13 August, 2020

Blog

The Jaffna Air

By Kath Noble

Kath Noble

Having emphasised in last week’s column the importance of land in the Northern Province, I headed for the area in which it is most under dispute – Jaffna.

Unlike Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, Jaffna is densely populated. Jaffna has 553 inhabitants per square kilometre, compared to 81 and 25 for Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu respectively.

Another difference is that most land is privately owned in Jaffna, while there is still a lot of land that is vested in the state in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

That land disputes are most serious in Jaffna was made clear earlier this year when hundreds of people protested against the acquisition of their land to regularise the High Security Zone around the Kankesanturai port and Palaly airport. The Security Forces have occupied the area for decades, but it was never gazetted and their continued presence became a legal problem for the Government when the Emergency Regulations were allowed to lapse in 2011.

Cases have been filed in the Supreme Court by high profile individuals such as the Bishop of Jaffna and the son of the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, as well as by many of the remaining 30,000 IDPs.

The rationale for taking over people’s land in Jaffna was to facilitate the activities of the Security Forces in fighting the LTTE. They wanted a buffer around their key bases, forward defence lines and main supply routes at least as big as the reach of Prabhakaran‘s most powerful weapons.

The Government claims to agree that the requirements must be different now that there are no longer any MBRLs trained on the Security Forces.

It quite correctly points out that the extent of the Kankesanturai and Palaly High Security Zone has been reduced already.

The state and other media regularly report on ceremonies to hand back land, usually accompanied by statistics that seem to demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction. For example, on September 7th, the Daily News quoted Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe of the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters as saying that they had returned 136 houses and 175 acres of land to their owners the previous month, making a total of more than 4,200 plots since 2009.

They say that they are doing their best to reduce their presence to the minimum possible.

However, as the TNA points out, the 6,300 acres of land that is now being acquired as the final area of the Kankesanturai and Palaly High Security Zone is equivalent to more than two thirds of Colombo city. It says that the maximum that it can agree to is zero.

It is not clear how progress is going to be made if the two sides continue in the same pattern.

Debates that centre around the needs of the Security Forces are generally very difficult in Sri Lanka, as a result of the generation long conflict and the losses incurred in it.

I would not attempt to contribute here.

Anyway, I believe that it is not only or even really primarily a matter of the extent of land being occupied by the Security Forces.

It is at least equally important to see what is being done in the occupied land and what has been done for the people who have been displaced from it. After all, if they were perfectly happily settled elsewhere, there would be no dispute or at least whatever dispute there was could not be very emotive.

And since the country is supposed to be working towards reconciliation, this would seem to be the most crucial issue.

To that end, I visited both the High Security Zone and a camp of IDPs last week.

Of course it is not possible to roam freely around the High Security Zone. But the Army has built and is operating a hotel in the middle of it, and anybody who is willing and able to spend between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 8,000 for a night can get a sense of what is going on in the brief journey from the gate at Maviddapuram to the beach.

Dinouk Colombage has said in an article published in Groundviews that only Sinhalese can stay in the resorts run by the Security Forces – there are now at least 15, of which about half are in the North and East. However, I found more Tamils than Sinhalese at Kankesanturai.

Among them was a young couple from Jaffna and a family of expatriates who had come to inspect their property near Tellipallai, which has been released from the High Security Zone.

(Incidentally, since he has also stated that there were multiple checks on the A9 in the run-up to the election, given what I said last week about not having been asked what I was doing or where I was going at any stage of my journey to Kilinochchi, I should point out that there were none at all for people who travelled as I did by train. Whether this was an oversight on the part of the Security Forces, since the train had only just started to run beyond Omanthai, I cannot yet say. I hope not.)

The hotel at Kankesanturai is of course very nice. As I was told within a few minutes of my arrival, Mahinda Rajapaksa has stayed there five times already.

Ridiculously, it even has a jogging track!

I must say that I didn’t feel much like going for a jog or even a bath in the undeniably beautiful ocean with an audience of dozens of soldiers.

The hotel is in fact staffed entirely by soldiers, from the ladies at reception to the waiters and the cleaning staff. Soldiers are also in the process of building an extension to the existing building, to add a billiard room, gym, spa and a number of luxury suites.

They live in the homes of the IDPs.

