|Coast Guards of yesteryear could be used once again
A. Denis N. Fernando
The accompanying map indicates their periodic movement of these coast guards from South-Western seaboard. They were mainly from Negombo and Ambalangoda and partook in deep sea fishing as a past-time and sport as well as source of sustenance.
These coast guards had their own settlements in the North-East sector in places like Mullaitivu, Kokilai, Muttur, Eravur, Akkaraipattu as well as in the North-Western seaboard in places like Karaitivu, Vankalai and Mannar which they occupied for centuries from the time of Parakramabahu VI with their own gardens grown with coconut for their use. These coast guards during the Kandyan period resulted in the arrest of foreigners who were brought to the court of Kandy; Spilbergen from Akkaraipattu/Batticaloa; while Robert Knox, de Lanerolle, Phybus etc., were brought from Muttur/Trincomalee to the court of Kandy.
During the British period the coast guard service was dismantled and they took Deep Sea Fishing seriously as a source of sustenance, which brought them economic returns, which was earlier considered as a past time and sport.
These seasonal fisheries were organized for this warrior community on a co-operative basis by their elders and was established as an industry with permanent settlements in places like Mullaitivu, Kokilai, Karaitivu and Mannar. But today with terrorist activity they are victims of the LTTE and during periods of unrest and attack they have been displaced and even massacred and some have returned to the original places from where they went to these places like Duwa, Pitipana and Sea Street. Even now some are living under trying circumstances and are not even classified as refugees. This is their sad plight which even the government ignores as they are only interested in the refugees among the Muslims and Tamils.
Some of them have returned to places like Kokilai under the protection of the Army, but with present conditions in a state of uncertainty their future is bleak and their safety has to be assured. Is this the price that these people will have to pay for safeguarding Sri Lanka from the time of Parakramabahu VI?
Today with the vast area of more than 20 times the land area falling in the sea within our Exclusive Economic Zone, it is imperative that we establish an effective Coast Guard service from the time tested community who have trawlers and could be used for intelligence gathering purposes, recruiting them into a Voluntary Naval Force. Of course this has to be done after screening them for their reliability from a security point of view in the same manner that their forefathers performed their duty as Coast Guards.
One must not make the same mistake that the former Minister of Fisheries did by recruiting their cronies from the electorate who have never been to the sea and providing them with motor cycles to go on joy rides along the sea coast. God only knows for what purpose, except providing them employment for them with no return or benefit to the Nation.
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