Sri Lanka probes military links to Jaffna violence
COLOMBO, Nov 15, 2016 (AFP) – Sri Lanka is investigating whether the army was involved in a recent wave of violence in the minority Tamil heartland of Jaffna, a minister said Tuesday.
Junior defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene said a soldier was among those arrested by police in connection with the latest violence in Jaffna, the epicentre of the country’s long separatist war that ended in 2009.
"Investigations are on to see if any other officers are also involved with this gang," the minister told parliament.
Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka said 38 men had been arrested, including a soldier attached to the electrical and engineering unit of the army. Police were looking for eight others, but their identities were not disclosed.
The army replaced its intelligence chief two weeks ago after the government accused the military of backing a Tamil gang terrorising civilians in Jaffna, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Colombo.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the country’s former regime had created the motorcycle gang known as the Aava Group to counter Tamil Tiger rebels during the war.
On Tuesday, Wijewardene said the military was not directly involved with the group, but did not rule out the possibility of rogue elements.
Last month’s fatal police shooting of two Tamil students in Jaffna and protests by residents have raised tensions in the north, where residents suffered years of harassment from the Sinhalese-dominated military before and during the conflict.
The new government came to power in January 2015 promising reconciliation after the decades-long war and has tried to restrict military involvement in day-to-day activities in Jaffna.
However, civil society groups say elements loyal to the former administration are still in key positions and blame the new administration for not carrying out a purge of the security forces.
Government forces still maintain a large presence in the former war zone and keep a close watch on the Tamil population, seven years after the end of the war.