Feature Article

Eluvaithivu survives in the grip of Sri Lanka’s Navy

[TamilNet, Monday, 24 November 2003, 13:24 GMT]
The Sri Lanka Navy has a tight grip on Eluvaithivu and its residents. It is a small island in the sea off the Jaffna peninsula. The SLN recently stepped up checking at the island’s small jetty. Locals say the Navy fears they might smuggle into the island posters to mark the LTTE’s Great Heroes’ Day. Thirteen years ago, on 4 November, twenty-three men from Eluvaithivu were massacred by the Sri Lanka Navy at mid sea.

The Eluvaithivu jetty. Photo: T. Thavapalan

The boat called Vidivelli (Morning Star) in which they were travelling was towed away and was used by the Navy for many years since the massacre. Colombo neither investigated nor acknowledged the mid sea slaughter.

Restrictions on visiting the island and fishing in the surrounding waters are still tough despite the long ceasefire, mainly because Eluvaithivu borders the sea high security zone that protects its large base in Karainagar, the large causeway linked island west of Jaffna. The Navy has all the boats in the island marked and numbered.

Islanders say there are sea minefields in part of the shallow sea off Eluvaithivu. One person was killed and another lost a limb when a sea mine they found on the island’s shore blew up in June last year.

Fishermen in the island can moor their boats only in three landing points specially designated by the Navy. For twelve years when the island was heavily garrisoned by the Navy, local fishermen were permitted to use only catamarans.

There are about 160 families in Eluvaithivu. There are two schools. Five teachers take care of 170 children in the primary school.

Majority of the families here are engaged in fishing. Others make a living from Palmyra produce – particularly containers made from the palm’s fronds. There are dense Palmyra groves in the island, starting from its scenic coast.

A picturesque beach on the island. Photo: T. Thavapalan

During the war, local fishermen had to sell their catch to the EPDP, a paramilitary group that operates with the Sri Lankan security forces and to the Navy.

Crabs, sea slugs, lobsters and prawns are found in plenty in the seas around Eluvaithivu.

“For thirteen years this was an open prison. The EPDP and the Navy minted money with our sweat”, said a fisherman who wished to remain anonymous. “Freedom is still a distant hope for us. Everything can change in a trice. Then we have to fear for our lives”, he said, explaining why he did not want his name to be used.

Only residents or persons who can prove they indeed have blood relatives in Eluvaithivu are permitted to enter the island.

The Kannakaiamman Thurai Jetty in Kayts is the only access point from the outside world to Eluvaithivu.

In the days before the war fishermen in the island took their catch to the market in Kayts town.

Kannaikaiamman Thurai is far from all the wholesale points for fish in the Kayts Island. Hence by the time Eluvaithivu fishermen get to the markets there, traders from Jaffna would finish their deals and would pay less than the morning prices for the catch.

A jagged shoreline in another part of the island. Photo: T. Thavapalan

“We lose a lot of money every day because we are compelled to use only the Kannakaiamman Thurai”, a fisherman said.

Water sources in the island have been turning brackish over the island.

“Like the Navy, nature too is not very kind to us. But this is the land of our forebears. We survived the war for more than 13 years. So we are certain that some day within our lifetime we would be free”, said the Eluvaithivu fisherman as he beached his catamaran on a breathtakingly picturesque part of the island’s shore.

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