Oposite Editorial

Harvest of havoc
East in turmoil, reaping the whirlwind
Burning tyres, road blocks, deserted roads and heavily guarded paddy fields formed the scene in the East last week in a tense situation following the killing of two Muslims in the Ampara area. The movements of people were restricted and the paddy harvesting delayed, with some fields being harvested under military guard.

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The day-to-day work of several public institutions were at a virtual standstill with many employees staying away in fear. A state bank manager said not a single employee had turned up for duty and he had to close the bank.

The fresh crisis was triggered off by the killing of two young Muslims, Kalanda Lebbe Ismail and Adam Bava Ibrahim, when they went to Sennawattanchena in Bangalawadiya. (See details in below). The tense situation hit a flashpoint on Thursday with the disappearence or alleged abduction of two Muslim youths, Marzook and Illiyas, who were on their way to Ottamawadi in Batticaloa.

Angry Muslim youths started burning tyres and forcing shops to close as part of a hartal amidst allegations the LTTE was involved in the abduction. One rumour had it that the bodies of the two missing youth had been found in Eravur but it was a false alarm.

LTTE area leaders denied any involvement in this incident and said they too were trying to find the missing youths. Eye witnesses said that while the Muslim groups were protesting in Karativu, LTTE members too had come there and blocked roads. In one of the incidents some demonstrators threw a hand grenade near a church premises, with police being unable to control them.

Tamil labourers who were brought from Batticaloa to harvest paddy said they were forced to return to their homes because of the volatile situation. They were seen at Sainthamaradu, getting into police vehicles to take them home as there was no public transport.

Other Tamils working in paddy fields owned by Muslims were also reported to be unwilling to go to the fields in fear of attacks. The field owners told another story. They said the Tamil workers had in recent days been agitating for extra wages and it might have been part of an LTTE plan to create tension between the two communities.

The general public in the area were facing many difficulties in attending to their day-to-day needs because the shops were closed regularly and public transport disrupted due to the roads being dominated by mobs. Fishermen in the area also said they did not go out to sea because their nets had been cut by some unidentified groups.

A Karativu fisherman said the nets of about 25 boats had been cut while they were cast in the sea. Night curfew was imposed in several Eastern areas including Samanthurai and Kalmunai to control the violence. On Friday a curfew was imposed soon after prayers in the mosques.

During the week additional troops were also called in to guard main roads and for other security duties. They were placed in strategic points including the Bangalawadiya junction, where the bodies of the two youths were found. Muslim farmers said they had resumed their harvesting work after the deployment of troops but they were still fearful.

"We don't feel safe yet. Deploying troops is only a temporary solution. Politicians come here only when there is trouble and then go away. But what we need is to get to the root cause of this problem," one farmer said. An officer of the Special Task Force which is spearheading security operations said they had strengthened the guard at entry points from uncleared areas to curb LTTE infiltration.

He said they had strengthened STF/local area police posts at Manmunai, Kurukkalmadam, Kaludaveli, Padirippu, and Kurumanveli. Another side of the story was told by Muslims engaged in small-scale business and farming. They said they were being pressurised to stage protest campaigns regularly by some politicians with vested interests and other groups which apparently did not work for the common good.

"When hartals are organised we have to close down the shops and our income drops. It is always the innocent people who get victimised when the two comunities clash," one Muslim trader said. Tamil civilians too are of the same view and say that Muslims and Tamils can live in harmony if both the communities do not fall prey to malicious hidden agendas of various groups who seek political mileage

Mystery killings in the night
The two Muslim youths Lebbe Ismail and Adambawa Ibrahim who were killed in Samanthurai on the 17th night had gone on their motorcycle to give some money to labourers working in the paddy fields that came under their supervision. Lebbe Ismail's mother-in-law told The Sunday Times that Ismail went to Bangalawadiya with his friend Ibrahim around 4.00 p.m.

She said they became concerned when he did not return even by 8.30 p.m. and they made some inquiries but little headway was made because of the late hour. She said the following morning they came to know that Ismail along with his friend had been killed in Bangalawadiya. Lebbe Ismail was the father of a two-and-half-year old girl Fathima.

Meanwhile the CID has been called in to investigate amidst allegations that LTTE elements might be responsible, police said. A CID detective said there appeared to be a similarity between the killing of the two Muslims and other opponents by the LTTE. They said the bullets used in the killing were recovered from the scene of the crime.

One report said the two youths had been confronted by the LTTE members at night at Bangalawadiya, a regular crossing point for LTTE cadres to go to Akkaraipattu from uncleared areas.

However an LTTE area leader in Ampara said the Tigers had no connection with the killing which he alleged was carried out by anti-LTTE elements to tarnish the LTTE's image. Some reports suggested the motive might have been robbery but police pointed out that the motorcycle was left at the spot.

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