Posted on January 12th, 2020


The Tamil Separatist Movement complained that the military did not leave the North after the Eelam war ended in 2009. In the whole country there are only 20 army divisions. Of this 10 are in the north and east, the Tamil Separatist Movement complained. The security forces continue to remain in the north and east in large numbers, observed Jehan Perera in 2016.  Wigneswaran said he saw no reason why there should be a 150,000 strong military still stationed in the north 7 years after the war ended.  He said that the Sri Lanka army was an overbearing presence in the north.

The army will not be withdrawn from Northern Province. The Northern Province is a part of Sri Lanka, nobody can question the military presence there, said the government firmly.  The government has every right to set up military establishments in any part of its territory. It has a legitimate right to decide where it keeps its forces. A sovereign state has the right to station its army in any place it chooses.

Forces must be positioned in strategic locations said Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Defence secretary.  In Sri Lanka army camps are situated in all parts of the country. If all the Provincial Councils ask me to remove the army then where am I to keep the army, asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa. US forces are stationed in Japan, Korea, and all over the world and nobody questions that.

 Defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated in 2012 that Sri Lanka is still under threat. The LTTE rump and pro LTTE organizations are trying to achieve separatism. They want to create another armed struggle here. There is ample evidence that they are constantly trying to contact groups in Sri Lanka and urge them to regroup militarily. There are 2400 once captured terrorists living in the north. The government has to be vigilant. There was the possibility of the war returning, the government said in 2014.

There was evidence to support this claim. In April 2014, the army killed three wanted persons, Sundaralingam Kajeepan alias Thevihan, Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gopi, and probably Navaratnam Navaneethan alias Appan. They were killed following a confrontation at Vedivachchikallu, south of Nedunkerni.  Thevihan had been involved in the LTTE air attacks on the Anuradhapura air base in October 2007 and the Kolonnawa Petroleum Storage facility also in 2007. 

This was the largest man hunt for LTTE cadres, launched in the Northern Province since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009.  It has been launched in the wake of Gopi shooting at a police officer on Match 13 at Dharmapuram, a one-time LTTE stronghold.  Government saw this as an attempt to revive the LTTE. Gopi and Thevian had lived abroad. They seem to have been funded by the Europe-based LTTE groups. They were working under instruction form Nediyawan and Vinayagam. They were preparing the ground for another armed campaign.  The people in the area had helped the army with information. Authorities detained 60 persons, including 10 women in connection with their alleged involvement in the new terrorism project.

The military did not retreat from the north after winning the Eelam war in 2009. Instead, permanent military bases, were set up, to protect strategically important areas of the north and east.

The government started redeploying its naval and air assets to thwart any future attempt to open up illegal sea routes. The navy and air force will reposition their assets in support of ground deployment in coastal areas, the government announced in 2010. In Jaffna we have taken over some lands close to Port and airports, they said in 2013.

 Navy has shifted its north western HQ from Puttalam to Mullikulam to exercise naval command and control of Udappuwa to Arippu. The purpose was to ensure that north eastern seas couldn’t be use for illegal activities.

Cantonments were planned for key locations in the north, east and north western coast. Sri Lanka Navy established a cantonment camp at Mollikulam in the coastal areas. This would be the first of a series of satellite camps along the coastal belt form Karuwalakuda to Pukkulam with a 29 km extension into the Wilpattu national park.A road will be constructed to run parallel to this. LTTE had used their bases along the north western coast to bring in supplies from India across the Gulf of Manner. These camps will prevent this, said the government.

 However, civil society” opposed the reopening of the old Mannar road (Puttalam- Marichchikaddi.  The media observed that the Civil society” opposed decisions of the government that would deny the LTTE an opportunity to make a comeback.

Government would not demobilize the army or reduce military presence in the Northern Province under any circumstances, though the west was pushing for this, the government said in 2014. Army camps in the north will not be removed under any circumstances. Military bases which could hold the strategically important areas of the north and east needed to be carefully maintained.

There is no war one now, but war preparedness is necessary and the armed forces must remain as they are. There is a need for continued military vigilance and the majority of the citizens are more than happy about the continued existence of a strong military,   said Defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Tamil Separatist Movement thought otherwise. TULF had wanted the military camps removed in toto. As early as 2010 TULF objected to the opening of an army camp at Mullaitivu.  Also building permanent houses for the army. The government should forthwith stop opening any more new camps in Vanni, close down the one already opened and also abandon the idea of constructing permanent houses in the North and the East for the use of the Army, said TULF

In a peaceful situation, so much of Army Camps are not at all necessary and all Camps other than those that were in existence before the war, should be closed down immediately, without causing humiliation to the people who think that they are fighting a holy war” concluded the TULF.

