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Tourist paradise under shadow of the gun

world Updated: Jan 07, 2010 20:18 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Not many in Trincomalee town are willing to talk about it but in the minds of many, the killing of five Tamil students during an outing on the beach is numbingly fresh.

On the evening of January 2, 2006, the five had gathered on one of the more popular beachfronts here, when following a grenade attack on the crowd, they were allegedly rounded up and shot dead by members of the special task force (STF).

Four years later and inquiry commissions later, the suspects continue to be free.

The eminent rights group, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) on January 2, 2010, called it an "exhibition killing" carried out to avenge the murder of several Sinhalese businessmen by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"Judging by events there is hardly any doubt that the attack on the students in a public place was conceived as teaching the Tamils a lesson," the UTHR (J) said.

Following the murder of the students, their families migrated to other parts of the country. The STF is not stationed here anymore; the LTTE too is militarily defeated. In fact, they were pushed out of the region in 2007, two years before it was wiped out from the country. But Trincomalee continues to live under the edgy eyes of security personnel and the shadows of ill-lit evenings.

Every street has military personnel patrolling both side, 24 hours a day; Armed personnel on motorbikes are always on the move; they get a helping hand from the Sri Lankan navy personnel and if that's not enough, there are police pickets at regular intervals.

"Trincomalee town is probably the most militarised town in Sri Lanka, in context of its size and population," a former member of parliament said.

Much of the town, ringed by grainy white sand and the clear blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, is made of broken roads, congested, noisy bazaars selling cheap goods and hotels with creaking infrastructure. A member of the local chamber of commerce said: "Development? What development? Development should impact the locals, right? The war here ended in 2007 but nothing has improved."