ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 11 D

Military personnel, stationed in the North, are often perplexed when told that their continued presence is objectionable to the local population. Their experience is different. When they ask the people about their presence, the answer they receive is a positive one whether in term of preserving law and order or in terms of providing material assistance. No civilian population in a post-war setting would be willing to tell uniformed military personnel that their continued presence is objectionable, but in this case, they may be telling the truth, observed Jehan Perera.

Over 200 Police officers, who had received their annual transfers in 2019 having served in the Jaffna Peninsula over the past two years, asked that their transfers be cancelled and they be allowed to continue in the North. The transfers were cancelled. Another 53 had also wanted their transfers cancelled.

Earlier, 177 police officers who had completed their two year service tenure in the North and had received transfers had written to DIG requesting that their transfers be cancelled and they be allowed to serve further.

Altogether, around 220 police officers serving in the North have expressed their desire to continue serving in the North, once their two year service period was over, said DIG. This is a great change from previous years when no one wanted to serve in the North,” This is a result of the growing cordiality between the people of the North and those from the south,   DIG said.

A television journalist had told Jehan Perera in 2018 that he had gone to Jaffna on a private assignment to cover a wedding.  Jaffna people had welcomed him and said that they preferred the Sri Lankan army stationed in the north rather than the police. The army sets up a system of checkpoints and criminals stayed away as they risked being shot at by the army. On the other hand, now that the lightly armed police have replaced the army the criminals are no longer afraid.

In December 2018, the residents of Tirukkovil (Ampara district) held a protest opposite the kovil against moves to remove the army camp in the area. TNA MP K.Kodeeswaran has requested President Sirisena to dismantle the army camp for the construction of a playground. The residents handed over a memorandum to the Brigadier in charge, requesting the army to continue the camp. The presence of the army had deterred the drug addicts. By removing the camp there was a possibility of drug menace spreading further.

Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu, commanding officer of the Civil Defence Force in Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna was transferred from Jaffna in 2018. Mano Ganesan said that ex-LTTErs from these districts had met him and tearfully pleaded with him to delay the transfer of   Lt Bandu, who had already served five years in the area. He delayed the officer’s transfer by a few months.

When Lt Bandu departed, he was given a moving farewell by the people in Vishvamadu, a former LTTE stronghold in Kilinochchi. Young and old, men and women, including rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres had become emotional when he bid adieu, reported the media.  Former LTTE cadres carried Lt. Col. Bandu on their shoulders up to the reception hall.

The TNA was very critical of this farewell.  They had in any case objected to the army trying to enlist former rehabilitated members of the LTTE to the CDF. The project was in addition to the recruitment of Tamil speaking youth to the Army. They realized the danger in the government project and reacted strongly to former LTTE combatants joining the CDF.

N.A. de S Amaratunga said that If the people in  the north had  believed that the armed forces committed war crimes against their people they would not shed tears and react the way they did when they bid farewell to Lt Bandu. They would not have cooperated with him, either.

Lt. Col. Bandu commanded the CDF in three districts for over five years, starting in 2012.He was given two weeks to recruit 100 people, men and women, to the CDF to solve the severe unemployment problem in the three districts. At that time no one was willing to join the CDF.  One hundred eventually grew to a force of 3,500 CDF personnel, turning it into the most sought After state institution for employment with a waiting list of over 15,000 people from the three districts.

When I first assumed duties in September 2012, people, especially those in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, didn’t have a leadership. They were a neglected lot and left astray. They looked at me, a uniformed man, very suspiciously. But, I changed my style of command, Lt. Col. Bandu said. I studied about their culture, lifestyles, food habits, behaviour, religion, rituals and even the leadership styles of their former leaders including V. Prabhakaran.  As he wanted them to feel that he also belonged to the Tamil society in those areas, he had changed his outfit to match a South Indian and wore dark glasses.

Lt. Col. Bandu said that when their own society rejected the ex-LTTE cadres, they turned to the CDF or army for help. Unemployed, uneducated and with no skills, most of the rehabilitated ex-LTTEers didn’t get respect, trust and help from the people around them. We helped them to stand on their own feet by recruiting them into the CDF.