Gamini Keerawella in 2013 made a plea for ht ere removal of the army from the north. A heavy and visible military       presence in every nook and corner of the north is counter productive for peace, he said. Sri Lanka cannot afford to consider a section of its own citizenry a security threat  

Having won the war,  the government seems to be doing its best to make the people in the north feel newly oppressed. That is not the way to win reconciliation. It is  a prescription for renewed rebellion, continued Keerawella.

The heavy militarization of the province, ostensibly designed to protect against the renewal of militancy is in fact deepening the alienation and anger of the northern Tamils, said Keerawella.

The continued presence of the army in Jaffna has created a serious concern internally and internationally. The claim of the government  that it is not possible  to reduce the military presence because of the threat of a re emergent LTTE reflects that is has not moved  from the earlier conflict mind frame, concluded Keerawella. Any emergence  of the LTTE has  to be checked in the political sphere.

Then in 2015 the Yahapalana government came into power. The Tamil Separatist Movement wanted the military camps removed completely. But even under Yahapalana the armed forces did not agree to give up all military bases. The government   refused to remove the High security Zone around the Palaly camp.   Lands that came under Jaffna and Palaly high security zone could not be released either. Sri Lanka should not succumb to western pressure meant to weaken military strength. They want to reduce the strength of the armed force there to make it ineffective,   said analysts.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff  who visited in 2017  also wanted the military presence reduced. He suggested that there should be a comprehensive mapping of land occupied by the military and the  land recently released. The government   should devisee strategy with deadlines for release  of land and plans for compensation of those areas that will not be returned. The Armed Forces should only retain land that is strictly necessary for security purposes .Decisions to retain land should not be made only by the military, it should not be within the sole purview of the military.

However, there was one very successful removal of a vital army camp. The entire Sampur naval base was removed by  President Sirisena. The 400 plus sailors who were there were sent to Boossa navy camp in Galle.    818 acres in Sampur   given to internally displaced persons   on the argument that 825 displaced families were living in Sampur in temporary shelters.  Tamil leaders attended the ceremony in verti and wearing garlands.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had declared Sampur to be an industrial zone.  Lands in Sampur were given to the BOI for investments projects. The Sampur navy camp areas had been given to Sri Lanka Gateway Industries President Sirisena revoked this agreement. Gateway appealed. They stated that there was a master plan of the project included the development of the deepwater jetty bulk commodities terminal, power generation plants, sugar industries, fertilizer industries,  transshipping coal and thermal coal, iron ore industries, oil and petrochemical industry car manufacturing assembling plant and a host of other industries which would generate much employment. It was a cabinet approved project with the highest FDI ever in Sri Lanka history.    They were granted interim relief. The decision could be not over turned. A presidential order by gazette cannot be challenged as per article 35 of the constitution.

In 2017 TNA demanded   that the Navy base at Silawathura be removed and land released to civilians.   Also that navy vacate its camp at Mullikulam and give the land back to civilians there. The military said ‘no’. It would not remove the Navy camps at Silawathura and Mullikulam as they were needed for curbing arms, drug and human smuggling operations.  Mullikulam  army camp is on state land and need not be moved.

 TNA also wanted Navy base at Musali in Mannar removed. The military said no, again. The location of this Navy base was strategically important for the national security.  “It is an important location in terms of preventing illegal migration and illegal transportation of goods therefore the base will remain. However of the 34 acres, 6 would be released to owners.  So far 66 persons have claimed ownership of the land. Out of this number, 38 persons are dead. Government has given alternative lands of 20 perches each to 12 persons and four houses have been constructed. In Valikamam North too there were some lands that the military needed for national security reasons. In 2019, the navy was trying to acquire 163 acres of land belonging to KKS Cement Factory  and TNA was trying to prevent  this.

The Tamil Separatist Movement did  not like this. Since Yahapalana was   in power,  the  Tamil Separatist Movement became bold. In  February 2016,  probably encouraged by the regime change of 2015, residents of Parevipachchan in Kilinochchi forcibly entered the   Kilinochchi army camp in their area demanding that it vacate ‘forcibly occupied lands’. A tense situation arose as a result.

In April 2016,  R. Sampanthan with several TNA MPs and a group of NGO representatives had forcibly entered an army camp of Gajaba regiment in Kilinochchi .He had stated that the army camp should be removed and lands given back to the people. TNA defended Sampanthan’s action. He had only been there to inspect the houses in an area which was ‘unlawfully ‘occupied by the army, TNA said. 

Then In August 2016 when officials of the Mullaitivu Survey department went to mark the boundaries of a plot to be acquired by the navy they were turned back by residents. The Navy responded. Navy  had taken over the   670 acres in 2009 and were finalizing the transfer. Half was private owned, half was state  owned, with land given out on permits to people for settlement. Navy planned to pay compensation.

