Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Field mission to Vavuniya - Sep 2008


A group of representatives from civil society organizations visited Vavuniya on September 11th - 12th with the aim of assessing the human security situation in Vavuniya, and to collect information on the humanitarian situation in the Vanni and the possible influx of IDPs from LTTE-controlled areas to government-controlled areas. The group included representatives from the Centre for Policy Alternatives and Women and Media Collective along with individuals from other civil society organizations.

This report is in two parts. Section I focuses on the human security situation in Vavuniya. Section II discusses the humanitarian situation in the Vanni based on information received from persons who had recently visited the Vanni, those who had relocated from the Vanni and those who were still able to travel to and from there. The report concludes with a set of recommendations.


Militarization: In the wake of fierce fighting in the Vanni, Vavuniya has become a hub for the security forces. The Vanni Military Headquarters is based in Vavuniya. Hence there is a heavy presence of army, air force and STF, and a steady movement of personnel, vehicles and equipment in the district. The heavy militarization is intended to consolidate control of the area, but it has created additional problems for civilians who face further restrictions on movement and feel increasingly vulnerable due to the presence of military installations in close proximity to civilian areas.

On 8th September LTTE fired artillery shells targeting the Vanni military HQ (Joseph Camp). They simultaneously launched a Black Tiger commando raid and an aerial attack to which the Security Forces responded. The camp is located in a civilian area. In the wake of the attack side roads, which lead to the A-9 road that runs along the perimeter of the camp, have been dug up and blockaded. While there were no reported civilian fatalities, the incident has intensified the insecurity of civilians who are caught in the fighting or, who are in close proximity to the fighting. A section of the Vavuniya hospital has been converted into a military infirmary which also raises questions about the militarization of civilian spaces.

Multiple Armed Actors: In addition to the security forces, Vavuniya has become a centre for various armed groups. Multiple armed groups allied to the State are based in Vavuniya and over the recent months have re-established their presence and stepped up their activities. It is alleged that PLOTE, EPDP, TELO, TMVP (Pillayan), TMVP (Karuna) all have centres and cadres operating in Vavuniya. The LTTE is also said to operate in the town and in the villages of Vavuniya. The presence of these armed groups has made civilian life all the more difficult and insecure. Unlike in other areas where one group is the dominant force, Vavuniya has historically been carved up by multiple armed groups who divide the town and the outlying areas between them, extorting tax, carrying out patrols and involving themselves in the administration of daily activities. These groups are also allegedly carrying out various human rights violations.

The activities of these armed groups are contributing to a collapse of law and order within government-controlled areas. Given the state backing of these armed groups, civilians feel that there is little point in making complaints to state institutions such as the police. Villagers who have been subject to search operations and family members of disappeared/abducted persons alleged that in some instances, the cadres of these armed groups accompany the security forces in their search operations and on occasion even wear military uniform, making it difficult to identify individuals and their associated groups.