Over 90% of the people, especially in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu were strongly connected with the LTTE but we never dug into their past. They were struggling to forget their past and need help,” he noted. Eventually, lots of people came to the CDF office seeking support for various issues even for marital issues.

ARMY ASSISTANCE

After the Eelam war was won, the military was made to carry out development projects for the defeated citizens. We had to show the Tamils that we were the protectors of the people, though we fought the LTTE,” said Major General Haturusinghe in interview in 2013. We have given priority to the Tamils in the resettlement programme. Resettlement of Sinhalese came second.

While the rest of the country has resumed their lives and have left the pain of war far behind, being nine years since it ended, some are still suffering in IDP camps, which is definitely not fair, said Jaffna Security Force Headquarters Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi   in 2018.

Some of these innocent people have been living in IDP camps for over 28 years and they too have a right to return to their lands and rebuild their lives and live a normal life. It is not fair to allow them to suffer any further while the majority of the country has long forgotten the effects of the war.”

“They are poor and innocent people and I felt that I should do my utmost best for their welfare as a Buddhist, let alone being the Northern Commander, it was my duty to dispense my duties to keep them happy,” said an emotional Major General Darshana.

Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne pointed out in 2019  that the Security Forces assist people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces  in many ways, such as providing them transportation and educational services.

Here are some   services provided by the armed services.

The army built houses using funds from local and foreign donors. By 2013 the army had built 17,878 houses using NGO funds. Each house was worth Rs 370,000. Where it was not possible to build on the original land, the houses were built close to it.

In 2017, a new housing complex, an extension of the Keeramalai Housing Project, was completed in 60 days by the armed forces who ‘toiled day and night’. Each house was constructed on a 20-perch land block, it consists of two bed rooms, living and dining area, kitchen, toilet and a bathroom   and cost Rs 1 million.

In 2018 army completed and handed over25 houses at Keeramalai, 30 on lands purchased by the Resettlement Minister in Wanatha villu. At the request of the kovil authorities army also constructed six residential houses for kurukkal (priests) in Karaingar, Jaffna.

In 2019 Gajaba regiment of the Vanni security forces   provided 10 houses in Kilinochchi.  In 2019, Army also handed over the 699th and 700th house at Karaveddi and Point Pedro. Soldiers of Jaffna HQ handed over a house to a poor family

The army also assisted persons to build their house. Troops in Jaffna had helped those in Tellippalai to build their houses. The assistance by troops gave a great relief to the families to save their money and spend on purchasing building materials.

The army did much for secondary education. The army built three storied new building for Telippalai Mahajana College, costing around 25 million, funded by Ken Balendra,  also a school in Kopai with money from Uva Provincial Council.

Urani Primary School, occupied for over 27 years by the military for security reasons, was returned to the school in 2017.  A block of 2.75 acres, belonging to the Kalaimagal Vidyalayam, Myliddy North was also returned. The Jaffna Commander pledged assistance to completely renovate the school and distributed gift parcels of books to more than 200 students of the school.

We gave scholarships to school children, using personal contacts and well-wishers. We have given more than 5000-6000 scholarships; the army said in 2013.  At Christmas 2013, the army gave scholarships to 689 students in Kilinochchi. Three imported professional racing bicycles, 250 school bags, and 500 solar energy CFL bulbs were distributed among school children. In 2014, the Army had a scholarship programme in Kilinochchi; to which companies and individuals contributed, army personnel also contributed a little amount monthly.

The Security Force Headquarters – Jaffna (SFHQ-J had distributed more than 400 bicycles to students to help those who lived in remote areas get to school. These were funded by local and expatriate well-wishers  such as Mast Industries Far East Ltd. On two occasions, parents accompanying the students  receiving these bicycles  were given jak, coconut, and breadfruit saplings as a part of the SFHQ-J’s ongoing tree-planting drive in the peninsula.

In 2019 army helped to take flood marooned O level students from Kilinochchi to exam centers elsewhere by tractors and boats.

