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• Tensions grow in Mannar • Jaffna violence mars poll By Easwaran Rutnam-Sunday, September 22, 2013 The Northern elections may be over and results are out, but as far as the people in the North are concerned the election is just an administrative formality. To put it in the words of Sarawanan Krishna, a trader at the Jaffna market, the Tamils want a solution to their everyday needs which so far does not seem likely to be addressed through an election. Krishna is just one of many Northerners who cast their ballots yesterday and it was no surprise that he, like many other Tamils in the North, supported the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – some for the mere reason that they had no other choice. The election for the Northern Provincial Council took place after 25 years and was hailed by the international community including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. However, the general public their cost of living, jobs, security and freedom of expression to be addressed. The prices of most goods which come from Colombo are more expensive than the local items, mostly because of the transport cost. A will to vote Most people The Sunday Leader spoke to in the North, a day ahead of the election, were too scared to be identified, especially if it meant they were going to give their honest opinion. The fear factor was evident when a group of journalists who were in Jaffna to cover the elections had to visit the house of TNA candidate Anandi Sasitharan after her house in Tholpuram came under attack last week. The driver of the three-wheel taxi which drove the journalists to her house refused to stay till the journalists returned, fearing for his own safety. “People are so scared when such incidents take place. I am also scared and I don’t think I should be seen anywhere close,” he said before he drove away.
Then there is the much publicized resettlement program of the government which, according to the Mannar Hindu Society, has not benefitted all the Tamils. A representative of the Mannar Hindu Society, who wished to remain anonymous, said that a lot of people who have been given houses under the Indian housing scheme in the North are still suffering, unable to maintain the house, or in some cases unable to even complete the construction owing to the rise in the cost of construction material. “People don’t have jobs and often they get things on lease or credit but cannot pay back,” he said. He said overall the Tamils feel discriminated, and while the construction of roads, railway lines and other infrastructure in the North is good following the war, it will in no way “win the hearts of the people”. The Tamils, as a result, had decided to go out and vote yesterday hoping that some change may come their way for the good. Kanaga Namanathan, a lawyer and coordinator at the Jaffna TNA election office, said that there was much enthusiasm ahead of the election. “Two months ago the people were not too keen on this election, but later there was some visible enthusiasm especially after the TNA nominated C.V. Wigneswaran as the Chief Ministerial candidate,” he said. Namanathan said the Tamils had placed their hope on Wigneswaran to address their suffering and bring about the change they want. All about politics Wigneswaran was the choice of TNA leader R. Sampanthan, who despite some opposition within his party, decided he was the man for the job. “He is a moderate and I felt he is the man we needed at this time,” Sampanthan told The Sunday Leader. However, some of Wigneswaran’s comments during the election campaign did not go well with Sinhalese groups, particularly Sinhalese political parties. He had been quoted as saying, in one instance, that LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabakaran was a “hero” but Sampanthan said his comments had been taken out of context. The TNA leader also clarified that his party was not for a solution where the country will be divided into two, and that the final political solution should be within a united Sri Lanka. The Mannar Hindu Society said that Tamils felt the TNA is the “only solution” for them as there is no one else to turn to. “We have no faith in the government,” said the Mannar Hindu Society. The representative of the Mannar Hindu Society, who was accompanied by Hindu religious leaders and representatives, also accused the government of colonizing Tamil land with Sinhalese families. “This is state sponsored colonization,” he said. The society claims that in Thalaimannar, for example, an area has been earmarked where the families of military personnel will be settled. The move is seen as one to have a more Sinhalese voter base in the North for future elections, and change the demographic of the area. He said there are a lot of Sri Lankan Tamils still in India as refugees and most of them
do not have land in the North to return to. “The civil administration in the North is also still not fully civil as such. The army is playing a big role here,” the Mannar Hindu Society representative said. He also said that, in the road development process, local contractors and resources have been overlooked and replaced by contractors from the South. “The contract to build the roads is given to people in the South so Tamil contractors lose out. Then equipment is also hired from the South and not the North for the work. So what do we gain from this other than the new roads,” he said. He also said that there is a lot of discrimination when allocating jobs in the public sector as priority is given to political appointments. But former LTTE Chief arms procurer Kumar Pathmanathan, in his first full press briefing following his arrest in 2009, said he felt the TNA was not the solution for the Tamils. Pathmanathan, who during his LTTE days was very critical of the government, last week hailed President Mahinda Rajapaksa calling him a good leader and the man who can resolve the Tamil issues. The press briefing was held in Kilinochchi, a town which was once under LTTE control but is now under the government. Violence stirs tensions The presence of the army and “unidentified armed groups” in the North has always been the subject of heated debates involving Tamil political parties, the international community and the government. The attack on the Tholpuram, Jaffna house of TNA candidate Anandi Sasitharan just a day ahead of the Northern election added to that controversy. Sasitharan said that she had clearly identified EPDP members among those who attacked her house together with men in army uniform. A visibly shaken Sasitharan, who is the wife of former LTTE Trincomalee political head S. Elilan, said that the incident showed once again how international attention had to remain on the North. The attack on her house, in which at least eight people were injured, drew more attention as an election monitor was among those injured. Suhash, a lawyer and monitor of the Peoples Action For Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) sustained minor injuries in the attack. He had gone to Sasitharan’s house after she had contacted his office and other members of her party about the imminent attack. A group of armed men had first gone to her house and verbally abused her from outside and then left. During that period she contacted 119, but after failing to receive a response she contacted the election monitors and her colleagues. She managed to then leave the house by which time Suhash and some supporters of the TNA candidate had arrived. Suhash told The Sunday Leader that when he was at the house a group of men had arrived in four jeeps and demanded that the door of the house be open. All those inside had then feared for their lives and hid. Suhash, being an election monitor, decided to open the door after seeing the men dressed in army uniform. He showed them his lawyer ID and election monitor ID and explained to them that he
was there as a response to a complaint lodged by Sasitharan. The men, carrying poles and guns, were in no mood to listen to his explanation. They assaulted him and the others inside using poles. At one point Suhash and the others were forced to kneel down and place their hands behind their backs. “I feared at that time that they were going to kill us. When they were assaulting us they asked if we were trying to create Eelam here. I said I have no politics and that I’m just a monitor doing my job but they wouldn’t listen. They then warned me saying I will be killed if I reported the incident to the police,” he said. The tyre of Suhash’s motorbike and that of Sasitharan’s van parked outside were also slashed by the armed men.
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