Colombo: Sri Lanka launched an unprecedented security operation for cricket's World Twenty20 tournament starting on Tuesday, with the players also under intense surveillance over match-fixing fears.
Bodyguards from the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) and commandos of the elite Special Task Force have been deployed to guard players in a drill usually reserved for visiting heads of state, officials said.
Camillus Abeygunawardena, the top security officer for the tournament said it was the biggest security operation ever in Sri Lanka for a sporting event in the country emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic bloodshed.
"We had this level of security at last year's (cricket) World Cup, but this time we have more teams and the scale of the operation is a lot bigger," Abeygunawardena told AFP.
The authorities have also unveiled an undercover operation to ensure there was no corruption by players themselves after international cricket was rocked by match-fixing revelations last year. "Both local and international detectives have checked into hotels where the players are staying," a top security source who declined to be named said. "We are keeping a close watch on the players and their visitors."
Armed security was already deployed at team hotels where floors occupied by players have been declared out of bounds for other hotel guests. Sri Lanka co-hosted the 1996 Cricket World Cup, but Australia and West Indies kept away after Tamil rebels bombed the Central Bank in Colombo, killing 91 people and wounding 1,200 just two weeks before the tournament.
Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist war ended in May 2009 with government forces declaring victory over the separatist Tamil rebels, but no international match or players in Sri Lanka had been targeted by the militants.
Abeygunawardena said they were not taking chances and tight security would be maintained throughout the tournament and until every player had left the island safely.
"Matches like the ones between India and Pakistan would attract more crowds and naturally we will have more security for those games," he said.
He declined to give numbers of security personnel deployed for the games, but said up to 1,200 volunteers will be deployed at match venues which will also be protected by large numbers of uniformed police.
Tournament organisers took out newspaper advertisements Monday to warn fans not to bring into match venues any firearms, fireworks, alcohol or things that could be used as projectiles.
Laser pointers, mirrors, air horns, bottles, tumblers and soda cans were also banned. Among the other prohibited items were "metal rods, bamboo clubs and other types of poles."