Move to make SLA camp permanent sparks protest
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 02 July 2003, 11:25 GMT]
“The effort to establish the Sri Lanka army’s Kallady camp on a permanent basis goes against the grain of the Cease Fire Agreement”, Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, Tamil National Alliance MP, told TamilNet, Wednesday, referring to recent moves by the military to acquire property and land in a suburb on the southern outskirts of the Batticaloa town.
Quarters built in this suburb by the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) for government officials in Batticaloa have been occupied by troops since 1990.
The SLA recently wrote to the NHDA seeking a valuation of its quarters in Kallady for the purpose of taking these over permanently.
The Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) too has sought to acquire a building in the NHDA quarters (no. M-2). Mr. Pararajasingham said he had spoken to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Mr. Austin Fernando, regarding the matter on Monday; but that Mr. Fernando had stated that he was unaware of the move by the SLA and the DII to acquire the NHDA quarters and land in Kallady.
“However, Defence Secretary told me to send him a formal letter setting out the issue in detail”, the MP said.
The NHDA built 23 houses on government land in the early eighties. Two of these were sold to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and one to the National Water Supply Board. The rest were for occupation by senior Sri Lankan government officials working in the district. In 1990, when the SLA expanded its position by the Kallady beach to establish a large camp, it took over 13 of the NHDA quarters under Emergency Regulations.
“Tamils here see the CFA between the Tigers and Colombo as the basis for bringing about permanent peace because it holds out the promise that all the public buildings and utilities in Batticaloa, such as the Municipal Council, Library, Forest Department, thoroughfares etc., would eventually be returned to their rightful owners for the good of the people. The CFA stands on the belief that this land would be freed of all unnecessary military occupation when an acceptable solution is found at the end of the peace process. But the move to make the SLA camp in Kallady permanent is seriously undermining the people’s positive attitude towards peace”, said Mr. Aiyathurai Nadesan, senior correspondent and political columnist for the Tamil daily Virakesari in Batticaloa.
The Kallady SLA camp lies spread along the beach for about one kilometre, occupying a large tract comprising state and private lands and properties.
The SLA moved into the area in 1982, taking over a Rural Development Training Centre under the emergency regulations to set up a minor post. The position was expanded and built into a large camp since 1990.
The Young Men’s Christian Association in Batticaloa says a training centre belonging to it is also inside the camp and that the army has made inquiries about acquiring it too.
A retired Sri Lanka army officer in Colombo who is familiar with the Kallady camp’s origins and importance said: “The place offers the closest and safest access to the sea for the troops in the Batticaloa town. The sea is obviously the supply route of the last resort there. The army in Batticaloa town cannot depend only on its Main Supply Route (MSR) from Polannaruwa (the A-15 Road) because it runs through a vast region held by the LTTE. For this same reason, the camp on the Kalkudah coast is also important strategically for army’s positions in Batticaloa north”.
Kalkudah, 32 kilometres north of Batticaloa, was one of the most thriving beach resorts in Sri Lanka before the war. The SLA now occupies the British period rest house and a long picturesque beach here.
“The LTTE has a division of regular troops backed by at least a dozen batteries of heavy mortars – and possibly artillery- concentrated in the northern part of the Batticaloa district, which is under their control. The army’s MSR to the district, which winds through this region, is therefore terribly fragile. Hence the SLA’s keenness to strengthen its position on the Kallady coast”, the retired officer pointed out.
(An SLA division has nine thousand troops but constant fighting and desertions have reduced many of its battle worthy divisions to 4-5 thousand. But the SLA says that the LTTE's divisions are full strength formations)
The Sri Lankan military’s Batticaloa brigade headquarters is located along the eastern coast of island of Puliyanthivu. The main part of Batticaloa’s town centre too is lies within this island. The east coast of Puliyanthivu is closest point on this island across the lagoon to the sea.
Until the British built one of the longest railway bridges in Sri Lanka to in the 1920’s to link the northern part of the town with the narrow stretch of land between the lagoon and the sea, the shortest distance from the Batticaloa Fort jetty across the water was Kallady.
Portuguese, Dutch and British armies conquered and controlled the countryside in Batticaloa by holding the landing at Kallady to ferry troops across the lagoon particularly during times of rebellion. Hence the Dutch had a small garrison there, apparently to hold the ferry point.
The people of Batticaloa, led by the Chieftain Arumaipperumal rose in rebellion against the British in 1803 and captured most of the district except the island of Puliyanthivu where the British troops had retreated to defend the fort. Three months later, the British, with large reinforcements under Captain Johnston, crushed the rebellion brutally. Arumaipperumal was captured and sent in chains to Colombo.
Control of the Fort in Puliyanthivu (Built by Portuguese in 1622) and a presence in Kallady is therefore considered strategic for dominating the Batticaloa district.
“The strategic concerns of the army are not good enough reason for taking over land and public property in the midst of a well populated and expanding suburb of Batticaloa town. And importantly, the army’s attitude does not seem to be much different from that of the colonial rulers”, said Mr. Nadesan.