In February 2019,Tamil  civilians engaged in protest opposite an army base in Mullaitivu asking troops to leave the area. Photograph showed them holding up placards in all three languages.

In April 2019 Surveyors tasked with surveying the Mandaitivu navy camp, Jaffna, had to return as a group of protestors led by former Northern Provincial Councilor M.K. Sivajilingam obstructed their work. The government has decided to expand the camp and the surveyors had  arrived there to do their work. .The protesters blocked the vehicle in which the surveyors arrived and turned them back. .Sivajilingam vowed that the people would not allow the expansion of the navy camp.

With the change of President, from Sirisena to Gotabaya Rajapaksa , the military  once again stood firm. The government is not going to remove or relocate any military camp according to anybody’s whims, Defence Secretary Major General Kamal Gunaratne said in December 2019. Military camps are necessary to ensure the security of the general public. They do not harm  citizens living near it,  but provide service to its surrounding communities. Those who oppose Eelam agreed. The military should remain in strength in the North they said. 

There is still a need for vigilance in the North, said the military. There was evidence  for this. In June 2018 police in Nedunkerni stopped a three-wheeler scooter headed from Oddusuddan to Puthukudiyiruppu. A check on the three-wheeler revealed a locally manufactured bomb with 15 kilos of C-4 explosives. Police said the quantity was enough to destroy a car or van loaded with passengers. Among the other 24 items discovered were 31 detonators, 21 of them prepared for use, 52 other detonators, 120 rounds of T-56 assault rifle ammunition, a Grenade (Tamil Gundu), two pairs of binoculars, six remote control devices, LTTE camouflage trousers, shirts, caps, General Purpose Machine Gun ammunition, pages of July 9 2017 the Sunday Times with which the detonators were wrapped, different credit cards, mobile phones, insurance certificates, rubber stamps and writing pads. There were also SIM cards from two different mobile phone operators and envelopes containing cash. A list of arms and ammunition had been written in the back page of a calendar. The findings have become the subject of a Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) inquiry. Whether an attempt is being made to unearth buried or hidden military and related items for new operational purposes.

If they could not get the camps removed completely, then the Tamil Separatist Movement wanted the lands used by the camps to be reduced. The denial of land will  make them remove troops from north and east, observed Shamindra Ferdinando

  In 2018 Minister Swaminathan sought Cabinet approval to instruct the Army Commander, the Surveyor General and the Jaffna District Secretary, to take necessary steps to identify lands which can be released to their owners from Palaly Cantonment area in order to resettle, those in welfare centres and close down all welfare camps.”

At the insistence of the  Tamil separatist movement   the military  had already handed over lands during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government .400 acres out of the high security 1000 acres in Palali had been distributed. Military camps in Kayts were to be moved in 2015  to acquire land to distribute among owners.

In 2014, Sri Lanka   Air Force returned more than 240 acres of paddy land to 37 families in Keppapilavu, a village in Mullaitivu district. These lands are part of the 1200 acres of land used by the military in the area. There were conditions attached  to the transfer. The recipients  had to sign that in a future civil war, the lands would be willingly given back to the Air Force. If not they would be taken back anyway. Also owners cannot put up permanent fences or plant big trees such as coconut. One at least of the owners had refused to sign such a document saying that this was her dowry..

During Yahapalana rule more military occupied lands were handed over. In2016  it was reported that  President Sirisena has handed back 700 acres from HSZ to original owners. Earlier over 2000 acres were released with the government promising to release more land without compromising security.

In January 2019 the army  released1201.88 acres, including state and private land. They included 972 acres of state land in Kilinochchi and 120 acres of state land in Mullaitivu, where the Army had been running farms. Lands belonging to the Nachchikuda, Vellankulam and Udayarkattu Army farms were also released. 

They also released 46.11 acres of state land in Jaffna and the Vanni and 63.77 acres of private land in Jaffna and the Vanni. 139.56 acres of state land and 10.59 acres of private land, used by 57 Division and 3 Gajaba Regiment troops were released  in  Oddusuddan.

President  Sirisena stated that 88% of land held by the army when his Government assumed office had been released but this was not enough for those supporting Eelam.

The fact remains even 9 years after the conclusion of the war both agricultural land and residential lands yet continue to be in the possession of the armed forces. One glaring instance was Keppapilavu in Mullaitivu district. Where 75 acres of private land owned and possessed by local people for generations and centuries was yet held by the army. This matter has been discussed with both the President and army high-ups several times. For there to be reconciliation and national integration all land belonging to the people which are now in the possession of the armed forces should be released without any further delay, said the Tamil Separatist Movement  in 2018.

The government has released most of the land that was taken over by the military to be high security zones during the war. But there still remain significant parcels of land that have not been returned as they are considered to be of long term strategic value, observed Jehan Perera in 2019.  ( Continued)

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