Military build-up seen threatening festival

[TamilNet, Saturday, 05 September 1998, 18:06 GMT]
Tension mounted in the Kokkaddicholai area today as rumours spread thatthe SLA and the commandos of the Special Task Force (STF) have movedinto Valakaalai, about 9 kilometers west of this large strategically locatedvillage in Batticaloa's western hinterland.

Valakaalai is a abandoned minor settlement about 6 kilometers east of the Batticaloa - Ampara district border.

The annual festival of the medieval Shiva temple (Thaanthondreesvarar) of Kokkaddicholai is currently in progress and has drawn unprecedented crowds from all parts of the Batticaloa district.

Temple officials said that devotees are thronging mainly because the temple's chariot is going to be drawn tomorrow after a gap of twenty years.

This event, which is ritually the high point of the Kokkaddicholai temple's annual festival, did not take place after 1978, when the old chariot was damaged by the cyclone that ravaged the Batticaloa district on November 23 that year.

Hence, temple officials were worried today that any further advance by the STF and the SLA in the direction of Kokkaddicholai could seriously disrupt the festival's main event tomorrow.

They also pointed out that the STF commandos at the Manmunai ferry, the main crossing point to the western hinterland, are confiscating the national identity cards of all the youth who are coming to the temple festival.

The STF has said that the cards would be returned only on the return of their respective owners.

Reports reaching Kokkaddicholai this afternoon indicated that the STF from the Pulukunaavi camp (which was overrun by the LTTE in December 1996) had moved into the Valakaalai area with some SLA units yesterday.

Residents said that the SL security forces could move into their village to establish a base here.

The STF had a key base in Kokkaddicholai until 1995. An attempt by the STF and SLA Special Forces from Minneriya on August 26 to bring the village under their control and to build a camp was thwarted when this SL task force was intercepted by the LTTE before it could reach its destination.

The LTTE's civil administration offices in the region were destroyed and three of its Policewomen were killed in a multi pronged joint security forces operation into this area earlier. The Liberation Tigers have reduced their presence in the area since then.

The ancient Shiva temple of Kokkaddicholai was enhanced and invested with central political power by the imperial Cholas around the eleventh century AD.

The code for the annual distribution of honours among the communities which live in the region was established by the Saivite general who annexed Sri Lanka to the Chola empire, according to the history of the temple.

"But calamities of this war, such as the uncertainty about drawing the chariot tomorrow, give us little respite to ponder our ancient heritage" lamented a member of the Kokkaddicholai Thaanthondreeswarar temple's festival committee this afternoon.


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