Protests as SLAF expands airbase

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 19 June 2002, 22:56 GMT]
There were massive protests Wednesday in Batticaloa demanding an end to the occupation of zone 'C' by the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF), the continued occupation by the Sri Lankan armed forces of schools, temples and public buildings and the continued blocking of public travel on several important roads. The SLAF has begun expanding its base in Batticaloa, incorporating a nearby temple and school and triggering outrage amongst locals.

People from six villages within the Municipal limits of Batticaloa -Puthunagar, Thimilatheevu, Sethukudah, Valaiyiravu, Veechukalmunai, Thiruperunthurai- participated in the protests.

Expanding the perimeter of its base by 250m to include land on which the Puthunagar Siththivinayagar temple and the adjacent Sri Vigneswara Vidyalayam are located, the SLAF has demolished a new building being constructed for the priest of the temple.

batti_protest_2_190602.jpgLarge numbers of protesters held a picketing campaign in front of the Batticaloa district secretariat, the 23-3 brigade headquarters of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), municipal offices, the district directorate of education, Manmunai divisional secretariat, the water supply and sewage board office and the office of the deputy commissioner of local government.

The protest started at 7 am on Wednesday. Offices and courts did not function. Employees of these offices were forced to stand outside their office buildings. The picketers sat near the gates of the SLA's 23-3 brigade headquarters, and no vehicle could enter or leave the army building.

The Batticaloa govenrment agent (GA) Mr. S. Shanmugam, divisional secretary Mr. K. Kathirgamanathan, district civil coordinating officer Mr. Gunasekara and other officers of the armed forces met with representatives of the Coalition of United Social Welfare Organizations (CUSWO) and later held a meeting at the district secretariat to discuss the demands of the picketers.

The representatives of the CUSWO said in the meeting, "Under the pretext of expanding the airport, people in some of the villages were expelled in 1985. At that time, the government agent and the SLAF commander gave assurances that the public would be allowed to use schools, temples and other buildings. But contrary to such assurances, while a ceasefire agreement is in place, the SLAF has erected a 500 metre long fence around these buildings.

"There has been no development of the school since 1985. A barbed wire fence and sentries encircle the school, temple and the other buildings. The fence should be removed and the government should make a gazette notification, allowing public use of the 250 m long 'C' zone.

batti_protest_1_190602.jpg"The Air Force has blocked several key roads. The Valaiyiravu-Thimilatheevu road and the Sethukudah - Vidathaltheevu road should be reopened and the Air force troops blocking the roads should be withdrawn."

"There has been a long term drinking water problem in these villages, but neither the government officials nor the politicians have taken any concrete steps to address this problem. Though these villagers applied for pipe-born water facilities, their requests were ignored while such facilities were given to villages created later. This is a calculated discrimination by the armed forces.

"These villages were created within the Batticaloa municipal area 14 years ago, and though tax was collected, no effort was made for the basic development of these villages. The Batticaloa-Paduvankarai road goes through these villages. The reconstruction of many key roads in the area has been ignored. No funds have been allocated from the budget. Such discriminations should end in the future."

The GA agreed at the meeting that many basic needs of the villages have not been attended to. "Some of the demands pertain to the Defence Ministry and some relate to various departments. In the future when budget allocation is made, these villages will receive funds." The GA said that he would bring the problems created by the SLAF base expansion to the Ministry of Defence.

When SLAF officers recently took a group of people, including education officers, SLMM officers and journalists to tell them that they would allow the operation of Siththi Vinayakar temple and the Vigneswara College, the Batticaloa District Education Officer Mr. S. Pavalakanthan, indicated that it would be impossible for students to attend the school without fear as long as the SLAF forces continued their presence in the area.


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