Govt. to consider alternative site for Jaffna Division Hqrs.

by Shamindra Ferdinando
The government has been forced to reconsider its decision to shift Jaffna division headquarters at Subash and Gnanam hotels to temporary facilities on state land near the Jaffna library, an authoritative official said yesterday.

It was a cabinet decision. If implemented troops would have moved out of the hotels before end of May, he said.

The TULF-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) vehemently objected to the government move. Defence Minister Tilak Marapana suspended work at the proposed sites recently, he said, adding that subsequent to talks among the army top brass they have been able to identify two other locations. "We will explore the possibility of choosing one of the sites. But it has to meet the army’s requirements," he said, expressing the belief that they would be able to reach a consensus on the issue.

The army insists that they were not in a position to leave the Jaffna hotels until they were given alternative accommodations. A senior officer reminded that since a ceasefire agreement reached in February last year, troops vacated schools, places of religious worship and a considerable number of government and private buildings to facilitate the peace process.

"We have no other option," he said, pointing out that troops would not be able to vacate the hotels and about 80 houses unless new bases were set up on a priority basis. They were officers and men attached to headquarters of some of the units deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. "They were not fighting troops," he said, adding that the LTTE agreed with the plan. The handing over of the hotels would not be possible if protests get out of hand, he said.

TULF leader V. Anandasangaree recently wrote to President Chandrika Kumaratunga urging her to prevent the army from taking over land near the Jaffna library. Several Jaffna based organisations have also protested against the decision.

Under a ceasefire agreement reached in February last year, government troops vacated hundreds of private properties, schools, places of worship and public buildings in the north-east, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula. But the army headquarters did not reduce the troop strength in the peninsula. Instead they were re-deployed within the government-controlled area.

The official said that the government decided to vacate the two hotels and the adjoining houses subsequent to an LTTE request. Their chief negotiator Anton Balasingham was adamant that the two hotels should be made available. The issue was discussed during face-to-face talks between the two sides abroad, he said, revealing that the group did not oppose the proposed re-location of the administrative headquarters at a suitable place in the peninsula.

The government would not have even considered vacation of two hotels if the LTTE did not raise the issue. The LTTE was of the view that the hotels should be available for visitors to the peninsula, particularly from abroad.