Protest in Batticaloa against SLAF order
[TamilNet, Thursday, 23 March 2000, 12:48 GMT]
More than a thousand people picketed in front of Manmunai North Divisional Secretariat this morning around 8.30 protesting against Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) acquiring their temple, school and cemetery along with a substantial portion land adjoining its base in Batticaloa.
The SLAF ordered the immdediate closure of the local Tamil temple and school yesterday. The use of the Aalaiyadichcholai cemetery which serves the people of Batticaloa town and its suburbs was also prohibited with immediate effect. The school authorities were told to find premises elsewhere, away from the vicinity of the SLAF base.
Members of Sri Sithivinayagar Temple Society, SriVigneswara School Development Society, local Hindu organisations and students participated in today's picketing campaign.
Work at the Manmunai North Divisional Secretariat, Batticaloa Municipal Council and the Norwegian funded DERBA Project Office came to a standstill due to the picketing.
The Divisional Secretary (DS) Mr.K.Kathirgamanathan, having failed to persuade the picketing civilians to let him enter his office, informed the Government Agent that he was unable to open Divisional Secretariat due to the protest.
On an assurance by the DS that the matter of acquiring of land for extending the perimeter of the airbase would be taken up with higher authorities in Colombo the organizers of the picketing campaign agreed to abandon it.
The DS, however, told the people gathered in front of his office that the SLAF had informed him that it would lift its ban only temporarily.
A spokesman for the organisers of the protest who addressed the protesters and officials pointed out that Government Agent for Batticaloa and the SLAF had given a clear assurance to the people living near the base many years ago when the intention to acquire land for expansion that the temple, school and the Alaiyadichcholai cemetery would be exempted from the alienation process.
The commanding officer of the SLAF base had reiterated at the stone laying ceremony for the restoration and consecration of the temple in 1997.
The spokesman for the protesting organisations said that the people of the area had spent 20 million rupees to renovate and consecrate the Pillaiyar temple.