SLA garrison work on track amid Tamil concerns

[TamilNet, Sunday, 30 March 2003, 18:39 GMT]
The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) began preparations for building a garrison on the southern sector of the Jaffna town this weekend amid growing concerns in the Tamil press and political circles about its implications for the northern peninsula.

Jaffna Map (click to enlarge)
The SLA has already demarcated the premises of the Jaffna Municipal Council and has begun the reconstruction of the Jaffna Fort.

SLA sources in Jaffna said that the new garrison was being built to house headquarters and camps of its 51-2 Brigade which are now located in the busy heart of the northern town.

The Liberation Tigers laid siege to the SLA garrison in the Jaffna Fort in August 1990 and captured it a month later. Unable to hold the fort under heavy fire, the SLA was forced to retreat across the lagoon to Mandaithivu, the minor island south of Jaffna town.

The LTTE said that the Fort symbolised more than 300 hundred years of Tamil enslavement to foreign powers.

JMC land
The JMC land demarcated with ropes (foreground) by the SLA. (click to enlarge)
Most of the Fort’s ramparts were demolished by the LTTE and the townpeople later with a view to preventing armed forces from occupying it in the future. However the Fort’s sturdy foundations, the lower battlements, tunnels and the moat remained intact.

A Fort at this site was originally built on a smaller scale by the Portuguese in early 17th century.

The Dutch commander Rijckloff Van Goens laid siege to the Fort in March 1658 and captured it three months later. The Fort was re-built on a larger scale in the 18th century by Dutch military engineers.

Critics in the Tamil press argued this weekend the SLA garrison encompassing the Jaffna Municipal Council premises and the Fort, once built, would complete a defence chain along the Jaffna lagoon coast as a formidable bulwark against any onslaught from the mainland and hence Colombo is patently keener to consolidate Jaffna militarily than develop it economically.

Jaffna Fort
A section of the low battlements of the Fort reflected on the stagnant waters of the moat (Click to enlarge)
But SLA sources in the north pointed out that the move was part of a plan to dismantle the military's High Security Zone in Jaffna town.

“What is more worrisome in this is the manner in which the Sri Lankan government is able to arbitrarily take over property without consultation with any local party directly concerned in the matter. The take over of the Jaffna Municipality premises betrays an arbitrariness and disregard for fundamental property rights in the northeast on the part of the United National Front regime. This shows the UNF is subtly re-introducing those draconian aspects of the Emergency Regulations which in the past provided the main legal façade for oppressing the Tamil people”, said Mr. M. K Sivajilingam, Tamil National Alliance MP for Jaffna, speaking to Tamilnet Sunday.

Jaffna Fort
A view of a narrow access through the lower rampart of the Fort facing the Jaffna lagoon. It is a crucial point through which the SLA garrison defending the Fort withdrew in 1990 in the face of a fierce LTTE siege.

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25.03.03   PM urged to stop SLA camp in Jaffna municipal land
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