Army controls pose acid test for UNP

[TamilNet, Friday, 14 December 2001, 16:50 GMT]
Thousands of farmers face ruin in the northern parts of Batticaloa because of Sri Lanka Army imposed restrictions on tractors, sources said. On 12 November the SLA banned farmers from taking their tractors to plough fields in the western hinterland of the eastern district. The ban was imposed on the eve of the ploughing period. More than 15, 000 acres couldn’t be tilled on time for sowing as a consequence. “Our problem is an acid test for the UNP government which says it will lift such unfair restrictions by the SLA which affect ordinary Tamils like us in the north and east. If the army comes up with its usual excuse that this is a security related matter, will the new government have the mettle and authority to determine the truth and let us carry on with our cultivation?” asked a senior member of the Agrarian Services Committee for Peruvelikandam, the body representing the interests of farmers in this region.

There are five entry points to the hinterland in the northern part of the Batticaloa district. Farmers are not allowed at all to take tractors through the northernmost entry point at Mankerni, about 40 kilometres north of Batticaloa.

The Liberation Tigers and the Tamil National Alliance insist that such restrictions and the decade long embargo on the Tamils of the Vanni should be lifted soon if any meaningful talks are to start.

On 10 December, the SLA lifted the ban partially at the Uppodai Road entry point, allowing 15 tractors a day only from the village of Vanthaarumoolai, 20 kilometres north of Batticaloa. The tractors have to be ones registered with the SLA and have to leave in the morning and return before 5 p.m. There are 65 tractors in Vanthaarumoolai, one of the largest farming villages in Batticaloa.

The SLA told farmers that it might allow tractors through the Kiran Bridge also from Saturday. But farmers won’t be permitted to take the trailers of their tractors.

“But we would not be able to take all that is required to start cultivation without the trailers”, lamented a farmer in Kiran.

The Black Bridge and the Santhanamadu Aaru entry points still remain closed for the farmers’ tractors.

“Many farmers affected by the ‘tractor’ problem are looking for other work to tide over hard times next year”, a social worker in Batticaloa north said.

 

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