The Navy at Casuarina Beach
We in the North fear troops. It is just not Tamils. We have seen viral videos of the IGP assaulting a staff member and the Navy Commander a reporter. In a democracy, troops must be kept out of civilians lives. However, not in our democracy. In 1970, I was assaulted for no reason by a group of policemen. In the early 1980s troops on their way to buy cigarettes in three trucks swung a bicycle chain at me and other passers-by. Soon, our guardian troops were murdering us.
Last Saturday, I went to my favorite beach, Casuarina Beach, in Karainagar. During vacations, we used to bicycle the 13 miles from town regularly to go to there. The beach was there just for us. This time it was crowded with many people. It was under the care of the Navy. There were several mangy stray dogs that seemed to be looked after by the Navy. The Navy spoke to us in Sinhalese. Casuarina Beach has been commercialized with entrance fees for our car and for each passenger. Thank God there was no fee for my two dogs and cat.
Boat rides were on offer by “Kasurina Boat Service” spilling oil into the water and spewing carbon monoxide. We were told we could not bathe the dogs because it was unhealthy for other bathers. But their mangy dogs were taking their dips in the sea and dirtying the beach, the same beach where our children played building sand castles and burying our dogs. It was all by the Piratheysiya Sabai. I spoke to the Vice Chairman and asked why use the Navy that should be confined to barracks in a democracy, especially when there are so many unemployed people in the locality. His reply was revealing: “Tamil people will not obey Tamils but will obey Sinhalese.”
Numbers Game: Sinhalese Troops in the North
The Karainagar Piratheysiya Sabai’s position on the preference for Sinhalese troops in the North is rather unique. As the UNHRC reminds Sri Lanka on our obligations under Resolution 30/1, the government is in a dither. The office of Missing Persons was established only recently but the delay that accompanied its establishment is telling on the government’s commitment to recognizing Tamils as people with the same rights as the rest of the citizenry here.
The other shortcoming concerns demilitarizing Tamil areas. Poor progress has been made. However, under Foreign Minister Tilak Marapona the same damning information is being presented and it takes the form of spinning. The intention is to say “We made significant progress. Give us time again to complete the good work we are doing.” Sheer bluff!
The Real Numbers
Jaffna District today has 93 naval bases occupying 2946 acres (exceeding 12 sq. km), 54 army bases and 1 air force base occupying 1000 acres. These together with the 30 police stations rule us with an iron hand. However what they are doing is not clear except for bullying people at Casuarina Beach and stopping motorists to make money. Our fishermen have to pass the naval bases into the deeper seas for their fishing.
It was recently that the police announced that they have brought the sword wielding Ava Group under control by arresting 50 of them. Yet, on 22 Aug., in the Suthumalai, Inuvil and Thaavady areas 12 sword wielding men had arrived on 5 motorbikes and attacked householders in three houses. On the 20th, a doctor’s house was attacked. In Mannar, 22nd’s reports today say that a boat of 6 persons from India had sunk but all rescued. Unconfirmed information is that the boat was rammed by the Navy but the fishermen say their boat and the navy boat collided. The drugs trade is hitting record heights despite the heavy presence of troops. The police with their 178 stations having 50,000 armed policemen are unable to say how any amount of Ganja may be bought in Jaffna. If that is protection, no thanks. Despite this force, the government is unable to establish even a semblance of law and order except to prevent my children from enjoying our beaches as I did.
As the international community asks our government about demilitarization which we promised under Resolution 30/1, the numbers from Jaffna seem commendable, but that was under compulsion. Jaffna is unique in that most lands occupied by the forces are private lands with deeds. These are estimated to constitute 90% of Jaffna lands. A case initiated by Mavai Senathirajah, the ITAK Secretary General in the High Court led to the judgement that they ought to be released to their owners. The government had no choice.
The story is very different in the Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu Districts where private lands are less than 25%. The rest comes as reserved lands for forest, wildlife, irrigation etc. These are occupied by the forces although they are not intended for them and the reservations are intended for civilians – even the jungles of Wilpattu which are for our edification watching wildlife in their natural habitat.
In Mullaitivu only some 22% of the lands are private. Eight ponds and two crematoria are on army camps. In Mannar, 12800 acres of coastal lands are claimed by the Navy. The World Bank asked for a mere 3000 acres for livelihood projects for the people and Rs. 3 billion is ready to be used. However, the project cannot start because even the 3000 acres will not be released. It shows the two faces of the government. One thinks up these generous projects to show the world that it cares for Tamils, and the other blocks them. This project cannot start because troops will not budge
In truth, even today Jaffna Peninsula has 4,507 acres occupied by the forces. There are 9,564 families with 33,286 members awaiting resettlement. Of these 580 families with 2,204 members are in temporary shelters awaiting resettlement. It is this truth that the government wants to hide from the international community.
