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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Sri Lanka to resume Jaffna flights
Destroyed SriLankan Airlines plane
Tamil Tigers attacked the international airport last year
Private airlines will resume passenger flights to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka on Monday. The peninsula had been cut off from the rest of country during years of civil war.

Three airlines - the national carrier SriLankan Airlines, Expo-Aviation and Air Lanka International - have been certified to make flights.

Expo will make a trial flight with Civil Aviation Authority officials, journalists and staff on Saturday.

"We have completely sold out our first flight on Monday," Expo chief executive Sabri Marakar told BBC News Online.

Air Lanka has delayed the launch of its service for two weeks due to technical problems with its planes, a spokeswoman said.

Flights resumed

The government halted all private flights to Jaffna, 300 kilometres north of the capital Colombo, in September 1996 over fears they could be targeted by Tamil Tiger separatists.

A plane carrying 55 passengers and crew disappeared over Jaffna in October 1998, though there was no evidence that it was shot down by the Tigers.

The Tigers did attack the country's only international airport near Colombo last July, destroying three of SriLankan Airlines' planes, half of the fleet.

The government and the rebels agreed in February to a cease-fire, brokered by Norway, and peace talks are likely to be held in Thailand in June or July.

New services

Expo Aviation, part of the Expolanka conglomerate, began operations as an international cargo airline five years ago.

The Jaffna flight will be Expo's first passenger service, using a 100-seater IL-18 aircraft.

Two flights a day are planned "depending on demand" said Mr Marakar.

Air Lanka will fly between Colombo and Jaffna twice a day, seven days a week using either an IL-18 or Fokker plane.

Air Lanka International is not connected with AirLanka or SriLankan Airlines, which was formally known as AirLanka.

Jaffna access

Travel to Jaffna has been almost non-existent because the Tigers controlled parts of the only highway running north.

The only access was by boat from the eastern port city of Trincomalee or with flights arranged by Helitours, the commercial arm of the Sri Lankan Air Force.

Under the cease fire agreement, the highway to Jaffna was opened for public traffic last month.

The airlines will initially operate only passenger flights, because cargo facilities are inadequate at the Jaffna airport, a government official said.

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 ON THIS STORY
Sabri Marakar, chief executive, Expo-Aviation
"The peace process is on track and the ceasefire holding, so it is safe."

Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

30 May 02 | South Asia
28 May 02 | Business
08 Apr 02 | South Asia
04 Apr 02 | South Asia
18 Mar 02 | Business
31 May 02 | Business
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