East: Rise of terror amidst the boom

From Chris Kamalendran in Batticaloa

The Government is facing a new dilemma in the Eastern Province, the cradle of its ambitious development programme, in spite of it being liberated from the clutches of the LTTE. Tiger guerrillas were ousted from here last year. The Government celebrated the success with pomp and pageantry at a national ceremony on July 19, 2007 at Independence Square.

Now, 16 months later, development activity, particularly in the Batticaloa district, parts of which were dominated by Tiger guerrillas, goes on at a pace. New roads, bridges and buildings are taking shape. Telecommunication services are being restored in the one time war ravaged areas. Economic activity is on the increase. Various types of shops have opened for business. They include super markets, mobile phone providers, internet cafes and even restaurants catering to the upper-middle class.

Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan surrounded by a sea of securitymen, both in civvies and uniform taking part in the funeral of Ragu

However, though small in numbers, the guerrillas are not only making their presence felt but have also launched a campaign to destabilise the area. Just last week, suspected LTTE cadres shot dead Palitha Padmakumara, a doctor at the Central Dispensary and Maternity Home, Navatkadu. They have killed policemen and soldiers in the past weeks. Some guerrillas even infiltrated the ranks of Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) to assassinate their "colleagues" and get away with their weapons.

On October 2 two TMVP cadres riding a motorcycle were shot dead by the LTTE in Eravur. On October 25 two more TMVP cadres were killed by the LTTE in Vavunaithivu and three days later four TMVP cadres were killed and six LTTE infiltrators escaped with the weapons from a camp in Black Bridge, Chenkaladi. The latest incident was on November 13 when two TMVP cadres were killed and seven LTTE infiltrators escaped with the weapons from a camp in Karadiyanaru.

Amidst these incidents that have caused considerable uncertainty, an internecine battle within the TMVP has ripped the party down the middle. It intensified soon after the killing of Kumarasamy Nandagopan, 38, alias Ragu. TMVP leader, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan hinted it was the work of his TMVP rival faction led by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna. However, the Karuna faction denied the charge.

This week Pillayan admitted there were differences between him and Karuna. "There is an unhealthy relationship after Karuna tried to grab political power from us. He was trying to forcibly occupy our offices," declared Pillayan in an interview with The Sunday Times. However, Karuna sought to play down the issue. "Some of our political rivals are trying to create problems between us."

Nevertheless, Pillayan did not hide his feelings. He said " I have to tell you frankly, since I took office in May this year, not a single person has been recruited to the Provincial Council. I don't have any powers to enforce provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. We have asked the Central Government to give us the powers. Karuna who is with the Government now is convincing them not to give powers to me. How can I serve the people who have voted for me?"

Sale of local produce in the Batticaloa market

In response, Karuna declared "That is not correct. They have got over one billion rupees to the Provincial Council. They have to work for the upliftment of the province. If I was blocking the Council, why would so much money be allocated. The Council has to prove to the people that they are not misusing the money and working for the people. Japan has agreed to build eleven bridges at their own expense."

In the one time guerrilla-stronghold of Kokkadicholai, Paduwankarai, Karadiyanaru. paddy lands abandoned for several years are being cultivated. A private company employee K.Sivanthan said, “since the conclusion of both, local and provincial council elections the pattern of living has changed. Most of the restaurants are packed in the mornings and nights”.

To facilitate cultivation, the Government has rehabilitated several irrigation projects including the Unnichchi irrigation tank which was neglected for several years. Electricity and telephone projects are coming up and local government offices are being constructed, but most of the projects are being carried out by the Central Government with little or no consultation with the Provincial Council or local authorities.

Despite the development activities in the area, tension among residents in the area is high as almost daily there are reports of clashes within the TMVP or incidents in which Tiger guerrillas infiltrated and carried out attacks on TMVP cadres and escaped.

The construction of the Chinese-aided Kallady new bridge as part of the development activities underway in Batticaloa

This tension was further exacerbated after the killing of Ragu. On Monday when Ragu’s funeral took place, emotions among Pillayan’s supporters were high. Mourners including Pillayan walked some seven kilometres for the funeral at the Kallady, Hindu burial grounds. He was given protection by Commandos and plainclothes security personnel.

In Colombo two police teams have been detailed to investigate into last Friday’s killing of Ragu, but so far no breakthrough has been made. Pillayan yesterday reiterated that the LTTE was not responsible for the killing, whilst his new rival Karuna insisted that it was the LTTE.

Meanwhile, some of the camps meant for those displaced during security operations to recapture the east still remain, though the number of families in them have reduced to 800. Most of them still languishing in the camps are from Sampoor and Mutur-- areas declared as a High Security Zones in the Trincomalee district. The displaced persons here have been combined into eight camps. Most of them are willing to return to their homes after their children complete the Ordinary Level examination in December, Government Agent for Batticaloa said.

Both, Karuna and Pillayan admitted there is LTTE infiltration in the district. Hence it is not only a threat to the security forces and the TMVP, but also to the ongoing development activities.

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