Sri Lankan soldiers in Jaffna continued their intimidation of Tamils ahead of Maaveerar Naal this week, as they photographed and harassed locals before seemingly joining them in cleaning efforts in Koppay this week.
Earlier today, as locals began cleaning the surrounding roads, Sri Lankan soldiers came out of the base and looked ominously on. Soon after, uniformed and armed troops were seen photographing locals in what has become a frightening but familiar act of intimidation.
In recent years, local Tamils have attempted to clean the outskirts of the now destroyed LTTE cemetery in Koppay, which was bulldozed by the Sri Lankan military. The army went on to construct a military camp directly on the site of the cemetery.
Though locals have been denied access to where the graves of their loved ones once stood, they have taken to cleaning the surrounding roads in the run-up to Maaveerar Naal on November 27th, a day to mark those who died in the Tamil liberation struggle.
However today, some soldiers adopted a new tactic, grabbing broomsticks and apparently joining in on sweeping the roads.
"As commemorations have been banned, we've been engaged in cleaning and sanitation works," said TNPF MP S Kajendran. "The army is interrupting us in this."
"We cannot expect civilised behaviour from the army because they destroyed the thuyilum illam that held the bodies of 3,000 Maaveerars. And they've established a camp on top of it. This explains how uncivilised there activities are."
"They think this is some kind of joke,” commented one activist. “They are trying to intimidate and disturb our cleaning efforts.”
"Karthigai is an important month in the Tamil calendar," said Nadarajar Kandeepan, lawyer and Legal adviser of TNPF. "In this month, overwhelming military troops have been deployed in Koppay and they are intimidating the people."
"The right to remembrance is enshrined in International Law. But the army has surrounded us here and are obstructing us from our activities. Particularly, many officials from the intelligence are videotaping us in a way that threatens us."
The Koppay cemetery is one of at least 27 destroyed graveyards called Maaveerar Thuyilum Illam – Heroes' Resting Places – that were constructed by the LTTE for their fighters. To date, all have been destroyed and, in many cases, military bases have been constructed on top of them.
File photographs: In 1995, after the Sri Lankan army wrested control of Jaffna, Koppay Thuyilum Illam was destroyed. The ceasefire agreement of 2002 provided some respite in hostilities, which allowed reconstruction. Photograph from Koppay Thuyilum Illam with a monument to commemorate its reconstruction, before it was once again destroyed.
This week, as Tamils across the North-East prepared to commemorate Maaveerar Naal, several Sri Lankan courts attempted to bar remembrance events following requests from the security forces.