It is difficult to decide which must be most disturbing for them – living in the midst of abandoned buildings, which must serve as a constant reminder of the war and what people have lost, or renovating the ones that they have taken over for themselves. Travelling through the High Security Zone, there seem to be as many houses newly plastered and painted with new roofs, windows, doors and other fittings including regimental placards as there are houses in ruins with trees growing where their owners used to live.

For the IDPs, that soldiers are getting so comfortable there is clearly worse.

It doesn’t cost anything to stay in an IDP camp.

I had wondered with all the talk of surveillance whether the IDPs would be ready to accommodate a foreigner, but they did not hesitate except to worry about my comfort. Indeed, my sharing their experience was a source of considerable entertainment, as they made jokes about their ‘attached bathrooms’ – the piece of bare earth outside their huts to which they carried a bucket of water for me to wash my face before going to ‘bed’.

Of course I was given one of the very few actual beds in the camp, in the smartest of its huts.

It was better made than the temporary shelter I stayed in last week near Kilinochchi, since many of the men although originally also farmers as IDPs have been working as masons, carpenters and labourers in the construction industry, but it was about two thirds of the size, while it had to accommodate three times the number of people.

The camp is seriously overcrowded.

For nearly 100 families, there are ten toilets and one somewhat private bathing area.

There is virtually no open space at all, and I don’t believe that anybody could visit and not become utterly depressed at their plight.

As the women told me, in such circumstances, they cannot do the kind of work that would be possible in their own places to bring in extra income, such as stitching, growing a few vegetables or raising chicken. Women-headed households, which are quite common in Jaffna, face major problems in making a living.

Men can earn about Rs. 1,000 per day for 20 days per month, they said.

They have lived here since 1990.

Ironically, they are now under pressure from the owners of the land on which they established the camp to leave, so that it can be sold for development. They too desperately want to go.

The Government has offered them plots near Keerimalai, but they say that it is no good.

As I played ‘football’ with a boy of about six in the narrow alley between his family’s hut and the next – what we were kicking actually looked more like a very old, deformed plastic box – I wondered what these people would make of the Army’s hotel at Kankesanturai. In a way, I hope that they never see it. That so much effort has been put into it while they have been left to languish in such a miserable camp would surely be too devastating for them.

I was completely disgusted.

I believe that the Security Forces should not get involved in economic activities, because amongst other things they have a major unfair advantage – their salaries do not have to be recovered from the income earned.

In the North, it is even more reprehensible, when people are struggling so hard to rebuild their lives.

Despite various statements in the media to the contrary, the Security Forces are still running even tea shops outside key tourist attractions in Jaffna.

They must give it up. Such opportunities should be left for IDPs.

If the Government insists on maintaining the current numbers in the Security Forces, which is what makes it important to find new ways to occupy them with no LTTE to fight, it should understand that when the Security Forces do business on land that belongs to other people, they are going to create even more resentment than ever.

The only way to avoid the very reasonable anger of the IDPs is to resettle them in much better conditions than they could expect in their original villages.

Unfortunately, the Government is both heartless and mindless.

*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed online at http://kathnoble.wordpress.com/. She may be contacted at kathnoble99@gmail.com.

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    I am one of the unfortunate ones whose ancestral land of birth happens to be in Tellipalai.
    When I visited the place recently the land was bereft of any vegetation as all trees had been bulldozed by the army and the well completely filled out as it was in the HSZ. Therefore now boundaries cannot be ascertained as there are no reference points. To add insult to injury I was told by the authorities in the secretariat that the person with the deed for the land should be physically present to claim it when the govt. reps arrive to inspect. Of course they have no idea when that would be!
    One of my erstwhile neighbours, who is now a widow and poor has left her IDP camp and her children to camp in her supposed piece of land living in a tin shed under the hot sun waiting patiently for the authorities to arrive!!
    You can just imagine her state of mind and the love she can generate for this Govt.

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      Madrid and Paris purchased Basque land for a song made it a tourist attraction and called the locals terrorist ETA.
      Recently, the Basque received police and land rights and now their unemployment is almost zero while France and Spain can boast of almost 20% unemployment.Even their villages are spotless clean.
      The Basque are competing the Germans in high tech industry How??

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        Good luck , I am waiting for the first Basque BMW still .. lol

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          Spares are much more of a lucrative business like designer vehicles eg. engineering textiles for aircraft seats.Go see for self rather than bleating!

