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Partners:
  Sri Lanka Army Marks 50 Years

By Gemunu Amarasinghe
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Oct. 10, 1999; 8:54 a.m. EDT

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka –– Sri Lanka's embattled army celebrated its 50th anniversary Sunday with pomp and pageantry under tight security in the capital.

The army paraded armored vehicles, artillery and other military hardware at a ceremony held at the Galle Face, a popular promenade by the sea.

The celebration was held under heavy security in a bid to ward of any possible attack by rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the country.

The military did not take chances, and soldiers frisked even distinguished guests while dogs sniffed for explosives. Suicide bombers have been blamed for assassinating several politicians in the last two years.

Plainclothes security personnel kept vigil over the guests, who included President Chandrika Kumaratunga, government ministers and diplomats.

Navy fast attack craft patrolled the nearby sea and sentries were posted along the beach, while antiaircraft guns were deployed, amid speculation in the local media that the Tigers have acquired air capabilities.

The naval wing of the guerrillas, called the "Sea Tigers," have a fleet of well-equipped boats, used to transport weapons and fighters in the northern waters and, sometimes, to carry out attacks.

The army has grown from a ragtag force of 2,500 soldiers that 50 years ago quelled trade union unrest and assisted during floods to a war machine over 100,000 strong that is fighting a brutal guerrilla war.

More than 58,000 people have been killed since the war broke out in 1983 in this small island nation off India's southern coast.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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