Major General Sanath Karunaratne has been appointed as the Overall Operations Commander for the Anuradhapura district by the President from immediate effect. All the units of the armed forces and police will be under him for operational purposes,'' a top government official told UNI over the phone.

''This was one of the measures taken to strengthen the security of the ancient city of Anuradhapura,'' the government official said.

A 21-member 'Black Tiger' suicide squad infiltrated into the well-fortified Air Force base and carried out a major pre-dawn attack yesterday destroying at least three aircraft, including two Russian-built MI-24 helicopters, and killing 13 airmen.

Although there are reports saying that several military and spy aircraft were damaged during this attack, there was no official confirmation in this regard.

The military said while the LTTE suicide cadres were carrying out attacks inside the Air base, two LTTE light wing aircraft dropped two bombs on the base before dawn and returned safely to their hideouts in the rebel-held Wani before the Air Force took steps to intercept them.

This was the first ever coordinated land-air strike (LTTE) code-named ''Operation Ellalan'' by the rebels, although they have carried out four air strikes on selected military targets since March this year both in Colombo and in the North.

Troops engaged in clearing operations have recovered 20 dead bodies of the LTTE within the air base premises and arrangements are being made to hand them over to the rebels through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Former military spokesman, Maj Gen Karunaratne is presently the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Sri Lankan Army's 11 Division and the new appointment came in addition to his present duties and responsibilities.

Prior to his appointment as the GOC of the 11 Division, Maj Gen Karunaratne was the GOC of the 55 Division manning the forward defences at the northern entry/exit point at Muhamalai when the fighting was raging with the rebels last year.

Air Force Commander Air Vice Marshal Roshan Gunatillake has appointed two separate committees to probe the incidents that took place in Anuradhapura yesterday.

A five-member committee has been appointed to probe into the LTTE attack on the Air Force base while another four-member committee has been appointed for separate investigations into the crash of the Bell 212 helicopter that killed four airmen at Mihintale, some eight kilometers away from Anuradhapura.


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