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            wow who knew . :)

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        Many thanks for this Kath!

        You highlight the post-war ABSENCE OF JUSTICE and the fact that the Sinhala military is occupying and living the high life on the lands and houses of displaced Tamils.

        Until the SInhala military is DOWN SIZED and RIGHT SIZED and Gota the goon tried for war crimes there will be NO JUSTICE and without justice there can be no peace or recnocilliation..

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      Kath Noble

      The High Security Zone is also the mass grave where the security forces have buried all the Tamil people whom they massacred during the war. Even the houses that they have released from the High Security Zone, they have sealed all the wells and have informed the owners not to excavate there but to dig a new well at a different location.

  • 0
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    Hi Kath
    I know the security forces are running the tea shops and other shops near all the visiting places in Jaffna. I do not agree with that. But what do you think, if the army left those places, and who do you think will be going to run those shops? The Tamil of the area or the IDPs? then you are completely wrong….

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      Most nations of the world are run by multinationals and there is nothing that the collective vote can do. So have you got to be a dog in the manger??
      Let the CM handle that because that’s what he was voted for.

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      Let Muslims run tea boutiques. Then everybody can eat halal food.

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        Halal is inhumane slaughter, so why on earth would we want Muslims to run Tea Shops.
        Also why shouldn’t non Muslim Tamils run Tea Shops that are obvioulsy in a locale that is majority non Muslim Tamil.

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    A pretty realistic article we care to read of fellow citizens.

    Rights are not a matter of numbers.

    Actions are forbidden to an individual, but permitted to a mob.

    In vain without the right of property.

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    No Wonder Northern Tamils voted overwhelmingly in favor of TNA who promised to keep army kicked out of north or at least keep them shut in their barracks.

    If Mahinda wants to keep his army count intact, why not let them start business in other provinces where they are welcome to do so ???

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      I think they are involved in a lot of activities in the south too including selling vegetables and fish and cleaning the lakes and swamps.

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        It is obvious that most writers here are anti Rajapakse. They write anything and everything hoping it’ll help MR’s downfall. There are some who write for Rajapakse downfall as well as to collect a few dollars from neocolonialist financed NGOs. Noble is definitely in the last category. May be she is committed to back the neocolonialists’ agenda: To destroy the 2500 years old Sinhala Buddhist heritage.

        As for me, I despise neocolonialists for nothing but the aforesaid reason. I write comments not to change the minds of the hardcore readers but to let the brainy know these guys write one sided stories to propagate untruth.

        Whatever it is, none of these writers’ writings would pave way for a ‘regime’ change. I would say, if these writers’ writings were publicised in Sinhala among the mass, most would not only laugh at it and reject it as thrash but resolutely fall behind MR. Why? Because, unlike most commentators who live abroad they see the truth in their own eyes. They vote MR for his ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ just like the people in the North voted for TNA for their policies.

        What more proof for it than the UNP is pushed into abyss deeper at every election. Stupids think Ranil is the only curze. It is a cause alright. But the truth is; its the UNP policies that put it in its present plight. Ranil, Sajith or Karu or any new name will not get UNP out of its present predicament.

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          Who are these NeoColonialists; Western powers? You are sorely mistaken if you think they care one way or the other about Buddhism in Sri Lanka. If they wanted to destroy Sri lankan Buddhism, they would have done so when they ruled Ceylon.

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      Along the Pitakotte-Thalawatugoda road there is this junction that turns off for Jayawardhanapura hospital and next to that there is this road that lead to the Parliament. At that junction you can see an army run cafe full of people at all times. The place is very clean and the food is very good and cheap. Nevermind that this woman Noble has a grudge against our army, she should visit it and observe whether those who work there would bother to even look at her twice.

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        ” Nevermind that this woman Noble has a grudge against our army, she should visit it and observe whether those who work there would bother to even look at her twice.” This paramilitary of war criminals would have a webcam in the toilet without any problem.

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    With the Supreme courts determination on land it will be harder to remove the security zones

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      Supreme Court judgement confirmed that land is not a devolved subject.

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      Bedrock Barney

      The Supreme Court judgement is for government land and not private lands which are owned by the people. The so called security zones is in private land and there are owners for this land.

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        Do your research better and learn the latest position.

