Razeek group leads Batticaloa's organised crime
[TamilNet, Thursday, 03 September 1998, 23:59 GMT]
The Razeek group, the much-dreaded Tamil unit of the Sri Lankan army (SLA) in Batticaloa, is fast expanding into a business organization - at considerable cost to the local community, say sources.
The group is extorting money and goods from almost every local industry. Seized goods are being sold through its own shops.
The group sells, among other things, sand for construction work, runs three grocery stores, invests in local real estate and raises a large number of pigs!
Sand is a commodity that is in great demand in Batticaloa because there is considerable construction activity in many parts of the town. The war has pushed a large number of businessmen and rich farmers in the district's western hinterlands into the town over the years.
Land prices in Batticaloa have shot up as a direct consequence; and marsh on the town's edge is being reclaimed by the land hungry middle classes and rural rich.
However, the price of sand is high because the town authorities prohibit its removal from the coast and riverbeds in the town's vicinity in view of the massive environmental damage.
The local authorities, however, have no say over the activities of the Razeek group which removes sand for sale from wherever that suits its convenience.
Furthermore, for this purpose the group has laid down a rule that all tractor owners in the Batticaloa district should send in their vehicles with fuel every fortnight for a day to transport sand.
In this way, according to a senior Sri Lankan government official, the Razeek group is able to collect and sell at least 20 tractor loads of sand every day. Each 'load' is sold for thousand Sri Lankan rupees.
Razeek, the group leader who is now a non commissioned officer of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), has a 'finance committee', comprising two senior EPRLF cadres known as Nithi and Paskaran, that is in charge of the collections.
The collectors get a percentage of the monies that they bring in said a source close to Razeek.
The group collects from local farmers five hundred Sri Lankan rupees for every acre of paddy that they harvest. Officials estimate that at least five thousand acres in the region are taxed thus, netting Razeek and his colleagues 2.5 million rupees during each harvest.
Every lorry that brings brick from the kilns in the district's western hinterland has to pay thousand two hundred rupees and every liquor shop and restaurant has to pay a thousand rupees per month.
Rice mills have to give 5 bags of paddy monthly. There are about twenty liquor shops and 10 rice mills in the region. Some of the rice bags collected thus are sold at the grocery stores run by the Razeek group.
Fishermen returning from sea often find Razeek group members waiting at the jetty, along with other Sri Lankan security forces personnel, to take the best fish from their catches.
In addition to this the group runs passenger vans on two profitable routes.
But Razeek's main source of income, according to informed officials, is regular extortion from the big business concerns and shops in the town. The local jewelers and goldsmiths pay a monthly sum that was fixed through negotiations.
Razeek was a senior member of the EPRLF and led an assassination unit under the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), known as the 'Mandayan' group. It is widely believed that Razeek is still part of the EPRLF, however, the organisation issues lame denials whenever the link comes in for public criticism.
The Razeek group, which numbers some 150, now operates under the supervision of the local Sri Lankan military, drawing salaries as full time soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army. The group runs a camp in the Batticaloa town in what was formerly the residence of Parliamentarian Sam Thambimuthu.
The Razeek group participates in anti-LTTE operations with the SLA. Some of the group's members have been trained at the SLA's Infantry Training School in Minneriya, about 120 kilometers north west of Batticaloa.
Razeek group members have taken part in cordon and search operations in full SLA uniform, interrogating villagers and translating documents, and have earned a reputation for brutality and ruthlessness amongst the residents of Batticaloa.
Some members of the Razeek group from poor families, are believed to have joined for the relatively high SLA salary. The Batticaloa district suffers from high unemployment.
The Batticaloa Municipal Council (BMC) have protested over the Razeek group's illegal activities to the Batticaloa MPs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction and the District Secretary, to no avail.
Some Sri Lankan Police officials claim that although they are aware of Razeek's massive organised extortion, they are not keen to intervene or investigate because the Razeek group is officially a unit of the Sri Lankan army.
However, local businessmen say that this a lame excuse on the part of the local Police because the EPRLF and PLOTE groups also collect taxes in Batticaloa with impunity though they are not part of the SLA.
"Making money in Batticaloa is risky business as long these groups 'tax' us unreasonably and with impunity" said a businessman in Batticaloa town who pays five thousand rupees a month to the Razeek group.
He said that many traders would gladly leave Batticaloa if they were able start business elsewhere.