Jaffna law enforcement: No consensus over Army deployment

by Shamindra Ferdinando

The government was yet to decide on temporary deployment of the army in support of law enforcement authorities in the North despite continuing attacks by violent elements in the Jaffna peninsula, security sources told The Island yesterday.

Following representations made by Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi recently, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake took up the issue at the National Security Council (NSC). As per instructions regarding the deployment of the Army in former war zones, troops couldn’t move out unless authorized by the Defence Ministry, sources said. Responding to a query, they explained that even in case of an emergency, Jaffna troops wouldn’t intervene unless specific instructions were received from Colombo.

Sources revealed that the Army had discontinued even routine night security patrols in the North and troops go out only on administrative purposes. Sources said that armed elements posed a serious threat to ordinary civilians, though recurring incidents couldn’t be under any circumstances categorized as LTTE/terrorism-related, sources said.

There had been a series of incidents in the peninsula since the birth of the gang styling itself as Avva group with the latest incident reported from Kythady, Thennamarachchi where five persons received injuries in an unprovoked attack on Sept 19, sources said. Asked whether all those attacks directed at civilians could be blamed on the Avva group, sources said that investigations pointed to its involvement.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Jaffna police hadn’t sought the assistance of the Army to handle troublemakers.

The Jaffna Army deployment comprises three Divisions positioned across the peninsula and Jaffna islands. At the height of the war, there were well over 40,000 officers and men deployed there though the strength was brought down to 14,000 plus by the time the change of government took place in January 2015.

However, law enforcement authorities are of the view in spite of sporadic incidents there was no reason to worry as they had the required wherewithal to meet any unforeseen situation.

Asked whether current Special Task Force (STF) deployment in Jaffna in support of the police was adequate to meet the Avva challenge, a senior police official asserted that the situation remained under control though there were sporadic incidents. The official declared current STF presence there was sufficient to maintain law and order.

Late last week, Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi explained the Army’s inability to get involved in peacetime security operations when the Jaffna-based media sought an explanation as to how the war winning Army found it difficult to suppress armed gangs. The media took up the issue at a special media briefing at Palaly called by the Jaffna Commander to explain the situation. The Maj. Gen is on record as having said that the Army was awaiting instructions from Colombo to take tangible measures in that regard.

Jaffna District MP and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran yesterday told The Island that there was a spate of incidents over a month ago. However, the Jaffna police seemed to have brought the situation under control. Sumanthiran said that though there were a couple of incidents subsequently, the situation couldn’t be categorized as a crisis. The MP emphasized the pivotal importance of maintaining strict control of the situation. The TNA heavyweight didn’t see immediate requirement to call in the Army to assist the police.

N. Vithyatharan, editor of Jaffna-based Kalaikathir yesterday told The Island that there was absolutely no justification in the deployment of the Army in response to sporadic incidents there. Vithyatharan insisted that the situation was far more better than in some other districts though some interested parties tried to portray a different picture. Former Uthayan editor said that in the absence of violence perpetrated by the LTTE and other organized armed groups, incidents blamed on Avva group received unprecedented media attention.

Vithyatharan said that he wouldn’t back calls to bring back troops onto the streets now.

The Jaffna peninsula was brought under government control in early 1996. The war was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

A senior security official told The Island that Jaffna District UNP MP Vijayakala Maheswaran recently compared the wartime situation in the Jaffna peninsula and current developments there. Although she earned the wrath of some no one could deny the threat posed by armed groups to the population.

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