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    One thing is for certain; the GOSL are not in any hurry to dismantle the camps in the north, and for good reason. The bitter lessons were learnt over the years and no part of this island will ever be allowed to become a ‘no-go area’ again; not under this government anyway. Ofcourse it is crass that the soldiers should turn to enterprise but the government just couldn’t demob these trained killers and let them run loose and jobless.
    Those old enough will remember the reasons given as the allies stayed on in Germany for years after the war ended in 1945, notably the British Army of the Rhine and the myriad American bases.

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      “Germany for years after the war ended in 1945, notably the British Army of the Rhine and the myriad American bases” Yes my last count was 572 bases.

      ” True and by 2020 the Brits are supposed to withdraw completely from Germany but they don’t want to come back because life in Germany is better (schools, hospitals, care etc.) and some are married to locals. Interestingly retired Jewish folk all over Europe are flocking into Germany and receiving the best free care which they cannot get elsewhere.

      In Japan they have 45k marines and at present 100k and the same with Korea. In these 2 they have left behind many a single mum because they came on 2 year stints. You should watch CCTV 9 online to know what is happening there with the mom and pop industries.

      You would realize the investment potential the diaspora has (more than SL budget) and that they would make it “Vibrant North”. However, after the recent spate of murders (Canadian) and the confiscation of Gamage enterprises they look forward for clear rights.
      Their fears are well found and if the CM can find a simple solution and the majority agree Then SL can at least dream of stopping sending their women to the middle east to spread legs for peanuts leaving family behind. The whole country would prosper because its infectious- Malaysia developed rapidly because of Singapore and the Chinese.

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    Men in IDP camps earn 20 k LKR a month, according to our L L Ms Kathy.

    That is 240 k per annum or 2000 USD plus a year, in Diaspora dialect.

    This is more than half the current Per Capital income of Srilanka.

    Do the displaced in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Libya Iraq and now Syria have incomes that are half of the per capita of their Nations?.

    Plus these IDPs don’t have to send at least one able child for Eelaam National Service or pay ten or fifteen Sovereigns to get excemptions.

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      “That is 240 k per annum or 2000 USD plus a year, in Diaspora dialect.
      This is more than half the current Per Capital income of Srilanka.”

      Sumane you are the master pache-bahu and an incubator for wars drawing caste and ethnicity no different from that whom you call rump.

      GDP (PPP) per capita for Sri Lanka 2010-2012 as per:

      World Bank: US$: 6,247; IMF:US $ 6107 ;CIA:US$ 6200
      In any case what is important is the GDP vs COL. In individual terms how much one can save and provinces differ especially your army and politicians involved in back-handers.

      You never thought that Nobel is a post graduate Economics Gold Medalist JNU.

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    Demanding that the military presence be reduced to the pre 1983 level is utterly ridiculous. However it will go a long way towards aiding reconciliation if the ‘footprint’ of the military is reduced in the administrative and commercial realm. What Kath has described certainly is like ‘rubbing salt in the wound’ to the IDPs. One only hopes that the new CM is able to engage with the Government and military brass in a cordial and non-confrontational fashion. The TNA seems somewhat lacking in prioritising their objectives. It seems they are giving priority to substantiating their own political credentials – by taking a confrontational approach – over achieving a better lifestyle for their voters.

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    “I believe that the Security Forces should not get involved in economic activities, because amongst other things they have a major unfair advantage – their salaries do not have to be recovered from the income earned.”

    It is better than them being idle and the taxpayer paying those salaries.Also a bit of competition for the private sector is good.

    “The only way to avoid the very reasonable anger of the IDPs is to resettle them in much better conditions than they could expect in their original villages.”

    Spot on.The government not doing it for so long is a absolute disgrace.If there is a god he should punish those responsible.

  • 0
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    Hello Kath,

    Unlike other contributors to CT whose imagination is the only evidence that support their claims you at least report from direct observations. That makes your write ups worth reading.

    However it is only four years since the end of the devastating 30 year war. There are a great many LTTE sympathisers licking their wounds and waiting for an opportunity to extract vengeance. Divisive organisations such as TGTE with access to unlimited funds are waiting in the wings promoting such an outcome. It is quite irresponsible and foolhardy for the military presence in the predominantly Tamil areas to be removed at this particular juncture. Furthermore matters need to be reassessed after the overwhelming victory at the recent elections by TNA. We do not want another batch of disaffected youth, emboldened by the TNA win to start moving towards demanding a separate state. We know where such a demand would lead. No, the military must stay put and exert their authority into the foreseeable future.

