Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse this month made a three-day trip to Kilinochchi and Jaffna in the former northern war zone to open a series of so-called development projects.
The government imposed a massive security cordon across the area in the weeks leading up to the visit to intimidate local residents and whip up communal tensions with claims of possible “terrorist threats.”
Rajapakse’s contingent, which toured the area on October 11–13, included Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Rural Development Minister Douglas Devananda and Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Vanniarachchi.
Hundreds of military and police intelligence officers were deployed a month before the trip to gather information, including the personal details of all residents living close to sites that Rajapakse and other government ministers planned to visit. Iron barricades were established on main roads and vehicles were regularly checked. Military guards were placed every 200 metres along the main roads in the areas visited by Rajapakse. In Jaffna, military personnel guarded the hotels and lodges accommodating visiting government officials.
A day before the government contingent arrived, security was strengthened at Vavuniya and nearby Omanthai, the main entry points to the north, and all foreign passport holders were barred from visiting the north. The defence ministry later announced that the ban is indefinite and that all foreign passport holders must obtain written permission before entering the north. This will include journalists and those involved in projects run by various international organisations, including the UN.
Defence spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya claimed the restriction was necessary for “national security,” adding: “We have information that foreigners are trying to cause discord among ethnic communities.” He provided no evidence to prove his bogus assertion.
Rajapakse cynically told a meeting in Kilinochchi that his government had brought peace and democracy to north. However, more than five years after the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the high-level security operations demonstrate that the former war zone is still effectively under military rule.
A key purpose of Rajapakse’s visit was to secure support among Tamils for his ruling coalition in January’s snap presidential election. Rajapakse and his local ally, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, were completely marginalised in the north in the 2010 presidential and general elections. Working people either voted against them in protest against the war and the military’s war crimes, or did not vote at all.
In what amounted to a publicity stunt, Rajapakse handed over 20,000 legal documents for the land of those displaced during the war in the Kilinochchi area. He also opened some state buildings and two computer laboratories.
In Jaffna, the president symbolically handed over jewelry said to be seized from LTTE-operated banks by Sri Lankan security forces and joined with the Indian high commissioner to open the newly-built Jaffna railway station. The northern railway line, which was destroyed during the war, has been re-built with a $US800 million loan from the Indian government. India is attempting to increase its influence in Sri Lanka, particularly in the north and east, to counter China, which is providing economic assistance to the Rajapakse government.
Speaking at a public rally in Kilinochchi, the former “administrative capital” of the LTTE, Rajapakse claimed that his government “has provided significant amounts of services for the welfare of the people in the north.”
Tens of thousands of people were displaced in the Wanni region during the war. Almost every house in Kilinochchi was destroyed. Contrary to Rajapakse’s cynical claims to be “providing services,” thousands of families in Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar and Vavuniya still live in makeshift huts, many without water and other basic facilities.
The security forces hold about 67,000 acres of land in the northern region for military bases and High Security Zones. Most of this was forcibly seized by the army during the war.
Rajapakse accused the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) administration, which is run by Tamil National Alliance (TNA), of not helping the government’s “development” projects.
These projects, such as the construction of railways and highways, as well as the distribution of land documents and lost jewelry, are crude attempts to undercut support for the TNA. Rajapakse likened the NPC to a “dog sitting on straw” and not allowing others to use it.
NPC Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran refused to attend the “special district development meeting” chaired by Rajapakse and other “politically motivated meetings,” saying that an “authoritarian regime had been foisted on the NPC.”
The TNA, which represents the Tamil ruling elite, is pressing for greater powers over land and police for the NPC and wants the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces into a single provincial council. It is seeking the support of the US and India to secure a power-sharing arrangement with Colombo that would enhance the position of the Tamil bourgeoisie.
Rajapakse’s northern “development agenda” is aimed at attracting foreign and local investment to exploit the pool of cheap labour created by the devastation of the war. The government is planning to establish free trade zones. MAS, the multinational apparel company, has already set up a factory near Kilinochchi.
In collaboration with Mullaitihivu military commander Major General Jagath Dias, Sri Lanka’s long-established Hirdaramani Company has begun work on an apparel factory in Mullaitihivu, to open in March 2015. The government also wants to develop privately-owned tourist resort islands in the north.
The “Spring of North” and “Dawn of East” development projects, which are being implemented under de facto military rule, are a warning to the entire working class. These projects are in line with the Rajapakse government’s efforts to open up the entire country to the most ruthless exploitation by foreign and local investors.