Fishermen demand removal of Kaluwankerni SLA camp

[TamilNet, Thursday, 12 December 2002, 17:52 GMT]
The Fishermen's union of Kaluwankerni, a village located 24 km northeast of Batticaloa town, has demanded that the Sri Lankan Army encamped at the ice production factory at the village be withdrawn, in a letter to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces officers, sources in Batticaloa said.

The ice factory is located close to the seashores and was operated with assistance from Norway. The SLA camp is located centrally on the ice factory and encircles the fishermen's hostel. Just outside the camp is a Hindu temple ('Pillaiyar' temple).

The factory was first converted into an army camp by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces in the late eighties. When the IPKF withdrew, the factory was being reconstructed. However, when war broke out between the SLA and LTTE in 1990, the factory was made a military camp again, this time by the SLA.

Kaluvanchikudi camp

The camp operated for a few years, was closed and a new camp was again reopened in 1997. It was again closed in 1998 and a new camp reopened in 2000. This on-again-off-again occupation of the factory by the military forces has destroyed several buildings and equipments at the factory and made any production at the factory impossible.

The fishermen's union intends to make the factory work again under the current conditions of relative peace. The Kaluwankerni village has 1252 families, all of whom are working in fishery. Large amounts of ice are needed to preserve the fish catch. Without the factory, the fishermen struggle to preserve their catch. The army's camp forces the fishermen and traders to use a non-motorable road outside the camp to go to the seashore, causing several difficulties.

The union has demanded that the Army should immediately withdraw its forces from the factory and allow it to function normally.

KumarasurierMr. Chelliah Kumarasooriyar, the head of the Kaluwankerni development committee, said that in the current environment, there is no need for the army to continue to be present at Kaluwankerni. " The presence of the forces makes it impossible to operate the factory. The forests surrounding the factory have been destroyed. Hundreds of coconut trees have been destroyed. Bulldozers and other heavy vehicles used by the army have caused potholes and made the roads unmotorable, affecting the movement of fishermen and traders," he said and warned that if the forces do not respond favorably to the letter, there will be mass agitation.

According to Mr. Kumarasooriyar, the NGO, World Vision, has agreed to provide basic amenities to the village and to help operate the factory if the army is withdrawn from the factory.

The village has faced a great deal of atrocities in the past-- youths and family men were shot during search and destroy operations by the armed forces and allied paramilitary groups such as the Razeek group. From 1990 to 2001, about 50 men were killed and many were wounded by point-blank shootings and shelling. About 130 women have been made widows. Aerial bombings and shelling have destroyed many homes.


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