CM Wigneswaran complains to EU about Sri Lankan army running schools in northern province

COLOMBO: The Chief Minister of the Tamil-majority Northern  Province, C.V.Wigneswaran, has complained to the European Union (EU) human rights inspection team that the Sri Lankan army is   running hundreds of schools in his province when it has no right to do so under the 13th amendment of the constitution.

According to the Tamil daily Thinakkural Wigneswaran complained that in Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, the army’s Civil Defense Unit is running 344 primary schools, employing 689 Tamil women as teachers at good salaries, when as per the constitution, school education is a devolved subject and schools in the province are to be run by the provincial ministry of education.

The number of teachers in the army-run primary schools is the same as the number of teachers working in the provincial council-run primary schools, the Chief Minister pointed out in his interaction with the EU headed by Jean Lambert MEP last Saturday.

He also said that in the schools run by the army, teachers are made to wear a uniform which has raised concerns among the people as to whether they are being recruited to the army.

Wigneswaran strongly opposed a suggestion by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga that Tamil women employees of the provincial administration be posted in police stations to deal with cases involving women. He said that Tamil women do not want to work in police stations. As an alternative, he suggested that educated Tamil women be recruited to the provincial administration to liaise between women supplicants and the police. But no action has been taken on his suggestion, the Chief Minister told the EU team.

The team was in Sri Lanka until Tuesday to assess Sri Lanka’s eligibility to get back the GSP-plus trade concessions in terms of its human rights record. Sri Lanka had lost the concessions in 2010 on account of its poor rights record at that time.

Wigneswaran’s objection to Tamil women working in police stations stems from the fear that their security might be at stake, given the fact that the Sri Lankan police force is almost completely uni-ethnic with Sinhalese having an overwhelming presence and thirty years of war has colored the Tamils’ perception of the police.

The CM complained about the army using 50,000 acres of land in the Northern Province to cultivate crops and trade in  them, while the original Tamil owners of the lands are looking to others to give them food. Sinhalese fishermen from the South fish in Northern waters even using illegal methods with the help of the armed forces while local Tamil fishermen are denied the right, and even taken into custody for alleged illegal fishing.

The CM asked the EU delegation to press the Sri Lankan government to withdraw the army from the North since the war had ended seven years ago. In his estimation, 100,000 troops are still stationed in his province. De-militarization of the North is one of the 15 stipulations of the EU for restoring GSP-Plus trade concessions.