by Ranga Jayasuriya
On Thursday (23) in Kilinochchi, the military dispersed a group of frail men and women who had gathered to get information on the whereabouts of their missing relatives. The protestors, many of who were ageing Tamil mothers and fathers who were clutching pictures of their missing children, had assembled at Depot junction, Kilinochchi, to demand that the government reveals where their loved ones are being kept.
The army turned up to announce that demonstrations were not allowed in Kilinochchi and put the demonstrators in buses and sent them back. The protestors, who came under the banner, Api Sri Lankikayo (We are Sri Lankans) learnt a rude lesson about equality — Sri Lankan style.6-2
“Why are we treated differently?” quizzed a participant, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“Every day, there are dozens of protests in this country. But, when Tamil people in Kilinochchi demand to know where their children are kept, they are told: ‘No you can’t protest here.’”
“Shouldn’t we have the same freedom that people in the South have?”
‘No protests’ – people warned
Udul Premaratna, the convener of Api Sri Lankikayo says the army went to houses of families whose members were missing and warned them against taking part in the protest.
He charged that on the morning of the day of the planned protest, the military intelligence wing arrested two organizers and kept them in an abandoned house where they were photographed.
The two men were released later.
By 11 am, when the protesters arrived, soldiers rushed to the scene, packed them into buses and sent them away.
“A brigadier came and told us they can’t permit protests in Kilinochchi since it was under military control,” Premaratna alleged.
The army was accused of disrupting a series of meetings in Jaffna; again, soldiers stormed a gathering of Jaffna’s remnant intelligentsia who were there to discuss Tamil literature.
The disturbing trend continues, unabated. So much for the much hyped normality in Jaffna.
“ People have no say in Jaffna. It is under the full control of the military. Civil officials are there only to endorse the decisions taken by the generals,” says E. Saravanapavan, TNA national list MP from Jaffna.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Jaffna, do as the army tells you to do,” he quips.
On June 17 (Friday), 20 men in military uniform stormed a TNA meeting held in Allavedy, Jaffna and allegedly assaulted 6-4the participants with clubs and poles.
Saravanapavan, MP, was speaking when the men stormed the meeting.
“It was an internal meeting to brief the party organizers about how we were going to campaign at the forthcoming local government elections. We trusted the government which gave us a guarantee that they would allow free and fair elections in Jaffna. Otherwise, we could have asked people to be vigilant (about intruders). When the army came in, I didn’t stop and continued with my speech, but one officer came and grabbed the microphone and tried to hit me with it. My MSD bodyguards formed a circle around me to protect me and they were assaulted by soldiers,” says Saravanapavan.
Army registering Tamils
“Even parliamentarians are not free of intimidation in Jaffna. There were five MPs on the stage when this happened,” he added.
A couple of weeks back, the army rudely barged into a meeting of Jaffna academics and intellectuals. The remnant of Jaffna’s intelligentsia, who had gathered to discuss how they could preserve old Tamil manuscripts, were humiliated and photographed by the soldiers.
After the incident, Professor S. Ratnajeevan Hoole who chaired the meeting issued a media communique stating, “we could not freely express ideas since the military presence and weapons were intimidating but the public will keep off from our functions now, and those who rent us halls will be fearful of doing so.”
There were also allegations that the army was registering Tamils in Jaffna, an act, which many felt was tantamount to racial profiling.
Last week, TNA MP Sumanthiran withdrew a fundamental rights petition filed in the Supreme Court after the Jaffna security forces commander Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe gave a guarantee that the army would not register Tamils.
ALLAVEDY ATTACK FICTION
Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, however, rejected allegations levelled against his forces. (Please see story alongside.)
“These are all lies spread by bankrupt fello
ws who want to gain political advantage,” he said when LAKBIMAnEWS asked him about allegations levelled against the army.
“I was in Colombo when the Allavedy incident h
appened. When MP Mavai Senathiraja called me, I told Major General Walgama to rush to the scene.”
“I don’t want to comment on the incident because the police are investigating,” he says.
But he adds: “The following day, when TNA MPs came to see me in their Prado’s and Intercoolers, I asked them : ‘Are those the vehicles you said were damaged?’ None of the vehicles had any signs of damage. They said , ‘no, not our vehicles, our supporters vehicles were damaged.’”
“They told the media that they were assaulted, so where are the injured?”
“They have to explain,” says Major General Hathurusinghe
He denies that the army was registering people in Jaffna and says the TNA MPs who meet him regularly never brought up the issue.
He however qualified his remarks saying: “Of course, there were some issues. There are about 1000 LTTE cadres who were released after rehabilitation and there are 88, 345 people who have been resettled in Jaffna. We need a system to account for these people and make sure they go to their lands, and won’t squat in vacated houses, whose owners are abroad. The police and army checked their identity papers to make sure they are the legitimate owners of the lands they are going to occupy. TNA MPs have mistaken this as registration.”