State Facilitated Colonization of Northern Sri Lanka – 2013

On 25th September 2012, the Menik Farm camp in Vavuniya, which at its peak, housed close to 300,000 internally displaced persons, was officially closed down when the Government of Sri Lanka relocated the last batch of IDPs. This formally marked the closure of all post-2009 IDP camps in the North of Sri Lanka. Termed ‘welfare villages’ or ‘relief villages’ by the Government[1]but widely viewed as internment camps[2][3][4], the camps initially dotted the districts of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Trincomalee before being later incorporated into the massive Menik Farm IDP camp in the Vavuniya District.

The IDP count on May 27th 2009, a week after the Government of Sri Lanka formally announced the end of the 30-year-old armed conflict, stood at 287,569[5] with the vast majority of the displaced housed in camps in the Vavuniya district. Following numerous assurances, failed deadlines for the completion of resettlement and a worsening humanitarian situation[6][7], the Government finally relocated the last group of IDPs on 25th September 2012, weeks before deliberations of its Universal Periodical Review of the UNHRC commenced in Geneva.

Although, initially being held there against their will, people released from the Government IDP camp faced an uncertain future – many of those who were allowed to return home/to their lands struggled to cope against the lack of basic facilities and infrastructure, loss of livelihood and serious threats to their security.

Significantly, despite the official closure of the IDP camp, a large number of persons continue to be displaced – in that they have been prevented from returning to their lands and have been forcibly relocated by Government authorities.  A large number of families in Mullikkulam, Valikaamam and Palaly, among other places continue to live in temporary shelters while their lands/homes are occupied by the military or settlers from the South. The fate of 350 families from Keppapilavu in the Mullaitivu District, who were the last to be released from Menik Farm in September 2012, is a chilling example of this Government’s attitude towards realising citizen’s right to return and occupy their land.

Keppapilavu is a village located in the Divisional Secretariat Division of Maritimepattu of the Mullaitivu District[8], where the final days of the war were fought. People living there were displaced by the fighting and were held in the Menik Farm IDP camp since the end of the war. In September 2012, they were the last to be cleared for release when the camp was officially closed. However, on 21st September 2012, they were informed that close to 350 families from Keppapilavu would not be permitted to return to their lands but were to be   ‘temporarily relocated’ to Seeniyamottai, against their will[9]. Despite possessing land deeds[10] to their property in Keppapulavu they were coerced into settling in Seeniyamottai, in what the Government claims is a “welfare village”[11]. Journalists and local and international rights groups were initially denied access to these villagers and to date those visiting the people of Keppapulavu are monitored by the military. Despite local and national agitations and campaigns against the occupation of their land, there appears to be little hope of justice for these people, whose land continues to be occupied by the National Cadet Corps[12] of the Sri Lanka Army.

Sadly, the story of Keppapilavu is not unique or a one off instance of resettlement gone wrong. The resettling of the persons, who were housed in the numerous IDP camps, in their former homes and providing assistance for the rebuilding of their livelihood seems to be of little concern to the Government despite its repeated assurances to the organs of the United Nations and the diplomatic community. As detailed in this report, private and state land continues to be occupied by the military and increasingly by Sinhala and Muslim settlers from other parts of Sri Lanka.  A covert, systematic and State-sponsored attempt to alter the demographic composition of the North and Eastern Provinces has overridden the day-to-day socio-economic and political aspirations of the local population.

The significance of attempts at demographic change is more so in the face of the upcoming Northern Provincial Council Elections, the first in nearly 30 years.  Even though State- sponsored colonization of the Tamil majority North and Eastern Provinces, under the guise of irrigation schemes, has continued unabated since the late 1940’s and is widely documented[13][14], the recent spike in colonization points to gerrymandering against the backdrop of impending elections.

Following indications and, later, reports that elections to the Northern Provincial Council, the first in nearly 30 years, would be held within the course of 2013 and in spite of vocal discontent in how IDP resettlement had been handled, there have been confirmed reports that the State and its organs are now engaged in altering the demographic of the Northern Province through systematic colonization. While electoral gains seem to be the immediate concern to the Government of Sri Lanka, breaking up the contiguity of the Sri Lankan Tamil people along the North and Eastern Provinces thereby weakening their calls for devolution or self- rule appears to be the larger strategy at play[15].

Further to the Government’s political moves to curtail the powers vested in the Provincial Council system, in an extension of actions of previous Governments, parallel moves are afoot to destabilize the call for power sharing of the Tamil speaking people of the North and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka through State-assisted colonization.

