Jaffna ship sails early

[TamilNet, Saturday, 24 October 1998, 06:27 GMT]
More than 750 Jaffna civilians were in for a great disappointment this morning when they discovered that the Lanka Muditha, the ship chartered by the Sri Lankan government to ferry thousands of civilians who have been stranded in the peninsula since the beginning of this month, had set sail to Trincomalee in the afternoon yesterday without them.

The SLA's office for civil administration near the station road junction in Jaffna town issued tickets for six hundred rupees each to 1177 who had queued up from the early hours of the morning yesterday.

Hundreds of people pushed and tussled to enter the security zone in which the SLA's Jaffna civil administration office is located.

The names of people who had been screened and granted permission by the army to travel in the ship were read out in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation transmission from the Palaly SLA base complex and were published in Jaffna's only daily, the Uthayan the day before.

Some university students and foreign passport holders were sent early in the morning in two buses to Kankesanthurai.

Towards noon four busloads of passengers were sent. Two of these buses were turned back by the SLA at Tellipalai.

However, the army officials at the civil administration continued to issue tickets at the Jaffna civil administration office, assuring hundreds of anxious passengers until about 6 p.m. in the evening that they would be on their way to Kankesanthurai soon to board the ship.

The ship had already set sail early in the afternoon with a large number of soldiers going home on leave. Two hundred passengers from the Vadamaradchi and Thenmaradchi divisions who had been cleared by the army also boarded the ship from the Pt.Pedro pier.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Navy in Trincomalee announced last evening that the passenger service cannot run between the eastern port and Jaffna until further notice.

Naval authorities said that the security situation in the eastern maritime zone was not conducive for operating a civilian passenger ship in those waters.

According to an unconfirmed report from Trincomalee this morning, the SLA has brought more than three thousand army deserters who were arrested in the Sinhala majority districts of the island to the eastern port town recently to be shipped to Jaffna.

Sources in Trincomalee speculated that this could be the reason for the cancellation of the passenger ship service.

Arrested SLA deserters who are sent to Jaffna have no way of running away from their units again as in the past because the peninsula is accessible only by air and sea and all transport to and from Jaffna is completely controlled by the Sri Lankan security forces.

Nevertheless, Sri Lankan navy sources in the eastern port town insisted that the security situation in the seas off the Mullaithivu coast has deteriorated in recent days due to a Sea Tiger build up close to the shipping lane between Jaffna and Trincomalee.

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