6:47 AM

Indian warships to shield PM during SAARC meet in Lanka

India is not taking any chances with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's security during his visit to Colombo for the SAARC summit early next month.

The Centre is planning to despatch three warships, including two frontline guided-missile destroyers, to Sri Lankan waters as security cover for the PM and his entourage from the much-feared LTTE.

With national security adviser M K Narayanan personally looking into the issue due to the "high threat perception" from the LTTE, hectic consultations are on between India and Sri Lanka to ensure fool-proof security arrangements. As the Tamil Tigers are known to use suicide bombers, there can be no room for mistakes.

With the LTTE having both air and naval wings, and even using trained deep-sea divers for underwater suicide missions, Indian experts obviously do not want to take any chances. What must also be weighing on the minds of the Indian agencies is the LTTE's success in using light aircraft to bomb a military airfield near Colombo without the radar detecting it.

Sources said the contingent of the Special Protection Group (SPG)—which provides "proximate security" to the PM—would be much larger this time as compared to the PM's other foreign visits. While the eight-day summit will begin on July 27, the PM will attend it only on the last two days.

Apart from Sri Lankan security personnel, security cover will be bolstered by the three Indian warships, including a Delhi-class destroyer and a Rajput-class destroyer, equipped with Sea King and Chetak helicopters.

"They will be geared to meet the entire spectrum of security requirements," said a source. The 6,900-tonne Delhi-class destroyer, with a 360-crew, for instance, is "a power-projection warship" capable of operating even in an NBC (nuclear-chemical-biological) environment, with a wide array of missiles and weapon systems.

There is even talk of IAF helicopters being deployed in the skies over Colombo for aerial surveillance of high-security zones like the Colombo Fort and Kolpetty areas, apart from strengthening the air defence cover around the summit.

The high-profile Indian armed presence is bound to attract some criticism in Sri Lanka. In fact, a section is already up in arms over the high costs of security, including hundreds of bullet-proof vehicles. Some nationalist groups are upset with reports that Indian security personnel will "swamp" Colombo when the PM is there.

Source: Time of India