The following report on State- sponsored settlements in the Northern Province is based on research and interviews conducted in August 2013 in the Mannar, Vavuniya, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the North and also borrows from research done in the Jaffna and Hambantota districts . The findings from this report point to a deliberate program of relocating Sinhala and Muslim families to the North with serious impacts on the rights of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka and hope for reconciliation/political settlement to the ethnic conflict.

History of State-sponsored colonization

State- sponsored colonization of the North and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka in conjunction with the construction of irrigation schemes can be traced back to as early as the late 1940s. The Kanthalai colonization scheme south- east of Trincomalee commenced in 1948[16] under the first Prime Minister of post- independent Sri Lanka, then the Dominion of Ceylon, D. S Senanayake. This was followed by the Gal Oya settlement scheme south- west of Batticaloa in 1949, the Allai scheme in 1953[17] and the Padaviya colonization scheme in 1958. The Morawewa scheme was initiated in the 1960’s and the Weli- Oya settlements, later re- christened the Mahaweli ‘L’ scheme, in 1983[18].

Needless to say, the social and political implications of colonizing certain geographical locations of predominantly Tamil areas were profound. The socio- economic- political consequences of State- sponsored colonization exist to this day and are being exacerbated by design today, courtesy of the actions of the current Government, the security apparatus and other organs of the State.

The bifurcation of the Tamil speaking areas with predominantly Sinhala settlers from southern Sri Lanka in Israeli-styled militarized settlements has resulted in the mass displacement of locals, ethnic riots and civilian massacres. One of the first instances of post- Independence ethnic riots, coinciding with the Sinhala Only Act of 1956[19] and resulting in the deaths of close to 150 Tamil civilians, was reported from Gal Oya in 1956[20]. Further Tamil deaths were reported from Kanthalai  during the ethnic riots of 1977. But perhaps the most telling episodes of deaths were reported during the ethnic bloodbath of 1983. Coincidentally, the final two ethnic riots occurred with J. R Jayawardene at the helm of the Government (Prime Minister from 1977-1978/ President from 1978- 1984). Tamils from the hill country who had been resettled at the Kent and Dollar Farms of Manal Aru (later Weli- Oya), following the riots of ’77, were victims of the riots in 1983. Later in 1984, Tamil civilian deaths also occurred in Othiyamalai, a hamlet west of Weli- Oya, bordering the Mullaitivu district. Also seen as acting as buffers to the military installement the pre- dominantly Sinhala settlement came under attack from the Tamil militant groups[21]. Newly settled Sinhala settlers of the Kent and Dollar Farms were not spared when, in November 1984, more than 60 Sinhalese settlers were killed in an LTTE raid.

The demographic composition of the areas under State- sponsored colonization schemes have also changed dramatically due to displacement of original inhabitants and the population growth over the last few decades.

Post- war State-sponsored settlements in the North

Since the 1950s (post colonization), successive Governments have adopted various strategies to  keep the centre secure, and power centralized. One of the most “popularly” and “effectively” used strategies by Governments over the decades, has been that of “colonization” or “forcible settlements” of Southerners in the North. The marked difference between previous Governments and the current one is how blatantly and strategically it is utilizing both the military and civilians from the South, to fulfil its agenda. Currently, the modus operandi of the State seems to break the Tamil majority demographic of the North by settling Sinhala and Muslim settlers from the South along the Southern border of the Northern Province, whilst using the security forces and their families to secure the Northern border of the province.

Vavuniya District

“In February, 2013, a new settlement of approximately 2500 Sinhala families (about 6000 people) from the South, were settled in the former Tamil village of Kokkachaankulam (now divided into new settlement villages renamed in Sinhala such as, Bogaswewa 1 & 2, Namalgama, Nandimithragama, Selalihinigama etc.,) located in the Vavuniya North DS division. The new settlement was inaugurated by  Namal Rajapaksa, member of parliament and the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s eldest son, a few Buddhist monks and facilitated by the military. This 3000 acres settlement is now unofficially referred to as “Namalgama”. New Buddhist statues were constructed and a Hindu Temple for Lord Vinayaka was demolished, without a trace.

Also in Madukulam, a further 3000 acres is being cleared under the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), with the intention of building a village there. The military, Namal Rajapakse, the Buddhist clergy and the UPFA Vavuniya Coordinator, P. Sumathipala are jointly working to establish this new Sinhala village.

In addition, the following data was shared with us by local researchers, following their visits to these new settlements earlier this year.

