By Camelia Nathaniel
In terms of restricted areas on ground, the High Security Zones in the North have been removed over the last two years, said Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse addressing the Defence Seminar 2012 in Colombo. “In five stages between October 2010 and November 2011, much of the area covered under the High Security Zone near the Palaly Cantonment was released, with lands in 17 Grama Niladhari divisions being fully handed back to civilians. The Palaly cantonment is now the only area in which some security restrictions remain, but even within the Cantonment, civilians have free access to the airport and the Kankasanthurai harbour.”
Gotabhaya admitted that there are still some civilian properties within the Cantonment, but stressed that civilians have not occupied these properties for the last 20 to 25 years. “The Government has taken measures to pay compensation to the owners of these properties and to provide alternate lands to them. It should also be noted that lands that had been forcefully taken from the people and occupied by the LTTE for many years have also been released to their legal owners,” he said.
He said in addition to the reduction in the extent of the High Security Zone, the reduction in the numbers of security barricades, roadblocks and checkpoints in the North and East is also significant. “There were large number of such security measures in place during the course of the conflict and immediately after, but these were gradually withdrawn after the dawn of peace. In 2009, there were approximately 2,000 checkpoints, sentry points and roadblocks in these two provinces. Today, there are hardly any, he said.
The Defence Secretary added that the number of troops deployed and the number of camps remaining in the North and East has also been reduced to a bare minimum. “28 battalions that were in the North have been relocated to the South and the East. The overall number of troops in the North has also reduced by more than 21,000 since 2009. Troops will remain in strategic locations for security purposes, but their presence will be non-intrusive. The day-to-day maintenance of law and order has already been handed over to the Police,” he said.