Those who have cited a heavy army presence in the Jaffna peninsula as an obstacle to post-war national reconciliation would no longer be able to propagate the lie, Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said yesterday.
Responding to a query by The Sunday Island, the Defence Secretary said that the re-deployment of the army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces following the conflict had brought down the army presence in the peninsula and the Jaffna Islands.
The Defence Secretary said that in line with the re-deployment plan, both the number of fighting battalions and support services as well as High Security Zones (HSZs) in the peninsula had been reduced drastically.
The largest concentration of the army was now Anuradhapura District, he said, challenging those complaining of continuing heavy military presence in the Jaffna peninsula to examine the situation in other districts as regards troop presence.
At the time the incumbent security forces chief in Jaffna, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe took over command on December 7, 2009, six months after the conclusion of the conflict, the army had 27,000 personnel deployed in the Jaffna peninsula.
Today, the Jaffna strength had been reduced to 15,600 personnel as part of the overall distribution of troops in all administrative districts.
"Due to re-deployment, Hambantota will have a division," the Defence Secretary said.
He said that phased withdrawal of the Jaffna HSZ had begun on Oct. 28th, 2010 with troops vacating a part of Vasavilan. In the second stage, troops handed over Ilavali North, Ilavali North West and Viththakapuram. Troops gave up Naguleshwaram, Telippalai, Thanneiselvapuram, Maviddapuram, Maviddapuram South, Palaivikaman North, Palaivikaman South and Kadduvan West on May 9, 2011 in the third stage.
In the next stage, troops vacated Kurumpasiddy and Kurumpasiddy East on October 6. The final stage paved the way for civilians to return to Valalai and Ideikadu on November 29, 2011.
At the time fighting ended three years ago, the military held 4,096 hectares, though current deployment covers only 2,582 hectares and there is the possibility of further adjustments. The government recently handed over a detailed report on the reduction of the HSZ to the US. The Defence Ministry estimated that 40 per cent of HSZ had been vacated by November last year.
Asked whether there would be further reduction of army presence in the Jaffna peninsula, the Defence Secretary pointed out as Palaly airfield and Kankesanthurai harbour too had been located in the current HSZ, the actual area under army control was even less than the 60 per cent of the original HSZ.
He emphasized that the area wasn't exclusively used by the military. "Don't forget the KKS harbour is in the process of being expanded. Both Palaly and KKS are being used extensively by civilians," he said.
Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe, the Jaffna commander, told The Sunday Island that those critical of military efforts to improve living conditions not only in the Jaffna peninsula, but other districts as well had conveniently ignored the repaid progress made during the last three years.
``Anyone suspecting our intentions could visit the peninsula to verify the validity of our claims,'' he said.
Troops deployed in the peninsula belonged to three Divisions, namely 51 (Jaffna sector), 52 in Vadamaratchchy and 55 at Elephant Pass, he explained.
The army launched two fighting divisions, 55 and 53 across the Muhamalai frontlines at a crucial stage of the Eelam War IV. At the height of the conflict, the army had over 40,000 officers and men deployed in the peninsula.
The Defence Secretary said that the army couldn't vacate any particular administrative district to appease Eelamists or any other group. The deployment of armed forces was the prerogative of the government both in war and peace time. It would be ridiculous to expect 100 per cent vacation of any district for whatever the reason, he said.
Courtesy : The Island