Navy completed 13 delayed health projects within a period of 10 months in 2017.  The Army was the major blood donor in Jaffna. There was a monthly requirement of around 300 pints of blood. About 80% of this was met by the army soldiers.  Army Troops organized an eye clinic in Jaffna   in Selvapuram, at the Selvapuram Church and gifted eye glasses in 2017.

In 2013 that a patient with the serious heart condition was treated in India for an operation, at the cost of two lakhs, she was airlifted there. Two other children of LTTE families were airlifted to Colombo for treatment, all three are fine now.

In 2019, the army  saved the lives of three Tamil children having heart disease ,Kajnthini, Sathos and Apisha, from Erlali, Urumpirai, and Puttur east respectively,. In the case of Santhos the parents contacted the army despite the strong protest of their neighbors.   For Kajnthini, the 511 brigade obtained funds from a Tamil engineer who had helped them before. The surgeon did not charge and the hospital only charged for the valves for Kajnthini. All other expenses were borne by 511 brigade.

Army  assisted with livelihood projects such as poultry, home gardens. Soldiers  also helped  to cultivate and prepare the land. The army donated 15 sewing machines to female ex-combatants to assist them in self-employment opportunities. They constructed trade stalls in Sathurukondan area.  Palmyra Ingenuity, 2017’ exhibition was organised by the Jaffna Security Force Headquarters in collaboration with the Ministry of Technology and Research.

Soldiers from Gemunu Watch cleaned up Nedunkulam and Vettikulam tanks.  Soldiers helped reconstruct tank Periyakulam irrigation tank in Araly North which has been abandoned for decades.It is the largest tank in Jaffna, and provides water for about 800 acres in Araly North. The bund of Pudukulam tank in Kulikuttikulam, Vavuniya was destroyed by rain. Vavuniya army had rushed there and placed sand bags.

Abus halt was constructed by Sri Lanka Navy in front of the Roman Catholic Tamil School at Pier in Talaimannar with the financial assistance provided by Saku and Ann Nagendran residing in USA.

Troops of Security Forces Headquarters -Jaffna (SFHQ-J) started a project to provide relief to people facing water shortage in the Jaffna Peninsula covering the Navatkuli and Kovilkandi areas. Troops  placed water storage tanks in several locations in the drought-hit areas and supplied water by using bowsers. This benefitted over 10,000 people in the area.

The  navy helped in the annual  Festival of Sri Nagapoosani Amman Temple in Nainativu Island. Navy assisted in numerous ways providing sea transportation for VIPs, coordinating the ferry service between Kurikadduwan and Nainativu, providing drinking water for devotees, arranging safe bathing locations, life-saving assistance for devotees, and providing pier security and security checks.

In 2013 the media announced that the largest Christmas tree in Asia will be installed at Kilinochchi. Over 75 soldiers were at work on it. Christmas celebrations will be conducted in a grand scale there by the armed forces. In 2018 Christmas was celebrated in grand style in the North under the organizing efforts of the Jaffna Security Force Headquarters. The Jaffna Bishop and several other dignitaries participated in the Christmas celebrations.

Security Force Headquarters – Jaffna (SFHQ-J) launched several community-oriented projects in collaboration with the Daham Pahana programme Daham Pahana was founded by Rev. Bro. Charles Thomas. Under the programme, 100 bicycles, 2,000 coconut seedlings and four artificiallimbs were distributed, cornerstones were laid for the construction of two new houses for low-income families in Kayts.

The  army pointed out the services provided by the Mullikulam  army camp, situated in the Wilpattu reserve belonging to the Wildlife Conservation Department. There is a Roman Catholic Church as well as a Roman Catholic Tamil school in the area coming under the purview of the navy and 87 acres have been released for the school and the church. The police and the Navy have provided access roads, electricity, transport and clean drinking water for the residents using the school and the church. The navy took the initiative to recruit six teachers for the school. For the use of those resettled in the area, 27 houses have been built by the Navy, 134  more houses  under the Indian Credit line, 26 houses for the Ministry of Resettlement.                                               

A food festival was  organised in Jaffna under the Army’s reconciliation promotion drive, including various dishes from every region of the country. This gave the Jaffna residents a chance to taste food from every other region in the country. (continued)

KAMALIKA PIERIS

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