'Strategic’ camps to remain despite ceasefire terms - Army chief

[TamilNet, Friday, 31 May 2002, 01:07 GMT]
Amid renewed pressure for the Sri Lankan armed forces to vacate schools, places of worship and other public places as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement, Army chief Lieutenant General Lional Balagalle said Friday that his troops would not withdraw from camps ‘of strategic importance and those within the high security zones.’ These withdrawals would happen only if “the two parties agree on disarmament,” he told the state-owned Daily News.

Lt. Gen. Balagalle said although he has taken “every possible step” to relocate Army camps from places of worship and school buildings, it is “impossible to do everything that is requested” and the Army is ready to take action “on fair demands.”

“It is impossible to remove camps in the Palaly high security zone and Muhamalai at this juncture and we can consider this once the two parties complete negotiations over disarmament,” the Army Commander added.

He said the Army has already vacated school buildings where immediate options were available for relocation. Further withdrawals depended on suitable [alternative] places are found for troops.

Responding a question on complaints regarding damaged school buildings the Army Commander said the LTTE should also be held responsible for the damage to school buildings as they concentrated on those buildings when attacking the Army.

Security forces who withdrew from schools in Batticaloa had removed the roofs from all the buildings of the school rendering them unusable.

Education officials in Jaffna last week protested that the two schools vacated by the SLA were unusable due to the damage on building. The vacated schools had been occupied since 1996, when the Army captured the Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE in a massive operation codenamed ‘Riviresa.’

According to the ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE which came into effect on February 23 (defined as ‘D-day’), the parties to the conflict “shall refrain from engaging in activities or propagating ideas that could offend cultural or religious sensitivities.”

“Places of worship (temples, churches, mosques and other holy sites, etc.) currently held by either of the parties shall be vacated by D-day + 30 and made accessible to the public,” the agreement states.

“Places of worship which are situated in ‘high security zones’ shall be vacated by all armed personnel and maintained in good order by civilian workers, even when they are not made accessible to the public.”

“Beginning on the date on which this Agreements enters into force, school buildings occupied by either party shall be vacated and returned to their intended use. This activity shall be completed by D-day +160 at the latest.”

“A schedule indicating the return of all other public buildings to their intended use shall be drawn up by the Parties and published at the latest by D-day + 30.”


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