A new settlement is underway along the jungle strip known as Othiyamalai Kaadu (a former LTTE stronghold)which borders Vavuniya and Mullaitivu. The exact location of the settlement is North of Othiyamalai and West of the Thannimurippu tank, which borders Mullaitivu.  Sources on the ground confirm that on the 19th of March, 2013, about 400 families were brought from several part of the South, with an additional 300 having been settled to date, with the assistance of the Vavuniya and Mullaitivu military.

As an initial grant, these settlers were given tin sheets and dry rations. The Civil Defence Force (CDF)[22] too was instructed to assist the settlers to set up their huts, whilst the SLA stood guard over the clearing of the jungle by the Mahaweli Authority. In February, 2013, nobody except for Sinhala officials from relevant local Government authorities, and the military, were given access to this area. These settlers were brought in discretely, so many of the residents of Vavuniya North and even local Government officials weren’t fully aware of these plans, until they were underway.

From December 2012 onwards, the military has been involved in clearing jungle lands in Vavuniya South and erecting small huts/sheds for new settlers, and providing other basic needs such as drinking water, food, jungle access routes, transportation and elephant fencing.

Rampaveddi, another settler village bordering the minor tank area of Eropothana, in Vavuniya South has been cleared with the help of the CDF and new settlers have been promised one acre of cultivation, and one acre of residential land and a house as incentive to shift here. Activists on the ground claim that the “Reawakening Project”[23] implemented by the Ministry of Economic Development, to support and restore war and flood affected communities in the North and East, is utilizing its funds and resources towards settling outside communities within their lands. Once again, MP Namal Rajapaksa inaugurated the settlement and officially declared open the settlement on the 11th of February, 2013.

The villagers were also provided with 300 bicycles, mosquito nets and fishing nets for inland fishermen, and more than 1000 coconut plants.

TNA MP for the Vanni, S. Anandan remarked, “The resettlement process is still far from being complete, as people still don’t have houses and livelihoods etc., The approximately 10,000 acres in Cheddikulam, that comprised the Menik Farm internal displacement camp (2009-2012), is now under military control. Twenty residents of this area, who have deeds that were given to them during the time of the British, have been evicted by the military, as they require the people’s lands to expand their military camp.”

“There is one soldier per every ½ acre of land in Vavuniya, and the military, under the direction of the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, is pursuing a systematic agenda to occupy people’s permit and private lands. Furthermore, many of the local Government officials in Vavuniya, are Sinhala, and don’t know much about the area or the language, which is creating more animosity amongst the communities. Approximately 3000 families have already been settled in Vavuniya, with plans to settle more,” he added.

Residents in Bharthypuram have also suffered intimidation by Minister Rishard Bathiudeen supported by local police and security forces, aimed at forcing them to leave their lands that they have been settled in since 1977.

A group of residents from Barathypuram, said that “We were made to leave our homes in the hill country (i.e. Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Hatton etc.,) during the breakout of the 1977 anti-Tamil riots, when our houses were burnt. As we lived in the plantations, we never owned our own land, so we came to Vavuniya and built a new life for ourselves from scratch. We cleared 660 acres of jungle land (Crown) and approximately 263 families (1000 individuals) took up residence here in Barathypuram. Since then we have been voting here, our children were born here, have NICs registered here and they have schooled here. We built wells and houses and lived here quite happily”.

In 1985, the Forest Department declared 260 acres of our land to be utilized for the reforestation of Teak and Conifer, which displaced about 140 families, who had to then move in with relations or host families. In 1992, the Forest Department released 22 of the 260 acres, and distributed it amongst 11 families, each being given 2 acres. Eight of the eleven families left to India during the war and have yet not returned, so their lands remain unoccupied.

Residents were displaced multiple times during the war. In 2010, people returned to the village and cleared the same 260 acres once again. Thereafter, in November 2010, then Minister of Resettlement, Rishard Bathiudeen came with officers from the Pompaimadu Police and evicted the people from Barathypuram claiming that this land had been earmarked for a Muslim settlement.

The villagers say that they had even got a donation of a private land to be used by the Rural Development Society (RDS) as a children’s playground and that they even had a letter from the Divisional Secretariat to this effect.

The villagers believe that this shift of Muslims from Sooduventhapulavu in Cheddikulam to Barathypuram, is economically motivated. The private apparels factory, Omega Line Limited, which opened near Barathypuram recently, has presented the local community with numerous economic opportunities (i.e. shops, hostel etc), therefore, the villagers of Barathypuram feel that it must be the main motive behind the shift of the Muslim settlement. “There weren’t any disputes in relation to our lands before the factory was constructed, so we’re quite sure these claims are linked to economic gains,” they said.

