By Harischandra Gunaratna
Visiting British Minister Hugo Swire has called for the return of High Security Zone lands in the North, particularly in Walikamam North to the rightful owners.
This was revealed by Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs Minister D. M. Swaminathan yesterday at a media briefing at his ministry in Colombo 03.
The Minister was addressing the media after having met Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State for Sri Lanka, Hugo Swire. The minister quoted the British politician as having said that HSZ land should be released to their rightful owners.
The extent of land coming under the HSZ in Walikamam North only is about 800 acres, Swaminathan said.
“Swire also expressed willingness of the British government to assist the Sri Lankan government in implementing the task, co-ordinated by the UIN agencies as well as the EU,” he said.
The British High Commissioner John Ranking also participated at the Minister’s meeting with the visiting British Parliamentarian.
“There are many Hindu places of worship including a 2,500 year-old temple and some churches other than civil properties which have been destroyed during the internecine war and they have to be rebuilt,” the Minister emphasised.
“We are planning to implement these objectives within the 100-day programme of the government”, he stressed.
The government was also negotiating with the relevant authorities to get back part of the land obtained for the coal power project in Sampur as well as a BOI project in the same area for the re-settlement of civilians who had originally owned the land before, the Minister said.
Some of the high ranking military officers had said that it was meaningless to kee those lands under their control as there was no war now, Swaminathan said.
Asked by The Island whether he was of the view that the UPFA government had not released any lands after the end of the war, Swaminathan answered in the affirmative and added he could not give an exact figure right away, but would furnish the details subsequently.
The Minister hailed the rehabilitation of former combatants as well as Tamil civilians by the security forces and rehabilitation of increasing number drug addicts by the security forces as highly commendable.
Harim Peiris, a senior official attached to the Ministry said that the releasing of lands occupied by the HSZs was not confined to the north and the east and it was being done in Colombo as well.
“Some of the traditional lands in Walikamam North have been used to build luxury houses, holiday bungalows and golf links while some others are being used for cultivation by the security forces and they have to be returned to the rightful owners,” he said.
It was not correct to utilise the services of security forces personnel for other jobs such as cultivation, Peiris added.