Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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After Geneva, What?

Reporting from Vanni – Part IV

by K. Mylvaganam

Why does the government insist on the sea route instead of transporting by road? They have their own axe to grind. Under the guise of transporting food items to the people of Jaffna, supplies to the military are also transported. This is the reason why they bring Sinhalese labourers from Colombo to unload the goods in Kankesanthurai when there are so many men out of work in Jaffna.

All hopes of a success in the Geneva Talks were blown away due to the adamancy of the representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) refusing to open the A-9 highway to Jaffna. There were so many ridiculous and contradictory statements from the (GoSL) representatives on this subject. The leader Nimal Sripala de Silva said that A-9 affair was a minor one and that he did not want to spend his time talking about it. Instead, he emphasized that he would like to focus on the “Core Issues” with the intention of finding a lasting solution for the ethnic problem. When asked whether he could come out with their proposal to the ethnic problem, he said that he did not have it with him and that the GoSL was working on it through the All Party Conference (APC).

In fact, in the so-called APC all the parties in parliament are not represented. The United National Party (UNP), which is the main opposition party having more members in parliament than the main ruling party the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) with 22 members are not in the APC.

Even though the leader of the government group called the A-9 problem a minor affair, yet he finally said that he would have to confer with the president and obtain cabinet approval for opening the A-9 highway. This is typical of Nimal Sripala de Silva in making contradictory statements. This is highly unbecoming for a minister. What a colossal waste of time and energy for so many people from both sides to have gone all the way to Geneva and come back because the government delegation did not have the power to agree on a “minor issue”, according to Nimal Sripala de Silva, of opening the A-9. Or is it the government has a hidden agenda behind this denial?

From what I have noted from Vanni I have a strong feeling that the forces of the GoSL are in the process of piling up arms, ammunitions and large number of personnel in Kilaly, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil. Whether they are going to try again the once failed attempt to take over Elephant Pass or is it a diversion tactic to facilitate another attack in the East remains a puzzle. If the GoSL forces are going to repeat the Muhamalai attack, then one can be rest assured that their losses will not be in the hundreds but in the thousands.

Even though Tamilchelvan elaborated the difficulties the people in the north are undergoing due to the closure of the A-9, yet the government delegation refused to budge at all. Instead, Mr.Silva insisted that there was no shortage for food in the north and that the GoSL was sending sufficient food by the ship and plane.

During the normal days 200 to 300 lorries pass through Kilinochchi to Jaffna. The GoSL says that it is sending 3000 metric tons and 4000 metric tons by ships. But it doesn’t say what the actual requirement of the people is. But the Government Agent in Jaffna has stated often that the food supplies are far short of the actual requirements. Sporadic ship loads and airlifting will not be a patch on the actual requirements. It is also said that the quality of some items like the dhal was not fit for human consumption. It is not only the food items that one needs, but also many other goods like building materials, medicine, fuel, etc for the day-to-day needs of the people. Batteries are a rare commodity in the North. People have stopped using torchlights. Since there is no electricity, it is very dangerous to move about in the night. Several people have been bitten by snakes in Kilinochchi recently. One cannot spot a wriggling snake in the dark with the help of a kerosene lamp, if one can get hold of kerosene. I use a kerosene lantern and one day I spotted a snake only two feet away from me. I was so close to it and so scared that I did not have time to turn around, but jumped over it and ran for my life.

The shortage of one item leads to several other matters connected to it being affected. For example, the lack of kerosene retards the farmer from irrigating his crops. He is forced to pay higher prices and these result in the increase in price of his produce. The shortage of cement leads to unemployment for those in the building sector, which not only includes the masons, carpenters and labourers in that trade, but also those directly and/or indirectly connected with construction work. The shortages have resulted in skyrocketing prices of goods. For example, the price of petrol in Vavuniya is Rs. 92.00 per litre. While in Jaffna and Vanni it is sold for Rs.500.00/L. Diesel is sold at Rs.250.00 and kerosene for Rs. 125.00 per litre. A Vadai, which was sold for Rs.6.00 before the closure of the A-9 sells for Rs.15.00 now. In Jaffna the rice costs Rs140.00 per kilo in the private market. A coconut goes for over Rs.60.00. People stand on queues for several hours to buy their requirements. If the government is sending “enough” supplies by boat and by plane why then are the people standing in queues from 3.00 a.m.?

Why by sea instead by road?

Why does the government insist on the sea route instead of transporting by road? They have their own axe to grind. Under the guise of transporting food items to the people of Jaffna, supplies to the military are also transported. This is the reason why they bring Sinhalese labourers from Colombo to unload the goods in Kankesanthurai when there are so many men out of work in Jaffna. Again a pertinent quest is why unload in Kankesanthurai – a military port - and not in Point Pedro. This is because the army transports not the only goods for the people of Jaffna but also takes this opportunity to transport their personnel and military hardware also between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai. If the Tigers attack these vessels they will be blamed for attacking ships carrying “food” for the Tamils in Jaffna. Again when the goods delivered at Kankesanthurai are hardly sufficient to be distributed in Jaffna, what happens to those living in Vanni? Since the Muhamalai checkpoint is closed one cannot bring anything from Jaffna into Vanni.

The other argument put forward is that the LTTE will levy taxes when transported by road. But they are suggesting an alternative road via Poonakari. How will that prevent the LTTE from taxing the goods that pass again through the LTTE territory? Hence that argument doesn’t hold water.

Another ridiculous and ludicrous argument put forward by the GoSL is that transport is cheaper by sea. Well if that is true, why transport goods to Hambantota, Galle and Matara by road?

Lack of power supply

The lack of diesel has resulted in the power generator of the Ceylon Electricity Board grinding to a standstill. The electricity was completely cut off several months back in Vanni. When there is a power cut for a couple of hours in Colombo, there arises so much hue and cry about it. All the papers write about it daily. The opposition party members bang their tables and hit the ceiling in the parliament, blaming the government for it. But no one bothers about the fate of over 300,000 people in Vanni without electricity. Even in Jaffna, where there are 600,000 people living, the electricity supply is limited to just one hour during the day. And the possibility of a complete stop is not far ahead. The lack of electricity, apart from having its many disadvantages, affects the school children very much from doing their schoolwork. Many school children are deprived of going to school due to either their schools being occupied by the army or schools coming under the High Security Zone (H.S.Z).

Coming back to the Talks, Nimal Sripala de Silva said that the A-9 road is not closed at Omanthai, but only at Muhamalai. Does he not know the geography of the North? Is he not aware that Jaffna is beyond Muhamalai? He even had the audacity to state that it was not the government, but the Tigers only have closed the A-9 at Omanthai. If that is true, one ponders to ask as to why all the lorries are parked South of the government checkpoint at Omanthai? If it was blocked by the Tigers, then the lorries must have been parked in the NO-Man’s land between the government checkpoint and that of the Tigers. Again, whether it is closed at Omanthai or Muhamalai, how does it make things different for people of Jaffna? But his statement that the A-9 road is not closed at Omanthai is a blatant lie. I live in Kilinochchi and why am I paying Rs.500.00 for a litre of petrol when Nimal Sripala de Silva is getting it at Rs.95.00 in Colombo, if he is paying for it at all?

The A-9 affair is a minor matter according to Nimal Sripala de Silva. If this “minor” matter is taking so much of time and energy to be solved, one wonders how long is it going to take to solve the ethnic problem?

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