Tamils are protesting across Jaffna today as Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe visits the peninsula for Thai Pongal.
The rally began at the University of Jaffna, with students joining the Tamil families of the disappeared as they marched towards Nallur Sivan temple where Wickremesinghe was attending a Thai Pongal event.
Protesters clutched onto photographs of their forcibly disappeared relatives and held placards demanding the return of their land which have been occupied by the state for decades.
Sri Lanka's security forces beefed up their presence across the North-East today, with armed STF soldiers patrolling the streets on motorbikes. Buses carrying Tamil families of the disappeared from Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya to Jaffna were stopped by the state's forces. Policemen noted down the details of the bus drivers and those on the bus in an attempt to delay the buses reaching Jaffna ahead of the President's visit.
Tamil families of the disappeared have spent over 4 years campaigning to know the whereabouts of their loved ones, who in many cases were forcibly disappeared by Sri Lanka's security forces. Although 13 years have passed since the end of the armed conflict, Tamil demands have not been met by successive Sri Lankan governments.
Earlier today, Wickremesinghe landed at Palaly airport where he was greeted by the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) leader Douglas Devanada before heading to visit a series of religious leaders.
Meanwhile in Valikamam North, protesters set up a makeshift shed and demonstrated outside a Sri Lankan military camp in the Palaly Araniapuram area, calling on Wickremesinghe to release their occupied lands as a "Pongal gift".
"The army have occupied our lands for 33 years, forcing us to living in other places and face various hardships," one of the protesters said.
"It has been more than 10 years since the armed conflict ended but the army continue to occupy our lands under the guise of national security," they added.
The Sri Lankan military continues to occupy vast swatches of land across the North-East, with districts such as Mullaitivu reported to have one soldier stationed for every two civilians.