September 16, 2004
A new regional headquarters of the elite para-military force, the Special Task Force (STF) will give the Sri Lankan government an edge should the LTTE rebels open a third front in Sri Lankas central highlands.
The Sri Lanka Government has given the green light to the Police Department to recruit an additional 2500 Constables and officers for the STF and the establishment of two STF regional Headquarters.
The additional personnel are ostensibly being recruited to provide more muscle, to the islands 20,000 strong police force, to combat a recent increase in crime and murder, including political assassinations allegedly by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in and outside the northern and eastern provinces. However, the setting up of two regional Headquarters in eastern Ampara district and central highland district of Nuwara Eliya indicate a timely precautionary measure to have the personnel in crucial locations should fighting resume between the government and the LTTE.
Of the two intended regional headquarters (the main headquarters is located in the capital, Colombo) the one to be located in the central hills of Nuwara Eliya, would enable the government to have a better control of the strategic hill country which has the possibility of being opened up as a third front by the LTTE in the eventuality of resumption of hostilities.
The hill country, though removed geographically from the north and east claimed as their traditional homeland by the LTTE, nevertheless is occupied by descendents of South Indian Tamils brought into the island as indentured labour by the British in the 19th century. Over the years, Tamil youth from the hill country, though not playing a prominent part in Sri Lankas conflict, have been secretly trained by the LTTE.
Evidence of the LTTE training of hill country youth have surfaced over the years, because of the regular disappearance of young Tamil men from the area, as well as the recovery of weapons and explosives. There have also been attacks against civilian targets and public property in support of the LTTE in the early part of the decade.
The governments in power, though apprised of the situation, have not been in a position to take proper counter measures due lack of manpower and the unwillingness to upset the hill country Tamil population, which is needed for the smooth running of the Tea Estates (plantations) which are among the islands main revenue earners.
With the exception of a few police stations, a single military camp manned by volunteers is situated in Nuwara Eliya. The establishment of an STF camp would enable the government to have better control of the area.
The regional Headquarters in eastern Ampara, an area which is under government control would greatly benefit STF personnel who are already on the ground and have been playing a key role in maintaining the status quo operating from a series of camps spread across the area. -- Panduka Senanayake