By B. Anton Jeyanathan (Sunday Times)
In the aftermath of the killing of two Jaffna University students who were riding a motor cycle in the early hours of the day, by the police officers in Jaffna, said to be at a barrier in order to stop them fleeing, the security situation in Jaffna became tense. Political parties of the North and the South attributed this incident to their own political advantage. However, it was heartening to note that the student’s union of all the universities throughout the island joined hands together in condemning this shooting. Let no political parties take undue advantage of this incident attributing it to violation of human rights by the police.
Hand bombs, knives and masks recovered from a group arrested in the Wanni region.
Since this matter is before judicial investigation, I do not wish to deal with the details of the shooting incident itself. However, the shooting by the police has raised many concerns and protests by members of civil societies, members of the University Students Association, religious societies etc. The prompt action taken by the President in instructing the Police Department to conduct impartial investigations and take the police officers involved in this incident into custody and proceed with a judicial inquiry has brought satisfaction to the people of Jaffna who had understood that this shooting has no political motive nor is it an oppressive act by the police. The domestic inquiries conducted by the police so far have revealed that there have been several serious lapses on the part of the police officers who were on duty and that the decision and the order to open fire was questionable. I am confident that the departmental inquiry will conclude with evidence to file departmental charges against the errant police officers in addition to the criminal charges which may be brought against the officers once the investigation into the shooting is over.
On a visit to KKS over the weekend I met certain respectable members of civil societies as well as religious leaders, all of whom unanimously acknowledged that there is a positive change in the attitude of the police who are stationed in the Northern province towards the people of Jaffna. Nevertheless, they expressed the opinion that most of the police officers deployed do not speak or understand the Tamil language which is spoken by the majority of the people in Jaffna and in the Northern Province. They were also of the opinion that the police officers have not been properly briefed or given orientation courses as to how their duties should help in the process of reconciliation and how they should be people friendly in their day to day duties.
They do not consider the police officers to be anti Tamil or that they are those who oppress or suppress the law abiding section of the Tamil population. They voiced their opinion that the police officers must be well conversant in the Tamil language, that they should be educated that the era of militant activities by the Tamil youth has been eradicated, and that the present population living in Jaffna and the Northern province are eager to follow the democratic way of governance and that they fully extend their co-operation to reconciliation and peaceful living.
In respect of the shooting incident there were allegations of a group named the “Aava” who are said to be operating in the Jaffna peninsula. Some of the allegations were that they are the rump of the LTTE and they are engaged in terrorist activities, and that the two students who were killed were also members of the same group. There were also allegations that this group was responsible for militant activities and that it was originally mooted by the armed forces, which allegations have no base. However, it is for the police to investigate the background of this group, trace their origin, and round up all members as it is also alleged that they are engaged in robberies and theft. It is the duty of the police to unmask and uproot this group once and for all without leaving room for further growth.
Release of lands
The concerned citizens and religious groups were also happy that the lands belonging to the peasants were released. They were also happy that the Secretary of Defence and the army had erected houses in the KKS area to be donated to those people who had been displaced due to the LTTE war. I am personally thankful to Mr. Karunasena Hettiarchchi, Secretary of Defence, who with the concurrence of the Northern army commander released the ancestral property which was in the high security zone near the KKS railway station.
However, the citizens expressed their concern about the situation in the KKS area where the Army is occupying the entire area from KKS junction up to Palali on the KKS/Palali road. The army has taken over the lands on either side of the road and in the process they had demolished churches and temples and even desecrated cemeteries. They expressed their hope that the President would give sympathetic attention to this aspect where the lands where churches, temples and cemeteries were located have been taken over by the armed forces and have these areas returned to the relevant religious authorities. These areas were the homeland of government servants, teachers, cement factory workers, businessmen, railway officers and fisher folk in the Oorany area.
uring the LTTE terrorist period all the residents in the area vacated their homes and either went abroad or found new homes in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya. Concerned citizens expressed the view that the civilians should be encouraged to return to these areas so that they could regain their lands and start a new life in their own land. The government has facilitated the railway service up to KKS which has become a boon to the people of Jaffna, and also the Railway Department where it is claimed that the Northern railway line is the one which brings in the highest revenue to the government compared to other railway lines.
The government has taken positive steps to resettle the displaced persons, releasing lands occupied by the armed forces back to the owners and taking further steps to genuinely build trust between the two communities. The people are free to go about from Colombo to Jaffna and to any part of Jaffna without any fear or hindrance. Now that the train service has been extended up to KKS and several trains are transporting people from Colombo to KKS and back, it would further the goodwill towards the government to allow the people who had lost their lands in the KKS area to come back and restore their lands so that they could continue their lives in the land they were born and bred.
All religious authorities whose temples, churches and cemeteries have been demolished, whose lands have been taken over, should make an appeal collectively to the government to have their lands returned to them. The government is certain to examine their requests and release the lands with the concurrence of the army. It is for the religious authorities to take this matter up with the government to restore their lands.