The Special Report

24th September 2000

Boom of guns drowns polls

- On the spot

By Anthony David in Jaffna

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Amid the occasional booms of mortar and artillery exchanges between rebels and government forces the war-weary Jaffna peninsula is preparing for the upcoming elections.

Although posters have come up in the town and the main access roads leading to the town the people seemed to be more preoccupied with the recent fighting between the LTTE and troops than the polls.

A visit organised for local and foreign journalists by the Government Information Department in co-ordination with the Media Unit of the Operational Headquarters of the Defence Ministry provided an opportunity to gain an overview of the situation in Jaffna.

The visit included a stop over at Jaffna town and a visit to the recently recaptured areas by the military.

Despite uncertainty and fear among many civilians, political party workers are busy preparing posters for propaganda work.

With no house to house campaigns and no public meetings the campaign has turned into a more personal one.

All the political parties are keenly vying for places in Parliament, but the majority of them, except for the EPDP candidates are living out of the Jaffna peninsula.

"Only the political parties are interested in the elections. The interest among the people is very low," a teacher S.Sinnathamby said.

'We are not sure whether the LTTE will try to surprise the army by carrying out attacks or whether the security forces will go for a fresh operation.

So our prime concern is security," says a Jaffna based trader R. Vinodha-lingam.

In the outskirts of Jaffna town and around Chavakachcheri troops have pushed back the rebels. But this was no indication that they would not resort to surprise attacks or make attempts to disrupt the forthcoming elections.

"We are not sure what the LTTE will do next,"said V. Subramaniam a resident of Jaffna town.

Civilians are checked at almost every junction and at night a curfew is clamped in the fear that rebels may infiltrate and strike, he said.

The army believes it has created a climate conducive to conduct elections as the offensive operations during the past three weeks inflicted a heavy blow on the LTTE.

"We have inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and have captured some of the areas we lost earlier. Our morale is high," said the security forces commander for Jaffna, Major General Anton Wijendra.

The LTTE casualties have been put at more than 425 killed and more than 400 injured. At least 169 army personnel, including 12 officers, have also been killed, according to Maj. Gen Wijendra.

Maj. Gen Wijendra dismissed reports that the recent wave of operations were planned ahead of elections to indicate that the army was beginning to gain ground and recapture areas they lost in the peninsula during April - May this year.

"That may be a coincidence," Maj. Gen Wijendra said.

The first of the three operations began a day ahead of nominations closing on September 4. Two more operations were carried on the successive Sundays thereafter.

Heavy damage has been caused in areas where the security forces have been able to recapture in the past three weeks.

At Chavakachcheri town heavy damage has been caused to buildings and houses while in Colombuthurai the fighting has devastated most of the houses and coconut plantations.

The newly acquired Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL's) seem to have played a major role in the recent offensive.

"The LTTE has been terrified by the MBRL's,'says Maj. Gen Wijendra. Meanwhile at the Jaffna District Secretarial (GA's office) preparations were underway for elections where some 620,000 voters are registered to vote, but only an estimated 300,000 voters are believed to be living in Jaffna.

EPDP's Douglas Devananda who is personally directing the party's campaign from the former Sridar Cinema Hall along Stanley road was a confident man. "Our campaign is progressing smoothly," he said.

Instead of holding public meetings Mr. Devananda invites party supporters to the abandoned cinema hall.

PLOTE's leader Dharmalingam Siddarthan and former Chief Minister for the North East Varatharajah Perumal are also present in Jaffna but their campaign has been restricted.

"We are unable to conduct our campaign freely because we are being threatened by EPDP cadres," a PLOTE cadre said. The rivalry among the political parties was visible in the posters that had been disfigured with diesel.

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