Commandos camp in hospital despite peace promise

[TamilNet, Friday, 25 January 2002, 07:00 GMT]
In Thirukkovil and Thambiluvil, the large Tamil villages on Sri Lanka's southeastern coast, few believe that the dividends of the current peace process in the war torn island would come their way. "We are like people in the land that time forgot. We have survived here amid draconian controls for more than sixteen years", says Mr. S. Vivekanandan, a local journalist. The only civilian hospital in this region is inside the camp of the Special Task Force (STF), an elite commando unit of the Sri Lankan security forces. The STF moved into the Thirukkovil hospital in early 1986.

Mr. Ariyanayagam Chandranheru, the sole Tamil MP from the Ampara district.(Photo:TamilNet)
"It is against all humanitarian norms to have a camp of commandos inside a civilian hospital", says Mr. Ariyanayagam Chandranheru, the newly elected Tamil National Alliance MP for the area. He told TamilNet that he has brought the matter to the notice of the Minister for Health. "Nothing has happened so far", he says.

Two new blocks were built for the hospital last year. However, the hospital staff could not utilise the buildings because the STF didn't corporate.

"All the patients here are at grave risk because this a military camp. We work under much pressure and fear as we are being used here as a human shield", says a member of the staff who wished to remain anonymous.

Thirukkovil STF camp
The entrance of the Thirukkovil STF camp. Sentry post on right. (Please click on the image for larger photo - TamilNet photo)
"The government is spending billions on defence while ignoring even our right to life. If so, why can't it spare some of that money to construct a camp for the STF in a place where civilians won't be put at such grave risk? I am certain that it will not be done because the very idea and aim of the STF is to protect itself with the human shield comprising the staff and the patients of the hospital. The hospital's red cross actually provides protection to the commandos and not to the patients. It is nothing but cowardice to hide behind the sick and the feeble", said a local social activist who has lobbied unsuccessfully for more than a decade to stop the STF from operating out of the Thirukkovil District Hospital.

His family says he is at grave risk.

Patients seeking treatment have to enter the hospital premises through the sentry at the entrance of the commandos' camp. The section of the main coastal road through the village is barricaded near the hospital.

The STF also occupies the Akkaraipattu hospital, 12 kilometres north of Thirukkovil. The commandos moved into the hospital in 1985. The camp's outer perimeter includes, St. John's, a primary school.

Thirukkovil is 76 kilometres south of Batticaloa by the coast. The village derives its name from its medieval temple by the Thirukkovil beach, facing the Bay of Bengal.

Thirukkovil Kandasamy Temple (Photo:TamilNet)


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