Again, on the 13th of April, 2013, Minister Bathiudeen has visited the Muslim village in Sooduventhapulavu and allegedly incited the people to claim Barathypuram as their own. Soon after his visit, 4 temporary shelters belonging to villagers of Barathypuram were burnt down, along with all their belongings. In June/July 2013, the Special Task Force (STF) visited Barathypuram and evicted all the villagers and confiscated all their agricultural tools. The RDS was later able to recover the tools along with instructions from the STF not to settle any more people in the area, and that whoever’s there already can remain.

Two months ago, the villager leaders handed over a letter signed by 233 villagers, to the DS, GA and Forest Department, appealing for the Forest Department to release some of their lands to the people and provide them with lands to live in.  The DS told the people in June this year that they would have to give up their lands to the new Muslim settlement and that alternate lands would be provided for them. However, the DS could not guarantee where the new lands would be located. On the 12th of August, three of the temporary shelters set up on the land were removed by unidentified persons in the night.

“Although only 100 of our families are directly affected by this eviction, the insecurity and tension affect the entire community as there is constant military and police surveillance and intimidation. Our former Health Centre has been used as a military office for the past 10 years, and adjoining the village hospital, there’s a 10 acre military cantonment as well. We are not asking for others’ else’s land. We only want our land back. We don’t want to relocate,” they lamented.

“There are 28,000 voters from the Plantation Sector in the Vavuniya district alone, but we’re still subject to so much discrimination by the State. We have no temples, schools or deeds for our land. And as we don’t have deeds we are not able to get housing grants. We cleared our own lands, built our own wells and even built most of the road construction leading to our village, under the WFP ‘Food for Work’ programme. We have got no help from the Government,” they added.

In addition, the fresh water bodies in the vicinity of the village have not been renovated in a while, resulting in failed harvests due to a lack of water.   Also of the 220 houses to be constructed, only 33 families have received houses from the UNDP yet. A few others received housing loans but are still struggling to re-pay them. The remaining families remain in temporary shelters.

Mullaitivu District

The Mullaitivu District was the final theatre of the war from January to May 2009. People in this area have suffered multiple displacements and witnessed the worst of the fighting, particularly during the final phase. They were also the last to be released from the camps.

Around 250-300 families from Kokkuthuduwai (Mullaitivu District) who were initially displaced from their lands in 1984 and were unable to return until 2012, are currently being denied permission to cultivate their paddy land on the grounds that they lack the proper title documentation. These families left their homes in 1984, to escape fighting between government forces and the LTTE. Since then they have been unable to return to their lands and eventually dispersed to other areas in Mullaitivu and Jaffna. They were finally held in the Menik Farm camp and were only able to return home in 2012. In 1990 when they were permitted to visit their lands in Munderayankulam-Janakapuram, they found that Sinhalese farmers had settled and were cultivating their lands. “Before we were evicted in the 80’s we built houses and planted coconut trees in our lands, but now we can’t return to our homes,” said the villagers.

Following their release from Menik Farm, residents returned to their land but were prevented from accessing their cultivation lands.

When they returned to their fields in August 2013, the Tamil farmers were informed by officials from the Mahaweli Authority that they no longer had permission to cultivate these lands as the land had been confiscated due to their failure to pay t taxes for a long period during the war.  They were told that their land permits were no longer valid and were asked to produce documentation to prove their title to the land.  Many of these people have lost their documents, while fleeing the fighting and over years of displacement and no longer have the required documentation. “We lost everything in the war and were then told to return to our homes but now we have no income and no livelihoods as 90% of our community is reliant on cultivation,” they lamented.

One resident said, “Before we left, the Sinhalese fisherman from areas such as Negombo and Udappuwa would come for 6 months during the season, and return to their homes thereafter. None of them stayed here”.

“When we left in 1984, there were no Sinhalese voters here. Recently in August, 2013, when we checked the electoral register at the District Secretariat, there were 2000 Sinhala voters registered to vote from Janakapuram, at the upcoming NPCE. If there are 2000 voters, one can only guess how many individuals are currently residing here”.

Villagers of Karunatakerny (Mullaitivu District) share a similar story where a group of 20 farmers from their village who attempted to cultivate in their original lands, were turned away by the Mahaweli Development authorities, stating that their permits were no longer valid.

