Even a family gathering cannot take place without army’s knowledge

A Correspondent   |   Colombo


Vol 2 | Issue 32

Tamil National Alliance member M A Sumanthiran’s speech at the Sri Lankan Parliament last month highlighting the plight of Tamils in North Sri Lanka is just tip of the iceberg, one discovered during the journey into interior parts of Tamil areas.

Sumanthiran had said: “Every activity that takes place in the North and East first requires approval by the Presidential Task Force and the military. Lists of beneficiaries for projects in the north have to be sent to the military. Incidents have been reported of the military altering these to include as beneficiaries individuals they want assistance to go to.”

Jungle patrol: This photo taken in a deep jungle between Nedunkerni and Mullaithivu is under constant patrolling of Lankan police and security forces

“Several families are unable to return to their homes due to the official and unofficial High Security Zone (HSZ) restrictions in areas in the North and East These HSZs also prevent/severely restrict access to livelihood. Churches and private property are being occupied by the military in Jaffna, Mannar, and Mullaitivu. Regular checking by the military takes place in many areas in the Jaffna, Killinochchi and Mullaithivu districts”.

The situation on the ground is much worse. Statistics and statements do not reflect the actual agony of a people, who are under an oppressive regime, where the military calls the shots.

In Tamil areas, more than the civil administration it is the military that is in close touch with civilians. In the current situation, there is no privacy for a Tamil family. What happens within the four walls of a home needs to get the army’s consent.

Foot patrol: Security remains high in Tamil areas as patrol teams continue their vigil on foot

One rule for instance is that every family has to inform the army, the guests they receive, their relationship, and the reason and duration of their visit.

Any family get together, be it for a simple birth or naming of a child, attainment of puberty of a girl, a wedding or even a death, needs prior permission from the nearest police post.

The people here have lost trust in one another as they do not know who of their neighbours is a police informer.

The army appears to be present everywhere. It is common to see the presence of soldiers in all civilian activities including village, temple, or church meetings.

Churches need to inform the army when it calls for meetings of its members and the military would send its representative as an observer. Every village has a civilian affairs counter run by the armed forces where anyone entering a village needs to register.

Fear psychosis: While the Tamils are terrified of the security forces, the Lankan army personnel seem to be haunted by the ghosts of LTTE as they refuse to let down their guard two years after end of the civil war. Photo shows a security watch tower in a Tamil village

In Jaffna peninsula, where about 4 lakh people live, there are over 80,000 military personnel to keep a watch over them, which is not including the police force and cadre of the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party), the pro-government para military outfit of Douglas Devananda.

The continuation of the high security zones comes at a high human cost. In Jaffna peninsula alone there are more than 60,000 Tamils who are rendered homeless. Restriction of fishing and cultivation continues in the High Security Zones everywhere. In Mannar the entire village of Mullikulam is displaced as a big naval complex is coming up.

The trauma of war continues for the Tamils as they see the men in uniform, most often searching their villages or investigating.

The psychological torture the people are undergoing is unimaginable. There is a clear instruction from the government to churches and the non-governmental organizations not to provide any kind of counselling to the war affected Tamils or organize life skill training for them.

Some former cadre of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) have turned ‘approvers’ and joined hands with the army. They are often threatened by the military to reveal names of LTTE supporters.

Intimidators: The photo shows security men marking their presence in a Tamil area in North Sri Lanka

In panic, these former militants point out people who would have given them a glass of water or tea during the pre-May 18, 2009 engagements. Then the newly identified family is harassed.

Single women headed families fear the most for the safety of themselves and their children in the presence of large number of armed personnel. There have been many instances when their doors have been knocked at midnight and at times sexual favours sought as more than 50,000 of the 90,000 widows in the war zone are aged below 40.

There are also perceived attempts at cultural degradation of Tamil society by the Sinhalese army, who organise monthly ‘cultural programmes’ for Tamil youth where they would sell beer and other alcoholic drinks.

Many people fear that the food products sold at the army welfare stores (Jana stores) for civilians and during the cultural nights are mixed with drugs that could make men impotent.

The war is over but the fruits of the spoils are enjoyed by the military, Sinhalese from the South and Tamil political allies of the ruling party. Individual liberties and civil rights are a far cry.
Also Read: Inside Lanka (Part I) - EXCLUSIVE

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