Muslims Want Their Land Back

Nearly six years after the end of the war, there still are many who are still displaced from their original homelands and are unable to return to their homelands. Land is a key issue requiring attention through a variety of measures which should pay due attention to individual’s land rights and claims, and the history of the land. Land issues are a matter of grave concern to the Tamil-speaking people, both the Tamil people and the Muslim people in the North and the East.

The TNA has on many occasions highlighted the land issues and the occupation of the security forces on these lands. They have pointed out that the Government through its armed forces on grounds of security has continued to hold in its possession substantial extents of lands owned and / or possessed by Tamil civilians from which lands the said Tamil civilians were earlier evicted and to which lands the said civilians have not been permitted to return for purposes of residence or livelihood, though such security considerations do not apply any longer. The TNA specifically refers to  Valikamam, in the Jaffna District; and Sampur in the  Trincomalee District.

In a recent letter to the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Secretary-General of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress M.T. Hasen Ali pointed out the illegal dispossession of land affecting thousands of Sri Lanka’s citizens in the Eastern Province. Ali in his letter stated that repeated representations to relevant authorities have failed to secure return of the respective lands. The failure to resume possession of, use and enjoy our respective lands has drastically affected their lives and those of their families.

Thus, he pointed out that  these citizens remain denied of their rights and in relation to lands that their families occupied/cultivated/improved for over three decades. He also blamed the relevant authorities for failing to take proper measures to return these lands to the rightful owners. Hassan Ali also stated that Under the government’s 100 day programme they have promised that, relief will be provided to all those illegally displaced for various reasons from their homes and lands.

7-12Speaking to The Sunday Leader Hassan Ali said that he had requested the prime minister to appoint a special task force with adequate powers to investigate the land issues. “I have sent him 21 cases of land issues and it has also been reported to the LLRC and the complainants had told their grievances to the LLRC as well. I have hence asked the prime minister to include the land issues in the East too in the 100 day program and expedite the resolving of the land issues of the people in the East,” he said.

When contacted by The Sunday Leader regarding the government’s proposal to release lands in the North TNA parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said that if true reconciliation is to take place the people must be resettled in their own lands, normalcy must prevail and political prisoners must be released. While the Tamil people are lamenting in refugee camps the army is constructing hotels and holiday bungalows on their lands, under the guise of high security zones. The people cannot be hoodwinked everyday and it is time that the government realises this and act in a more responsible manner. In addition over 20,000 people have come forward and said that their loved ones are missing,” he said adding that he believes  that reconciliation is not possible without providing answers to these people, who have lost their loved ones and have no idea what happened to them. In order to put a closure to their suffering they need to know and the government needs to provide them with the answers, stressed Premachandran.

Expressing his views regarding the land issues he said that in order to resolve the land issues of the people in the North and East, one has to first understand the ground reality. “In the first stage the government has promised to release lands from two areas, 1200 acres from Sampoor and 6300 acres from Welikamam. In Sampoor the government agreed to release 800 acres initially in the first stage and in Welikamam North the government agreed to release 1000 acres initially. The rest of the land must be released at the earliest though. But not just these areas there are thousands of acres in many other areas that are still occupied by the military, and the government needs to release these lands too. I feel that if the government is genuine about the releasing of these lands, then they should investigate it independently and release the lands. Instead what they are doing is asking the army to give reports, which invariable will not be favourable for the Tamil people as they will come up with hundreds of reasons as to why the lands cannot be released,” he added.

However Premachandran said that the resettlement process is very wrong because lands are not given to those who lost their lands, The lands that is returned should be given back to their legitimate owners. “There is no time line so far and we are still waiting to see when they will give the lands to the people. Of the total amount of land (6500 acres) 5300 acres are occupied by the army, so when are they going to give these lands back to the people? We would like to have some firm answers instead of just talk only,” he said.

For Sampoor the government has asked for a report from the BOI as it had been taken over by them, he said adding that the people are agitating but so far nothing has been done. “Without removing the army from these areas though it is very difficult for the government to resettle the people. In the Velikamam area alone there are around 18 hotels that are built and what I don’t understand is why the army needs to build hotels and what has building hotels got to do with national security. I have heard that every brigade is building hotels for their use. Moreover they are running farms and other activities and as long as the army is engaged in these activities the people can never return to their lands. Hence I believe that the government needs to stipulate a certain time frame for the resettling of the displaced to their original lands and for the security forces to vacate these lands and hand them back to their rightful owners. The army need not be running hotels and farms etc, but what they are there for is to provide security to the country,” said Premachandran.