Future Minds of Jaffna a success
The military’s final solution

The Security Forces of Jaffna successfully concluded the Future Minds of Jaffna educational and industrial exhibition, trade fair and carnival last week which drew a crowd of nearly 200,000 on the last day of the three day event.

"Our intension for organizing this event was to eradicate the differences between the people of the North and the South and to show the people of Jaffna that they are part and parcel of this country," Brigadier Ruwan Kulatunga, Commander of the Security Forces in Jaffna Town told the Island Financial Review.

The Security Forces in Jaffna is attempting to create the necessary groundwork to establish economic activities once peace is restored and they have indentified this as a prerequisite for sustainable peace, through equitable economic opportunities.

"The LTTE had stood in the way of development in the North and East for too long and things are about to change," he said.

Brig. Kulatunga said it was important to create educational and employment opportunities for the people of Jaffna and develop their culture and heritage.

"We would not have had to fight this war if these opportunities were given to them a long time ago," he said.

Douglas Devananda MP, Leader of the EPDP admitted the EPDP, like the LTTE had taken up arms against the state when the rights of the people in the North had been threatened because of shortsighted politics of the day.

While the LTTE lost its way to terrorism, Devannanda told journalist in Jaffna, the EPDP realized that only a poltical solution would bring lasting results and had ceased to fight the state.

Brig. Kulatunga said the land routes should be open for two way traffic before April this year and that the people of Jaffna should be given the opportunities to reap the benefits of linkages with the South, particularly with Western Province.

The army organised a carnival early last year for which a crowd of about 65,000 had attended.

But Future Minds of Jaffna held in December 27-29, according to the army, broke all records for the number of people congregated at a single location over the past few decades.

Over 200 trade stalls, including 22 from Colombo, catered to the people who suffer high prices because shipping costs are added to goods sold in Jaffna.

With the army undertaking to transport goods from Colombo, prices at the fair were lower than usually and whole families visited the grounds, not only to enjoy the music, but also to take advantage of the prices.

Some wanted the fair extended up to January 1.

"Our objective is to secure the area and we had to pull in over 1,500 troops from the forward defense lines to provide security at the fair, so an extension of the fair was not possible," Brig. Kulatunga said.

"But we will be organizing another event like this before the Tamil and Sinhala New Year so that the people here can benefit from the fair trading," he said.

Brig. Kulatunga said the army’s primary concern was fighting terrorism.

"But until normalcy returns, and the land routes are cleared for better integration and cooperation between the North and South, we must not forget the people. We will do all we can to open up opportunities for them, through events such as the Future Minds of Jaffna," he said.

AMW, Abans, Mobitel, DialogCoca Cola, Elephant House, Hayleys, Ceylon Biscuits, CIC, DSI, Solex and Commercial Bank were among the companies that were present at the fair.

The latest technologies available in the country in information and communication, agriculture, fisheries and other industries were showcased in the exhibition and provided a glimpse of things to come once peace and normalcy is restored.

How did the people of Jaffna respond?

The large crowd was evidence enough but we tried our best to mingle with the crowd and speak to as many people as we could. Language was a problem, and words were exchanged with some difficulty, although smiles flowed freely.

Some where shy to speak, but we did manage to find many who could converse in English with a splattering of Sinhala. We preferred to speak in English to make them feel more comfortable.

One thing was all too clear. The people of Jaffna are suffering. Opportunities are very limited and prices are so high that it is almost shameful that people in Colombo even complain of the cost of living.

Check points are all over the place and free movement in and out of Jaffna is not easy. Then there is the curfew. So naturally people feel it when they cannot move freely in their own home town.

But the people are hopeful that things will improve soon. Young people we spoke to, long to visit the capital city of Colombo someday.

The people of Jaffna were given a respite in their hard battle of life during the Future Minds of Jaffna.

"My family enjoyed the entertainment very much. We have never experienced anything like this before," R. Ravindran told us.

"People are finding it difficult to put food on their plates because prices are so high. Middle class families just have two meals a day sometimes so you can imagine what poor people must be going through," he said.

A father of two told us that he made use of the opportunity to purchase schooling material for his children for the new school year.

"The fair really helped to ease the burden because things are expensive here in Jaffna," he said.

Sri Ranganathan had come to the exhibition on the first day with his family. We saw him on the second day as well.

"Things are getting back to normal," he said.

"However, prices of food are too high and we hope the land routes will still be open. We don’t have many facilities in Jaffna and this exhibition is a good thing because it shows us what we can expect, especially since access to the South is difficult at this time," he said.

He also lamented that there was an acute shortage of jobs for the youth.

A teacher, N. Dharmakulasingam, said the check points made travelling difficult and that people had to leave their homes early in order to get to their destinations on time.

She said Future Minds of Jaffna gave the children an opportunity to learn new things.

She also said that opportunities for youth are very limited with the only option available is to enter the University of Jaffna after which their ability to contribute to the local economy was very limited.

Antony, Jeewan and Jaya, three friends in their early twenties said they enjoyed the entertainment where they danced their cares away.

They said the only form of recreation available to them was playing football or cricket with their friends.

Antony and Jaya are fishermen and they were happy the army lifted the restrictions on fishing in the Jaffna lagoon. Jeewan is in the gold jewellery trade, he said business was always good.

"Not war. We want peace," they told us.

We asked them if they would like to come to Colombo.

"Colombo is the capital city, of course we like to visit it," they said with beaming faces and they made us feel our question was a silly one to have asked.

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