    I do sympathise with the situation of the IDPs and those whose land the military is occupying. This is a necessary evil. However a day can be envisaged when the military can be moved out seamlessly. But a lot depends on what direction the TNA will steer the Tamil populace -coexistence and peace or separation and war? Let us hope they will not choose the latter path and hopefully in time make the military presence irrelevant anyway.

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    There is nothing wrong with the Army running public enterprise . Ask Singapore . Every large corporation is run by ex generals or colonels .

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      Abay,

      “There is nothing wrong with the Army running public enterprise “

      Discrimination tat tat.

      The methodology is the key. The world is aware its an occupation army and a disgrace to nationals irrespective of ethnicity.

      There are a 1/2 million US/UK and allied forces in Germany alone from the end of WW2 and are due to leave 2020. Japan 100k; Korea 100k and
      They are not involved in business- self respect
      While you would go down as the butchers of Ceylon.

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        Those are occupying forces dum dum . they are not on their own land . The Sri Lankan army is on their own land . They can have camps where they see fit . period . they can do anything they need to be a more profitable institution . period . if you dont want to buy from them you can do so. but most of the inhabitants in the island are grateful for their sacrifice .

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          Aibown Abey the kallathoni ravana, undoubtedly, there is an offshoot language called Sinhala but not a race called Sinhalese only pickle which I like. Killing your own folk doesn’t make you a hero but it’s like wife beating by drunken ponnays. You southern sinhala buddhist folk are a disgrace to all ethinicities of Lanka. If not for the low caste ltte when Modi holds the reigns you will see the fun when he packs you to Andaman (hanuman in Sanskrit) Islands.

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      Rubbish, they are run by world class experts.

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      If one needs to see the folly of having the military soo intimately involved in the civilian economy, look no further than Pakistan and Egypt.

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    ” Jaffna Air” will be a u beat proposition for a “Rajaratnam” in the Diaspora to launch a budget air line.

    Just imagine thepotential business from hundreds of thousands of travellers from the One Mil Diaspora coming over to pay homage to their heros past and present and check on their abandonded real estate once the Vellala Regime gets going.

    And they ain’t going to travel in the Yarl Devi for sure.

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    She paid 200 Rps for a day in the hotel . kath should wake up and see how cheap that is for a well run hotel . I am in SL now and hotel prices are in the 200 – 300 $ range in the off season . wonder what these people are smoking .

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      “wonder what these people are smoking”
      Comeon Abey thats your problem.
      Its whom you know not what you know. At Shanghai its $750 per day five star but I pay upfront $300 for 30 days and that is $10 per day courtesy C.O. At the Oberoi, Hilton, Taj Colombo I have paid $35 per day for a weeks stay.

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        ha 30 days are you living in hotels . good luck getting rooms for 30 $ now at Taj ..

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    If the army wants to stay, let them stay in barracks built on infertile lands available here and there all over Jaffna. Why do the want to rob the fertile lands of the people to whom the lands rightfully belong, under the pretext of a high security zone, more than four years after the end of the war?

    Does the country still need such a huge army in peace time? Cannot that be scaled down? Cannot the army be spread over the nine provinces in proportion to the population and land area of each province?

    Should the army engage in civilian businesses such as running shops, restaurants etc.? Is that ethical?

    The people in the South do not seem to fully realise what it is to live under the gum boots of the forces! Perhaps a couple of more Weliweriyas (bound to occur in the not too distant future) will provide them more opportunities to learn first hand!

    Sengodan. M

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      The army and the navy does the same thing in the south . nobody is complaining . So shut the f up and go about your business . Most of the land belongs to people who left the country and became canadians so that land should belong to the state .

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        4th world nation made by southern Sinhala speaking Buddhist- Fools paradise.

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    Army should have barracks in all strategic areas in Jaffna.

    If Tamilians can’t live with it go to Tamil Nadu.

    Army has more right to live in Jaffna than Tamils. Army liberated Jaffna from Tamils. So the army should have all the rights to use it whatever way they like and enjoy everything on land and underground.

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      No the Tamils will not go to Tamil Nadu. But the Tamil Nadu Army will come to Jaffna. Then the Sin Army will leave to you know where.

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