By Ranga Jayasuriya
A curtain of fear is coming down on the Jaffna peninsula as unidentified gunmen return and, sometimes, white vans resurface. Three killings and two abductions reported within a fortnight have sent shock waves within a Jaffna populace that has gone through much in the past.
Last Sunday, deputy director of education, Markandu Sivalingam was shot dead at his residence in Urumpirai . Armed men who came in a motorcycle shot Sivalingam, 52, on his chest and calmly drove away.
Later in the week, the mangled body of Mahendran Thiruvarudchelvam, a vehicle dealer was found dumped on the roadside.
The victim was abducted a week ago, and his abductors had demanded 8 million rupees as ransom.
Jaffna sources who requested anonymity said the victim’s body bore the marks of torture and that his throat has been slashed.
Earlier on December 10, the chief priest of Murukamoorththi Kovil in Valikaamam Niththiyantha Sharma, was shot dead and his two sons were wounded when gunmen raided his Kovil in an attempted robbery.
Priest Sharma was fatally shot when he confronted the gunmen, and he was pronounced dead on admission to Jaffna Hospital.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, local sources reported that another youth had been abducted by unidentified men who arrived in a white van. The youth was picked up while he was riding his bicycle in Urumpirai; the same area where the educationist Sivalingam was shot dead last week.
Police had denied any knowledge of the abduction and contested statements made by eye witnesses who alleged that the youth had been abducted.
Worst yet to come
A senior Jaffna journalist who requested anonymity lamented that people feared that recent abductions and killings were only the beginning and that the worst was yet to come.
‘People are scared, they are scared to talk about these incidents’, he quipped when asked who the people think the killers are.
“After one year of peace, killings have begun and the white van has returned. People are afraid. They don’t know whom to approach for help,” he said.
He repeated an oft asked question: How could the killers escape and the white vans operate without the knowledge of the military which has an all encompassing presence in the Jaffna peninsula?
M.K. Shivajilingam, former Jaffna District MP of the Tamil National Alliance and a presidential candidate echoed the same sentiments.
“There are 40,000 army and 10,000 police personnel in Jaffna. Why can’t they stop these killings? How can killings take place without their knowledge?”
“We feel someone is organizing and overseeing these incidents to keep people of Jaffna in a climate of fear.”
However , when pressed on this issue, military spokesman Major General Ubaya Medawala retorted: “army can stop abductions, if they are not part of Jaffna’s system. No one is going from Colombo to Jaffna to carry out abductions. These activities are carried out by Jaffna people against Jaffna people. It’s neighbours who are holding their neighbours at gun point to take ransom.”
He alleged that there were personal and family disputes which have culminated in abductions and killings in Jaffna.
“If people withhold information and don’t inform army about criminal gangs, what can the army do?”
He however was quick to add that some people provided information and that the crime rate in Jaffna was lower than in the rest of the country.
Police sources investigating the murder of Markandu Sivalingam, the deputy director of education confided that preliminary investigations have revealed that the killing had been carried out due to personal rivalry.
A Jaffna source who requested anonymity told this newspaper that people were worried that a military intelligence unit was behind at least some of the recent killings.
The vehicle dealer Mahendran Thiruvarudchelvam who was abducted and killed was a resident of the Wanni who came to Jaffna after he was released from an IDP camp.
The Army has denied involvement.
Shivajilingam, the former MP laments that peace has not dawned in Jaffna even one and half years after the end of the war.
“With local government elections to be held soon, perpetrators of recent violence would step up activities to terrorize people,” he cautions.
He queries: How can the government say Jaffna is free , when people are abducted in broad daylight?
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