The Sri Lankan government on Wednesday categorically rejected the LTTE's demand for opening the A9 highway between Vavuniya and Jaffna via Kilinochchi and Muhamalai, but proposed to open a land route through Mannar, in the North Western part of the island.
The A9, which has remained closed for more than 40 days now, is causing a lot of hardship to the 500,000 civilians in the Jaffna peninsula.
The people of Jaffna, moderate Tamil leaders, and international organisations have all been demanding the reopening of the A9, but to no avail.
Students in Jaffna's 300 schools and the university, have been boycotting classes demanding the opening of the road.
A9 was closed because it passes through the LTTE-controlled Wanni region and also Muhamalai, where artillery and mortar duels and even hand-to-hand fighting have been going on since early August.
Government Defence Spokesman, Keheliya Rumbukwella, told newsmen here on Wednesday, that the details of the Mannar route could not be given out at this juncture for security reasons.
However, even as he said this, the Military spokesman Brig Prasad Samarasinghe, announced that the Air Force had taken some LTTE targets in Mannar.
Rambukwella said that war or security was not the only reason for not opening the A9 highway. If it was opened, the LTTE would start collecting "taxes" from the users, and that would amount to tolerating "extortion", he said.
"Only one agency in Sri Lanka is authorised to collect taxes and that is the government," he stressed.
The LTTE has not only been collecting taxes from the users of A9 but also from Tamil households and businesses both in the island and abroad. Taxes are collected even from areas in the North East held by the government.
Extortion amounts to $ 30 million a year The Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) in its publication dated January 2006, had said that the total amount raked in by the LTTE from taxes and extortion in a year averaged $30 million.
The Sri Lankan government seems to be quite happy to be transporting people and supplies between Trincomalee and Jaffna by sea, even though this is costlier and much riskier than using a land route.
"In the past month, the government has transported 13, 600 metric tons of food, medicines and other essentials to Kankesanthurai in Jaffna from Trincomalee.
This is 30 to 40% more than the normal volume of freight, which is around 10,000 tonnes," spokesman Rambukerlla said.
Military spokesman, Brig Prasad Samarasinghe, said that in the past month, the Navy had ferried 3359 civilians from Kankesanthurai to Trincomalee and 984 in the reverse direction.
This had been done even though the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had declined to provide escort on the plea that the LTTE had not assured safety.
The LTTE had said that it could not guarantee the safety of Sri Lankan shipping, whether military or civilian, even if the ICRC or the Scandinavian-staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) personnel were on board.
Asked if the LTTE's naval arm, the Sea Tigers, had become weak, as they had not been able to interfere with Sri Lankan shipping, Defence Spokesman Rambukwella said: "I am not underestimating them. But they seem to be on the retreat."