Following the unwarranted and internationally condemned arrest of the Mayor of Jaffna, Viswalingam Manivannan, Sri Lanka’s army commander, and accused war criminal, Shavendra Silva visited the province to “evaluate security developments” ahead of New Year festivities.
The visit follows an escalation in the use of Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism as over a dozen Tamils and Muslims since last November. Last month Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Division arrested two Tamils who managed the website “TubeTamil” for allegedly “promoting terrorism” and promoting "terrorism-related activities" on their YouTube channel. The Mayor of Jaffna was similarly arrested under accusations of attempting to resurrect the LTTE, despite the lack of any discernible evidence.
During his visit, Shavendra Silva railed against the Tamil diaspora for “spreading false propaganda” and attacked them as “the face of chaos”.
He further added:
“They state that the army is cruel and that it is not needed, however, Tamils will know very well that they have benefitted from the Sri Lankan army”.
The army’s role in the North-East
In describing the army, Silva noted that the military was involved in distributing school equipment and goods to Tamil residents, however, human rights critics have questioned the use of the military to perform civilian administrative roles.
The military’s ongoing occupation of the Tamil homeland has been sharply criticised as it does not deny those displaced by the war a return of their land but has only been used to accumulate wealth for the army. Land occupied has been used for a range of purposes including tourism and agriculture, with products produced on these lands sold below market rates thereby undermining the livelihood of local residents.
In Jaffna alone there remains at least “3,056 internally displaced families currently living with friends and relatives who have not received solutions either.”
A recent report by the Oakland Institute further detailed the scale of the military's presence across the North-East; noting an estimated one soldier for every six civilians in the North East. This the report states, this is to keep “the population in the North-East under constant repression and intimidation”.
In his statement, Silva further urged the Tamil residents to “celebrate in a peaceful manner”. This statement follows calls from cabinet officials to tear-gas and arrest Tamil politicians who participated in the P2P demonstrations.
Earlier this month, we reported on a Tamil mother who was bombarded by threatening calls after she had submitted a complaint at the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission in Jaffna and called for the release of Tamil political prisoners.
In August 2020, the International Truth and Justice Project detailed how Tamil activists have been "abducted, tortured and raped because of their involvement in the search for the truth about the disappeared in Sri Lanka".
Read the full statement by Shavendra Silva here.