Jaffna is afraid: former UN representative

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 24 September 1997, 12:04 GMT]
A former representative of Sri Lanka to the UN has recently completed a visit to Jaffna and the east of the island. Speaking anonymously to the Independent Broadcasting Corporation, a European Tamil language radio service, the official outlined some his observations and spoke of his concern for the Jaffna populace.

The former UN official, a Tamil, was interviewed by telephone over the weekend in a broadcast monitored here. He spoke of the visible fear of the Tamil residents in Jaffna. No one is willing to speak freely he said. He had met teachers, head masters and pupils in the city, and he said they were cowed by the overwhelming presence of 30,000 troops of the pre-dominantly Sinhalese Sri Lankan army

He also described the massive earth walls that the Sri Lankan military was using to channel the movement of people through checkpoints. He said one wall extended for several miles from Palaly air force base to Mathahal.

Some formerly thriving parts of the peninsula were devoid of homes and people according to the official. Over 30% of Jaffna's schools had been destroyed by Sri Lankan shelling.

The official had also visited the eastern side of the island and said that an anti-war demonstration by about 5000 Tamil people last Friday had been witnessed by a correspondent of the British state media, the BBC.

The Sri Lankan army captured the Jaffna peninsula in early 1996 following a massive operation. Almost half a million residents of Jaffna city were forced to flee the widespread shelling and bombing that accompanied the SLA ground offensive.

Sections of the Tamil residents were trapped in the east of the peninsula in later stages of the operation and forcibly relocated to Jaffna city. As many of the houses were either destroyed or occupied by Sri Lankan units, large numbers of Tamil civilians are said to be living in refugee camps or with relatives and friends.

Large scale violations of human rights have been reported from the area. Amnesty International has confirmed over 700 'disappearances' on the peninsula since the SLA moved in. Rapes of Tamil girls and women by Sinhalese soldiers are routine and several cases of sex attacks on Tamil children have also been reported.

The press has not been allowed into Jaffna for over two years, except on a handful of tours which were closely conducted by the Sri Lankan military. International officials are also taken in with close military escort.

The restriction on foreign visitors combined with the atmosphere of fear described by the UN official, ensures that most local residents will be afraid to speak out about local occurrences.

 

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