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Jaffna rises from the ashes

2013 Jul 30

By Dhaneshi Yatawara

In November 2009, around 26,400 army personnel manned the entire Jaffna peninsula. Today the strength is reduced to 13,200 personnel. They are largely confane (HSZ) and even the HSZ has shrunk in size,. It was earlier around13,680 acres in extent and by end November 2009 it reduced to around 6183 acres – almost to half.

Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe Pic:Susantha Wijegunasekara

“In the past three and a half years, the number of army personnel deployed in the Jaffna peninsula have visibly reduced. Similarly the Navy and Air Force have also reduced numbers ,” said Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, Security Forces Commander (Jaffna) in an interview with the ‘Sunday Observer'. “The loud cry to reduce the number of personnel further by a faction of politicians, is only another political ploy. The ground reality is different,” said Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe. The Army plans to squeeze in three brigades and eight battalions into this reduced area. Another six battalions were shifted to other areas.
Priority

The present situation in Jaffna can not be explained without the history of Jaffna trying to liberate Jaffna from the iron clutches of the LTTE. As Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe commented on the history of riots in Sri Lanka and that after the 1956 - 1958 riots, the Jaffna people are offended with those in the South.

“With Independence they wanted a 50:50 representation. Then the 1956 Sinhala Only Act sent a negative message about the Government and the people in the south.

Later on, it was the LTTE and the acts of terrorisms which is history. Since 1956, the negative emotions has been on the rise. This was the mentality that had to be changed after the victory in 2009,” Maj.Gen. Hathurusinghe said.

Following Operation Riviresa in 1995, the Army gained control over the Jaffna peninsula and occupied Palali. The strenuous efforts to safeguard Jaffna throughout history, is immeasurable, he said.

“The Army was able to take control of Jaffna. Then the Army started building a network with the civilians. Then we had about 40,000 army personnel,” he said.

With the humanitarian operation then Jaffna also had a front and we started leading with the 55 Division from Chalai. Then major operations got underway.

The unwavering support of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was vital in the entire humanitarian operation, he said.

Challenge

Only then a new dimension to our efforts had to come in, said Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe. “The people of these areas thoughthat we were just fighters. They felt like we were forcibly occupying their territory. We had a major shift in our thinking and focus to change their perception. We had to convince the people that though we fought with the LTTE, we are not fighters with the people. Now we are protectors of the people,” talking about the post Ealam war IV era.

“That being our focus we geared with the people at grass root level. We started the ‘civil military coordination’ concept or in short CIMIC. The first office was opened in 2010 March 09, in Jaffna city, to reach the grass root level. It helped to bring fast forward reconciliation.

With that as a confidence-building measure, we started building houses for the displaced who were resettled by the Government.

Many people did not have houses until the government machinery got started and also until the Indian housing scheme started.

“We started building houses, So far we have built 1,787 houses. These are built from our personal contacts and around 15 are under construction . The houses we built were not with the government funds, from NGOs or the Indian housing scheme taking into consideration the accommodation of the people,” he said.

There are two mains livelihood aspects in Jaffna– fisheries and agriculture. Agriculture was given priority, because many areas needed to be de-mined and those had to be cleared fast. The Army took the leadership in demining.

Then the focus was on increasing the potential of the earning capacity of people, we helped them with their backyard poultry, assisting to put up home gardens, providing them with seed and sometimes our soldiers helped them to cultivate and prepare the land. To promote home gardening, we held a competition for home gardens.

We gave serious thought to the education of the children and gave many scholarships. We made every effort to bring well wishers from Colombo and abroad to help the children through personal contacts, he said. People from Jaffna , expatriates and foreigners also helped to get scholarships.
Education

We have given more than 5000 – 6000 scholarships so far for children. We organise education seminars for children – for GCE O/L and A/L. We are involved in developing school infrastructure – we built a three storied new building for the Thelippalai Mahajana College.