When the cry for resettlement is so loud and heart-rending, the government has created a separate District Secretary’s division of 108 sq. km in Mullaitivu reserved for Sinhalese settlers. This is the dreaded Manal Aaru Division which was depopulated of Tamils through massacres by the army in 1984 to settle Sinhalese in what is now Weli Oya. In better days, in 1965, it is good to recall, it was PM Dudley Senanayake who allocated these lands to Tamils of the area. The recipients, in times when we had no bulldozers to clear lands, cleared them by hand for cultivation for two-season paddy.
As these Tamils cultivated these lands, the UNP lost the 1970 elections and the new left government created what it called the Land Army of unemployed youth for whom the lands were repossessed. The consent of the Tamils who worked hard on the land was never sought.
However, Tamils there believed that they would get their lands back with the next change of government. Notwithstanding, when the UNP returned in 1977, it started an open prison in Thimpulaakal in the Kalkuda Electorate. Mr. Devanayagam, MP, as the only person from the UNP to win a seat in that area, prevailed on J.R. Jayawardene to shift the prison since the locals feared it. The Sinhalese prisoners from there were the first colonists to settle in Manal Aaru, now Weli Oya.
Many opposed the move then. Sriskantharaya, President of the Jaffna University Students’ Union, launched an attack on the guards of the Open Prison. That attack was used to justify attacks on Tamils of the area. Following this in the years 1983 and 1984, surrounding villages were depopulated of Tamils. Established farms serving as homes for people displaced from the tea estates, namely Dollar Farm, Kent Farm, and Railway Farm each with 3000 acres of farmland were taken over. These have been subdivided into 25 acre plots and given to Sinhalese, including to Minister Nimal Sripala de Silva’s sister. Everyone profits from Tamil misery.
That take-over for Sinhalese settlers is continuing today at Kokkulaai, Pokkuthoduvai, Nayaaru, Karunaattukerni, Palampaasi, and Thenmaravadi. Outside this region 72% of the land even today is jungle. As such they belong to departments for forest reserves, animal reserves, etc. Only the remaining 28% may be used for humans. Even this little land has been grabbed by troops.
As a result, today the army controls much agricultural land. Further 8 ponds are under military control. Based on information provided by the LLRC, in Mullaitivu there are 110 acres of private lands, and 7,937 acres of government land under the military. Even that information has been questioned. In Oddisuttaan Piradeysiya Secretariat area 8,400 acres, from Karupattmurippu to Iranimadu 3,500 acres, and near Muruhandy (West of A9) 1750 acres are with the army.
Lying to the World
As the next sessions at UNHRC near, the government is preparing to spin these numbers. Minister for Foreign Affairs is reportedly touring the North personally asking for acreage under occupation. The trick is to say that so many acres out of so many acres of occupied private land have been released, when most of the occupied land is in the reserves for departments. The land continues to be occupied.
The enthusiasm in spinning seems to border on lying. We know for a fact that according to Marapona’s figures 991 acres in Mullaitivu are occupied. The same GA responsible for the data, responding to a request under RTI has stated 1331 acres are under occupation. What happened to the difference of 300 acres? Figures given by Ms. Sriskantharajah, MP for Mulaitivu in 2017 suggest that the figure for occupied lands is upwards of 35,000 acres. The same was confirmed by Mr. Raviharan of the NPC.
From sources friendly then to the LTTE, we also know that 3500 acres in Iranaimadu, 1200 acres in Viswamadu and 2200 acres in Kepapilavu constituted LTTE farms (pannai as they called them). I know from people who travelled West of A9 into the jungles that they are still occupied by the army and air force. Why are these not listed in the GA’s figures?
Likewise, in Mannar even as the government claims that its forces occupy 640 acres, the GA responding to RTI requests says 2,346 acres are occupied by troops. Even this is untrue because, like in Mullaitivu, occupied lands account for more than 8000 acres.
Similar discrepancies exist in Kilinochchi between government pronouncements and RTI revelations.
The Truth and Democracy
There is no terrorism in the North except for the bullying armed forces and bribe-seeking police. In a democracy, we expect the government to be truthful and accountable. These prevarications diminish us as a democracy and cause severe problems at the Election Commission in registering displaced persons in their real homes even as refugees now well-settled in new places are bused to vote in their former homes. We are no democracy when people live under the military.