Won't leave public buildings in Batticaloa - SLA

[TamilNet, Friday, 17 May 2002, 17:41 GMT]
"The Sri Lanka army will not leave public and private buildings and houses until permanent peace is established", said Lt. Col. Gunasekera, the civil affairs officer of the SLA's 23-3 Brigade in Batticaloa, Friday addressing government and municipal officials and more than a hundred locals whose homes are occupied by the military.

According to article 2.4 of the ceasefire agreement between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers, the SLA should have drawn up schedule indicating the return of all public buildings to their intended use and published it at the latest by 26 March 2002.

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 meeting was called at the 23-3 Brigade Headquarters in Batticaloa town to discuss the status of public and private building occupied by the military in the district, army sources said.

"There would be only one or two military camps in Batticaloa when permanent peace is established," Lt. Colonel Gunasekera told the officials and people who attended the meeting Friday.

The SLA is encamped in the eastern town's Municipal Council building, the local Rest House, a library, the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Local Government, Irrigation Dept quarters, National Housing Development Authority's quarters and the town's main sports stadium.

In the northern sector of the Batticaloa district the SLA occupies the Valaichenai paper factory, the Valaichenai fisheries harbour, the Kalkudah rest house etc.,

The headquarters of the SLA's 23-2 Brigade is located in the Valaichenai paper factory, 36 kilometres north of Batticaloa.

The SLA occupies more than a hundred houses in the town and the northern sector of the district. Few owners are paid rents by the military. Many houses inside and on the defence perimeters of SLA camps have been demolished.

Valaichenai paper factory where the SLA's 23-2 Brigade is located.
Photo TamilNet
The SLA occupies forty houses in the Eravur division alone, local officials say. There are twelve administrative divisions in the Batticaloa district.

The Police and the Special Task Force (STF) commandos occupy more public and private buildings and homes in the district. The STF continues to be encamped in the district hospital in Thirukkovil, a key coastal village 78 kilometres south of Batticaloa, despite protests by local residents and politicians.

Some house owners who attended the meeting told Lt. Col. Gunasekera that they are unable to bequeath their homes to their children because the SLA has not given them any word on when it intends to vacate them (the houses).

Col. Gunasekera said although he was aware that the army occupies a "large number of houses," he had only 69 files for rent payment purposes. He claimed that other owners had not forwarded their details to his office to qualify for rent.

The SLA pays a nominal rent only to some private homes it occupies. Owners complain that it is not an alternative to having a home. "We are compelled to live like refugees in our villages where we were once proud owners of our own brick houses. The rent is not what we want. We want our homes back. But can we speak up against the army?" asked a house owner who attended the meeting Friday.

Another house owner pointed out to Lt. Col Gunasekera that his house was demolished by the army in Mylambaveli, eight kilometres north of Batticaloa town, because it was on the camp's forward defence line.

"How can I ask you to pay rent for a house you have demolished?" he asked the officer.

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