The Sri Lankan army is getting suspicious about the real vocation of the itinerant sari traders from Tamil Nadu who roam the towns and villages of Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces selling their wares in unconventional ways. According to the military, at any point of time, there may be 10 to 15 such traders in the North.
Maj Gen Boniface Perera, Security Forces (SF) Commander (Wanni), told newsmen late last week that the sari traders could well be spies in disguise.
When Express asked Gen Perera on what basis he was saying so, he said that traders did not seem to be making much money, and yet, they kept coming. Some of them had been caught and deported for misuse of the tourist visa or for overstaying. The other thing which intrigued him was the acceptance of payment on a liberal instalment basis. It is said that payment is accepted in 12 monthly instalments. However, no itinerant TN trader had been held or detained for suspected espionage, Gen Perera confirmed.
Asked for his assessment, Maj Gen Mahinda Hathurusinghe, SF commander (Jaffna) said: “I do not know whether they are spying or not, but their practices and persistence have created doubts in the minds of others. The most affected is the Jaffna trading community, which has a grouse that these traders, who pay no taxes, are doing brisk business, under-cutting local traders. They even take houses on rent if they come on three months’ tourist visas.”
R Jayasekaran, president of the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce, said, “Saris come in containers from Chennai. Local agents distribute them among itinerant traders who go about in bicycles. If there is a direct shipping service between Chennai and Kankesanthurai, or an air service between Chennai and Palaly, Jaffna traders can also bring saris and other wares in bulk. Presently, Colombo is the only point of entry, which makes importation and transportation more costly for us,” he said.