Massive demonstration in Jaffna
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 17 January 2001, 12:28 GMT]
(News Feature) More than ten thousand people in Jaffna comprising university students, high-school students, residents and representatives and members of civil organisations demonstrated Wednesday, urging the Sri Lankan government to reciprocate the Liberation Tigers unilateral ceasefire and negotiate with the movement. Thousands more people were turned away by Sri Lankan security forces at check points set up along the major roads leading to the university, residents said. Reporters were not permitted into the university either.
The security forces had refused to allow Wednesday’s peace demonstration and warned students, lecturers and residents of the dire consequences of participating in it. Last Saturday nine students were arrested by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in connection with organising the protest.
On Wednesday, roads leading to the university were blocked off with barbed wire placed across some of the streets. SLA troops also set up roadblocks at the major entrances to the university and refused entry to the grounds for anyone who was not staff or a student there.
However residents said people had scaled over the walls and found ways around the blocked streets to enter the grounds, which were decorated in red and yellow bunting, and join the protest.
The bicycles of hundreds of participating students were confiscated, loaded onto a truck and taken away by the SLA. The identity cards of several students were also confiscated and taken to the nearby Army camp. The students were told to report to the SLA to get their cards back.
Some students who were attempting to circumvent a roadblock were chased by police, and in attempting to jump over a wall, were injured, organisers said.
The event, titled “Pongu Tamil”, began at 10.30am with the ceremonial lighting of the “freedom flame” – as the protestors termed it - by Jaffna University Vice Chancellor Professor K Balasundarampillai and other dignitaries.
Professor Balasundarampillai then spoke in support of the event. He stated that he was proud to see the university student body raising their voices in support of freedom and peace. He expressed the hope that the ‘Pongu Tamil’ gathering would provide the impetus for an upraising of Tamil voices in support of peace and the recognition of the importance of the Norwegian mediated peace efforts.
K Thevaraj, the President of the Jaffna University Teachers Association also spoke at the event, followed by the President of the Jaffna University Students Association, Arnold (Ed: one name). He told the gathering that of all the Sri Lankan governments, that of President Chandrika Kumaratunge was the worst. He accused the government of actively undermining ongoing peace efforts by waging war.
The speeches were followed by a short play. Bones, surrounded by iron fencing, were placed in the middle of a large float in the middle of the grounds. The Jaffna people were represented as living in telephone and electricity stations, and of then breaking out of them. Organisers said they wished to highlight the government’s attempts to pretend life in Jaffna was normal because it had restored some telephone lines and electricity to some areas.
At noon, bells were rung across the peninsula at Hindu temples and Christian churches, including the Jaffna university grounds, in support of the demontration.
Meanwhile, Jaffna Hindu College students who wished to attend the event were prevented from doing so by their headmaster, S. Sri Kumaran, who locked the doors to the school. Sources suggest that he was told to prevent the students from going to the event by the leader of a Tamil political party, suspected to be the paramilitary Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), which is part of Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition.
Meanwhile, T Maheswaran, the representative for Jaffna of the main opposition United National Party (UNP), attended the event.
A declaration signed by the Jaffna University Students Association, Jaffna University Teachers Association and the organisations representing the various support staff of the university, was released at the demonstration, stating the following:
“At this juncture, we raise our suppressed voices together.
“The government must immediately stop this war. It must immediately begin meaningful and just peace talks with the Liberation Tigers.
“Through this process, we want to see a just solution that recognises the Tamil people’s aspirations of the recognition of the Tamil nation, recognition of our homelands and recognition of our right to self-determination.
“We call on the international community to understand the real hopes and aspirations of our people who have long been suppressed.
“Your conscience must lead the way to finding a just and peaceful solution for our lives.”
In an interview with a London based Tamil radio station, one of the organisers of the event said that while his fellow protestors did not believe the Sri Lankan government would offer the Tamil people a just solution, they were nevertheless planning to continue with these campaigns in the hope that the international community would prevail upon the government to seek a peaceful solution.