It cost around Rs 25 million. The money came from Ken Balendran through the Defence Secretary. Then in Kopai, the Nawala School got a building and the money came from Uva Provincial Council. Other than that in Wadamarachchi East area we built so many temporary building to commence schools Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe said.

In the Health sector the Army could reach people with doctors and detachments in different areas in the peninsula. We were able to reach people and help them. We conducted medical camps and that was one major CIMIC activity that we carried out, he said.

The Army were the major blood donors in Jaffna. There was a monthly requirement of around 300 pints of blood. About 80% of the requirement is met by the Army soldiers, he added.

“We organise medical camps with well-known specialists from Colombo. Last year our officers coordinated with a leading private hospital in Colombo and held a heart camp here with more than 40 doctors including several Indian doctors and supporting staff came,” he said.

About 480 people were screened for different ailments and found three patients in severe sicknesses and out of which one girl named Kajendrani (21) was had a critical heart condition and doctors feared she would not live for another two weeks. The Indian consultants they said treatment would cost around Rs 900,000 for the operation. Later they reduced hospital and professional fees.
Reduced cost

“We reduced the cost to about Rs. 200,000 then we found a donor and immediately made arrangements to airlift the girl and the family to Colombo for treatment. The family lived in one of our officer’s houses. That is the level we go to,” he said. She underwent the heart operation and now is happily married.

Then there were two children – Apisha and Abhishek, They were from LTTE families. The fathers served the LTTE. But we not concerned. These children also were airlifted to Colombo for treatment and looked after by our officers. They are fine now.

We continue to engage in community activities. That is the only way to reach out to the people. Now we have to work hard to narrow the gap between the North and the South. As for the Sinhalese there are only about 30 to 40 people as a result they only come across the army personnel who meet are the Army personnel.

“Today we understand that the Jaffna people see us as a positive force. Even during a case of domestic violence, the wife runs to the nearby camp not to the police station. Our officers coordinate with the police to sort out the matter legally. That’s the level of understanding we have with them” he said.

“Even when foreign envoys come they question about the number of Army personnel around Jaffna. If there are any problems with the Army personnel then come to us – do not worry about numbers. The North Central Province has more soldiers than Jaffna” he said.

The Army was sent to fight the war against terrorism, and after victory the Army can't be called back. That’s not the way the President Rajapaksa thinks,” he said. “Of course the Army has a gradual reduction as we don’t enlist large numbers now”,he said.

We are bringing the Army into the reduced HHZ and now it is a military cantonment. Because of the Palali airstrip the Sri Lanka Air Force is present and the Navy is also in the HHZ.

“More than 50% of HHZ lands are government lands that belonged to former camps, schools, hospitals , teacher training colleges and the CGR. It's really about 4100 people who will be affected due to land aquisition.
Compensation

We have already made the announcements and pasted the notices. A handful people are available in these areas as many have gone abroad and settled in foreign countries.

The Government will not take the lands free. The Government will give compensation at present rates. This is being worked out by the District Secreatary and Divisional Secretaries along with the Land ministry.

“They had a site visit and discussions. There is a special representative appointed to look in to these matters. It is in progress, he said.

“But the land which we are now holding is required for the airport expansion project and to bring military units deployed outside. The Naval camp will also be located because of the commercial harbour. When the Government built the Mattala airport, lands were acquired similarly in this instance too ” Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe said.

“These are national development activities. This development is giving the impetus to development of the North.

These facilities will then attract more business investments and bring in more multi- national companies. It is for the benefit of the Jaffna people.

Our concern is for the betterment of the people, knowing their true problems by getting close to them. It is futile to convince political parties. Because they know as long as separatist ideas are kindled among the public, they can survive. “But the people have a problem with politics.

We have to capitalize on that. We have to improve on the efforts taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Now with the elections round the corner I think we will do better and it will be more fruitful as there is more interest among the people to contest as well,” he said.

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