Shamindra Ferdinando reporting from Palaly
Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe said that the military wouldn’t have been able to vacate the Jaffna High Security Zones (HSZs) if the LTTE had retained a conventional fighting capability.
He pointed out that HSZs in the Jaffna peninsula had remained in place though the peninsula was liberated in December 1995. “We never thought of giving up HSZs until the defeat of powerful LTTE formations operating in the Vanni in May 2009,” the Jaffna Commander said, adding that since then the military had handed over a substantial part of privately owned land to their rightful owners. “The release of 5,258 acres of land took place on a staggered basis. At the height of the conflict we held altogether 11,234 acres in the peninsula,” the Jaffna Commander said. The military continues to hold 5,976 acres.
When pointed out that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), some members of the international community and a section of the media had been severely critical of remaining HSZ had taken up the issue up at various international fora, Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe pointed out that both the military and the LTTE had maintained high security zones throughout the conflict. Those urging the military to vacate Jaffna hadn’t been bothered about the LTTE’s HSZs, its accountability issues and the displaced persons while Prabhakaran remained strong, he said.
According to him, a large section of the land still categorized as HSZ was state owned, therefore there couldn’t be any issue.
The Jaffna Commander was speaking to The Island after having participated in a brief ceremony within the Palaly security compound to unveil a special monument for a group of Indian para-commandos killed during an abortive raid on the Jaffna University on the night of Oct 11/12 1987. The group was tasked to kill LTTE leader Prabhakaran, his deputy Gopalsamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattya and local leaders believed to be operating from there.
The Jaffna Commander told The Island that the military had now identified 7,233 plots of land belonging to the civilian community located within the remaining HSZ.
The Jaffna peninsula is the home to three divisions namely 51, 52 and 55 deployed in Waligamam, Thennamaratchchy and Elephant Pass sectors. Although the LTTE no longer posed a conventional military threat, the military would have to position troops at strategic locations to face any eventuality, he said. The ongoing expansion of Palaly-KKS sector was in accordance with the overall security objectives, he said. But it would be important to keep in mind that both Palaly air port as well as KKS harbour was being used by civilians, the Maj. Gen. said.
He said that the three Divisions had so far handed over 3,409 houses situated in previous HSZs to their rightful owners. The Jaffna Commander invited those critical of the post-war developments to visit the peninsula and make their own inquiries.
Commenting on the recent Opposition protest campaign in Tellippalai demanding the army to vacate the peninsula, he said that those bankrupt political elements couldn’t even attract 1,000 people living in Jaffna to their cause. Even those who had joined the protest were not civilians affected by the military occupying their land. The vast majority of people really appreciated the release of former LTTE combatants who were not facing serious charges, the Jaffna commander said. Those who visited Jaffna to launch protests could now stay in air conditioned comfort of hotels situated in Jaffna town, he said.
Earlier in the day, Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe addressed Jaffna-based media at his headquarters, where he explained measures taken by the government and the military to further improve the living conditions. Responding to a query by the media, the Jaffna Commander assured that he would inform relevant authorities of their request for a monument in Jaffna for civilians who had perished during the war. The media pointed out that there should be a monument for civilians as there were monuments for the Sri Lankan military as well as the LTTE. While welcoming the idea, the Jaffna Commander emphasized that there couldn’t be monuments for terrorists killed during the conflict.
The Jaffna Commander pointed out that the Jaffna media wouldn’t have dared to accept an invitation for a media briefing at Palaly Security Forces headquarters if the LTTE had survived the Vanni offensive.COURTESY:THE ISLAND