Suspicion and mistrust, reality of Jaffna
14 March 1999
Keeping Jaffna under control continues to pose a problem for the
government and the security forces. And most western countries that
back the PA's policy on the ethnic conflict think that it should be
made a showpiece or a 'window of opportunity' for weaning the Tamils
away from the politics of separatism.
Managing Jaffna is still no easy affair because at the bottom of the
whole thing is mistrust. Mainly the army isn't still completely sure
who's who in the peninsula. The Tigers keep reminding the army that
they could be anywhere. The bomb that went off in the heart of Palai
town on Friday, killing a soldier and wounding another; the killing
of two Policemen in the high security zone of Temple Road in Jaffna
on Tuesday, the ambush in Erlalai close to the Palaly high security
zone on February 9 etc., seem calculated to keep the army on its
toes as it were.
This naturally makes the army, or at least many in its ranks, view
the general population with mistrust.
Measures recently adopted by the security forces in Jaffna clearly
indicate that army brass believe that the local population remains
quite susceptible to the designs and manipulations of the LTTE.
The army now carefully and minutely peruses all the financial
transactions of the traders' associations of Jaffna following
reports last month that the Tigers intend to raise ten million
rupees in the peninsula, mainly from traders and small businessmen.
A week ago a person was arrested at Kottady in Jaffna town allegedly
for collecting money from traders and other moneyed people in the
areas on behalf of the LTTE.
Now traders in the peninsula say that local business associations
have to submit copies of their dealings with banks, details of their
collections during the week etc., to the camps in their area.
Again, the private 'tutories', another salient feature of Jaffna's
social landscape, have also come under the army's close scrutiny.
The suspicion here is that the Tigers might be infiltrating the
towns using brigade passes issued to students who come from the
villages to study in the numerous money minting 'tutories' of
'Tutory' owners and managers have to now submit every month to the
army a list of the students in their establishment along with
details of their brigade passes.
Tamil groups say that other measures have also been adopted in
recent weeks to monitor the student population in the north.
Vadamaradchi still remains a special security region. Civilians
entering the Vadamaradchi have to leave their national identity
cards with the army at the Vallai check-point. They can get it back
only when they leave. This is apparently intended to make sure that
no civilian from outside Vadamaradchi can blend with the population
there and engage in pro-Tiger activities.
And who said that the restrictions and bans on food, fuel and
medicine are woes that beset only the people of Wanni and remoter
hinterlands of the east? People in the coastal villages of
Vadamaradchi east complain regularly that they are permitted to get
these things through the Nagar Kovil and Vallipuram checkpoints
south of Pt.Pedro.
This part of Jaffna is still not under the army's control, despite
gradual attempts to expand since last year. Bakeries in the area are
not permitted to take flour and the dispensary at Amban was refused
permission to bring in the medicine required for the first quarter
There are restrictions on public transport as well. The army appears
to further expand its very loose grip on Vadamaradchi east by
expanding the detachment at Nagar Kovil and setting up a new camp on
the beach road from Amban to Mamunai.
There are such 'uncleared' areas in the Thenmaradchi division as
well. Varani is one of these. The army permitted residents here
until this week to take five litres of kerosene for each 'family
Now the quota has been reduced to 1.5 litres per family card.
Farmers in the area, particularly in the villages of Varani and
Idaikkurichchy are now stuck for fuel to pump water to their fields.
The Thenmaradchi division has several 'uncleared' places like this.
Even some of the so called 'cleared' areas in Thenmaradchi such as
Kilaly face similar problems.
On March 3 the Army at Kilaly told more than 300 fishing families in
the area to ply their trade in the deep seas off Naakar Kovil in
The fishermen in Kilaly were banned from fishing in the Jaffna
lagoon off the Thenmaradchi coast last month. They sought the
permission of the SLA at Kilaly to begin fishing in the lagoon again
as their families were unable to secure adequate relief from the
concerned government agencies in Jaffna.
The army, however, refused to let them fish in the lagoon again and
told them to obtain special passes to fish in the sea off Naakar
Kovil which is under its control.
The Kilaly fishermen say that they have to travel more than 18
kilometers to the coast in Naakar kovil and that, very importantly,
they do not have the gear to fish in the deep seas.
They said that traditionally they have engaged only in shallow water
fishing in the Jaffna lagoon off the coast of Thenmaradchi, and
hence do not have the wherewithal to fish in the ocean. The army has
now instructed them to obtain forms from the Citizens' Committee
office at Palai to apply for the special passes required for fishing
in the seas off Naakar Kovil. I can pile up more instances of the
tensions which continue to stymie the efforts by the army and the
government to make, with some helpful input from the Germans,
British etc, Jaffna a 'showcase' item in the "war for peace". But
two more would suffice to underscore the fundamental issue we set
out to discuss here. The agencies and the press in Colombo gave the
impression that everything was going fine with the much awaited
start of the Chemmani investigation after flying back from Jaffna
with the AG department officials and the CID.
But what did the only paper in Jaffna, the Uthayan, do? It described
the visit as a political stunt.
And then, Douglas Devananda has, in a surprise swipe at the army on
Thursday charged that there is a "diabolical scheme" to colonise
Sinhalese on 12 thousand acres of prime land in Kankesanthurai
(KKS), Tellipalai, Palaly and Vasavilaan in Waligamam North
belonging to Tamil civilians He says, "For some time we have been
hearing a theory. That is that the armed forces in Jaffna would be
safe from the Tigers if they were surrounded by a colony of friendly
civilians, meaning Sinhalese civilians. This theory starts with the
axiom that the Tamil civilians will never be friendly."
Douglas I think has, in what seems to be a remarkable flash of
wisdom or compunction, hit the nail on the head.
Mistrust, at the bottom, is the problem. The remedy, as always,
seems nowhere in sight.