Tamil anxiety over Army camps changing demography in N-E
By Ranga Jayasuriya
Bitterness over High Security Zones continues to poison post war reconciliation. Especially, since Keheliya Rambukwella, the Defence Affairs Spokesman rhetorically responded to a media question that High Security Zones were going to stay, faint hope among the displaced Tamils for the magnanimity of the victor evaporated into thin air.
When the Cabinet met in Kilinochchi, early this month, 2000 odd families petitioned the President requesting that they be allowed to return to their original land, where the military has now built a camp.
Four thousand acres of land have been taken over in Murukandi and Kilinochchi to build a new military cantonment. The inhabitants of three villages have been displaced.
When the petition by displaced Tamils was handed over to the president, he promised that Tamils would be resettled in their original lands. But, still, they languish as displaced persons.
The government has formulated a new security strategy of ‘force concentration’ in Jaffna. According to the blue print of the new security strategy in the Jaffna peninsula, the Security Forces Headquarters of Palali, the Naval harbour in KKS and the Palali airstrip, which is part of the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters would be brought under one complex called the Security Complex Jaffna.
The plan also includes the development of the Palali airstrip to enable increased civilian air travel, funded by India. As one military official put it, “the new runway would enable anyone to take a ticket from anywhere and fly to Jaffna.” There will be a separate exit for civilian passengers at Telippalai, circumventing circuitous travel routes that civilians now have to take through the High Security Zones.
However, the new military plan necessitates acquiring land in the KKS area, a fact which has already caused ripples in Tamil circles.
The military says the High Security Zones are shrinking and at the end of the day, HSZ would be confined to KKS and Telippalai DS divisions.
The worst fear of the Tamils is a rapid change of the demography in the region, courtesy military expansion.
Suresh Premachandran MP recalls that the commander of the army meeting the Malwatte Maha Nayake Thera, had assured that the army would set up permanent cantonments in the North East, which could also accommodate family members of soldiers.
“There are 100,000 soldiers in the North-East. If everyone comes with their wives and two kids, there will be 400,000 new people in the Wanni. That would change the demography of the North overnight,” he says.
Tamils would lose their representation, he adds.
It was under the pretext of the demographic change in the North-East, that old school Tamil agitators opposed the colonization programmes --- and the LTTE massacred Sinhala settlers in those farming villages in the past.
Meanwhile the renovation of ruins of ancient Buddhist places of worship is viewed with suspicion.
But, travelling along the A 9 road to Jaffna a couple of months back—during the alleged introduction of Buddhist presence in the form of temples along the A 9 road was in full force, as reported largely by the Tamil media— this correspondent could hardly see any trace of creeping Buddhist influence as was alleged. However, given the strongly held notion, prevalent among articulate sections of Tamils of the homogeneity of the North East as a Tamil homeland, the bitterness of Tamil sentiment could well be understood.
However, whether such sentiments would help the Tamils to come to terms with post war reality is open to question.
The government has formulated a long-term security strategy, under which the security forces presence in the North East would be continued and permanent military instalments would be set up. That, according to the government is, in order to face future security challenges. Tamil militancy rose from rag tag groups of youth to a full blown semi conventional army, mainly by strangling military camps and police stations in the North East.
By dislodging the military by a series of attacks in the 80s, the LTTE secured a rear base to plan, recruit and execute attacks, a key element in the success of guerrilla warfare. The army has learnt from past mistakes. However, interestingly enough, the architect of the strategy of permanent military camps is none other than the now discarded former chief of defence staff General Sarath Fonseka, who planned to expand the army to 400,000 and instal a permanent military camp in every village.
Security concerns apart, logistical imperatives demand permanent camps in the North. The Sri Lankan army has expanded over 200,000 and added with other branches of the security forces, it surpasses 300,000. Since the government has ruled out the option of downsizing the security forces, permanent bases are an imperative to accommodate the increasing numbers of troops.
On Thursday, in line with the government’s security strategy, a new Headquarters complex for the 68 Division at Sugandirapuram, Puthukudiyiruppu was declared open by the commander of the army Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya.
Gen Jayasuriya addressing soldiers said that the setting up of new permanent camps would expedite the resettlement process as it would enable troops to vacate civilian properties they have been occupying.
The commander of the army said: “These types of permanent buildings were made possible due to pre-fabricated technology, donated by China. The government wants us to vacate all buildings, belonging to the civilian sector, so that owners of those buildings could reclaim them and help bring normalcy to the area.Civilian life should be restored and facilitated in the area. In future, once married quarters of the officers and the other ranks are set up in the respective areas, they would be able to live with their families as well while serving the areas.”
However, in contrast to the popular view that the High Security Zones would stay, senior military officials dealing with civil military affairs say they are, in fact, shrinking.
“We handed over (to civilians) Nageswaran Kovil, Thelippalai Government Hospital, Mahajana College (leading school in the are).”
He said the Gnanam Hotel was handed back to its owners last week and Subash Hotel would also be handed over in two months time.
He said 160 civilian properties in Jaffna are under the control of the military and 40 have already been handed over to their owners since the end of the war.
He listed a number of roads which were opened for civilian travel.
Uninterrupted supply of electricity has its success story, he said adding that in two Jaffna schools - Chundikulam Girls School and Jaffna Hindu College - the pass rate at ordinary level examinations surpassed 99 per cent.
Slow pace of demining
According to military figures, he said, the number of internally displaced, who live in camps in Jaffna are 2115 persons (640 families). The delay in their resettlement is attributed to the slow pace of demining in the Wadamarachchi Eastern sector.
But, where are those thousands of families who were uprooted from the land now considered as High Security Zones?
He says population data of the district suggests that the majority of them had left the peninsula or comprehensively migrated.
According to the population census of 1983, it was predicted that the population in the Jaffna district would hit the one million mark by the year 2000. However, according to current figures, Jaffna population stands at 627,000.
“Majority of those who left Jaffna were the former residents of High Security Zones, who were from well -to- do families, and could afford to migrate,” he said.
Recently a family came from Canada after 30 years and wanted to visit their old house in the HSZ.
“I asked them why now, after so long?” The lady said she buried some gold in the land when she left the house,” said the military official
“We took them to the area; not even they could locate where there land was. The entire area was a thick jungle.” ~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~