Jaffna residents in Sri Lanka’s north spoke with the WSWS last week
over continuing military repression and the ongoing detention of
more than 300,000 Tamils in the Vavuniya internment camps. Many had
relatives or friends who were either killed or injured in the
fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the separatist Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or who are now being held in detention
An unpublished UN report estimates that about 7,000 innocent men,
women and children were killed and tens of thousands wounded after
being trapped between Sri Lankan military and LTTE forces. The Sri
Lankan military showered the so-called “no fire zone” with artillery
shells and gunfire during the last weeks of fighting.
Jaffna residents explained that they had been unable to hold
religious ceremonies or publicly mourn their dead relatives because
they feared being accused of supporting the LTTE and facing
reprisals. All voiced their anger and outrage over the mass
One person asked the WSWS:
“Is there no way to help the interned?
How can we help them? The wife of my brother, who is in a camp,
cried, telling me that her daughter has only one piece of clothing,
which is a school gown. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party [EPDP] is collecting goods to
send to these refugees but it’s a partner of the government. People
are suspicious about whether refugees will get these goods.”
These concerns are well-founded. EPDP leader Douglas Devananda is a
cabinet minister in the Colombo government and supported the
communal war against the Tamils. The organisation maintains a
paramilitary wing which directly operates with the army and navy in
the Jaffna islands and peninsular.
“How long are they going to keep detaining hundreds of thousands of
people? The detainees have done nothing but the government and the
military treat them as the enemy and part of the LTTE. This is
proven by their ongoing detention. The government says it wants to
remove mines from the war zone in the Vanni but thousands of people
have houses in Jaffna and Vavuniya. Why can’t the government release
these people? It is lying,” the person said.
Unable to control his grief, a 48-year-old man cried, and holding
this correspondent’s hand, said: “When I heard about these camps and
what was happening there I thought they were similar to the Nazi
camps.” He explained that one man he knew had been captured by the
army while he was travelling from the war zone with his sister’s
small children. He is now being held in a camp but does not know
what has happened to the children.
Another resident told us that his friend’s wife had been taken for
medical treatment for injuries caused by gun fire and had
disappeared. His friend has no idea where his wife is.
These comments are not exaggerated. Those interned include thousands
of public servants, 6,700 people over 60-years-old and more than
50,000 children under-10. An estimated 850 children who were
orphaned during the fighting are also being held in the camps.
While those we spoke to in Jaffna had little sympathy for the LTTE,
having directly experienced its anti-democratic methods, few
believed that the end of the war would bring the restoration of
In Jaffna, there has been no relaxation of the military presence or
its activities with frequent foot and vehicle patrols of the town
and other areas. In fact, preparations are underway for permanent
In and around Jaffna city, the distance between check points has
been reduced from 150-200 metres to 50-100 metres. There are also
checkpoints in the coastal areas near Jaffna town, such as
Navandurai, Gurunagar, Pasaiur and Ariyalai. Some check points,
previously built with sandbags and tin, have been upgraded with
brick and cements and made permanent.
The police and military have established so-called “Peace
Committees” in some villages, claiming that these organisations will
intervene to solve problems among the civilians. Their real purpose
is to function as intelligence gathering units and monitor all
opposition to the military occupation and the government.
Military and police searches were previously conducted mainly during
the day. Since the end of the war these operations are now occurring
day and night and involve groups of 15 soldiers.
This correspondent witnessed one house-search operation in
Vaddukoddai, near Jaffna town last week. Well-armed soldiers
equipped with search-lights arrived at one home at about 8 p.m. They
searched the garden around the house and then asked the residents
for a family registry card, scrutinised it and then moved on to
While the military claims these searches are to prevent LTTE cadres
infiltrating Jaffna, their real purpose is to terrorise the Tamil
population. All Tamils in the northern and eastern provinces and in
Colombo and its suburbs have to register with the police and obtain
a registry card. Those not registered can be arrested. The measure
is clearly aimed at deepening communal discrimination and
All fishing restrictions remain. Fishermen are required to carry an
official pass and are confined to one specific area and the shallow
waters. Fishing between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. is prohibited and on some
islands near Jaffna, such as Karainagar, fishing is restricted to
five days a week.
The government claims that it will reopen the A9 road, the main land
link between Colombo and Jaffna but last Thursday the minister for
highways announced that it would take another year to remove land
mines. The A9 will only be open for the transport of goods, in part
because the government is determined to prevent people visiting the
Vavuniya detention camps or witnessing the destruction and
depopulation of the Vanni.
The only transport into Jaffna is by plane or ship and is very
expensive. An air ticket to Jaffna is around 18,000 rupees ($US175)
as compared to 11,000 rupees for international flights to Chennai,
capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
By sea, the fare from eastern Trincomalee to Kankasanthrai (KKS) in
Jaffna is 3,080 rupees and takes about 15 hours. In order to travel
from Colombo to Trincomalee, passengers must register with
Trincomalee’s divisional administration and can only board the ship
if given a navy security clearance. Mobile phones must be given to
the navy guard on board.
On arrival at KKS port passengers are transported by navy bus to
Thellipalai, a junction on the road to Jaffna, where they are
subjected to more security checks. Everyone has to produce the
family card and national identity card and be photographed by army
personnel. Mobile phones and baggage are then returned. Passengers
then travel by bus to Jaffna after passing several more check
points. Air travellers to Jaffna are subjected to similar security
The prices of basic items on the Jaffna peninsular remain high and
they are in short supply. Rice, for example, is 90 to 110 rupees, 20
to 40 rupees higher than Colombo price. Sugar, dhal and flour prices
are also much more expensive than in Colombo.
President Mahinda Rajapakse claims that the north will be developed
under a so-called Uthuru Vasanthaya (Spring of the North) program.
This policy, however, is aimed at attracting big investors who will
profit from cheap labour conditions enforced by the military
occupation and ongoing repression of the local population.