The villagers have sent petitions detailing their plight to the Indian High Commission and the UN but have yet to get a response from either organization. “Therefore, we have now told the GA that we hope to start cultivating in our lands despite being chased out by the authorities, and that if something happens to the farmers, the GA would be held responsible. Otherwise, we have told the GA that we would come and live in the Kachcheri, so that he could feed us,” said the villagers in desperation.

Weli Oya Settlement in the Mullaitivu District:

The location for the Sri Lankan Government’s flagship State- sponsored colonization scheme, Weli- Oya, lies close to 100km North- East of Trincomalee, in the Mullaitivu District of the Northern Province. The area previously known as ‘Manal Aaru’ was, virtually overnight, through an extraordinary gazette notification[24] on 16 April 1988, renamed ‘Weli- Oya’ (a direct Sinhala translation of the Tamil name ‘Manal Aaru’), made the 26th administrative District of Sri Lanka and brought under the purview of the Government Agent of Anuradhapura. Later that year, the Mahaweli Economic Agency of the Ministry of Lands, Land Development and Mahaweli Development declared Weli Oya as the site for the Mahaweli system ‘L’ zone irrigation scheme.

In 1988, 3364 Sinhalese families had been settled under Mahaweli System ‘L’. While it is reported that more than 13,000 Tamil families were evicted during the creation of the greater Mahaweli ‘L’ system, latest census figures show that the Weli Oya AGA Division is now almost exclusively home to ethnic Sinhalese with 8469 Sinhala families out of 8477[25] residents there. In December 2010, just over an year after the end of the armed conflict, the Director General of the Mahaweli Authority declared that under the Mahaweli Ganga Development Project 2,500 of these families had already resettled and a total of 25,000 families would be settled in areas including Nedunkerny and Kebitigollawa, also of the Mahaweli ‘L’ system[26].

Currently, there are approximately 4000 registered Sinhala families in Weli Oya, and there are plans to expand the 8 GS divisions to 20 (by also including Tamil villages), and then joining the Mullaitivu district,” added TNA MP Anandan.

Government sources in the North confirm that Padaviya (a Sinhala majority settlement) is to be made into a separate DS division and joined to the Mullaitivu district. In addition, there is a move to expand the Weli Oya Grama Niladari (GN) divisions, from 8 to 20 (including Tamil GN divisions), and then shift it under the administrative and electoral control of Mullaitivu. However, it is yet to be gazetted. Currently, the Weli Oya divisions of Janakapura, Kiribewa, Ahadugadbewa and Gajabapura fall under the polling district of Mullaitivu,  whilst the divisions of Kalyanipura and Nikawewa fall under the Vavuniya district.

Before 1982, each Tamil family resident in Weli Oya (then Manal Aru), was allocated 2.5 acres of land by the Mahaweli Authority, for which they still hold permits. However, when these villagers have attempted to return, they have been told that their permits are not valid anymore and that their lands have been re-allocated to farmers from the South.

Mannar District

The people from Kondachchikuda, Musali division, Mannar District, were forced to flee the area in 2007 to escape intense fighting. When they returned in 2009, they found that their shelters had been destroyed and they were not allowed to return to their lands which were being occupied by both the SLA and SLN.

One resident said, “There are 39 families residing here currently, and none of our lands have been returned to us. We had the river and wells before, now we have nothing. There is no school here, and there’s only one bus a day to the nearest school in Silavathurai, so we need to make the 3km walk back on our own, as many of us don’t even have bicycles. These lands which are about 1.5 kms from where we are residing now, are under the control of the Sri Lanka Army and Navy. The Silavathurai Navy currently uses our cultivation lands as a garbage dumping ground. We can’t go near our lands now because of the stench and the flies. Some of the villagers are landless and are living in lands of those who’ve left the country. When the original owners return, these families will be stranded. So it’s vital that we are allowed to return to our homes. Our village cemetery, playground, temple, RDS and fisheries are all located within our original lands, so we just want to go back home,”

The main port, that provided employment to the three neighbouring villages of Kondachchikuda (Hindu), Kokkupadayan (Muslim) and Kondachchi (Christian), has also been taken over by the Navy, so the villagers can no longer fish there. They now have to use a temporary harbour in Kondachchikuda which is located north of their former ports. “We are also faced with many difficulties because the Indian Trawlers come and cut our nets during the fishing season (August-April),” they said.

“The DS office has told us that 1500 families from the South will be settled here. The approximately 500 acres of land being cleared is our lands. We are being made to lose our inheritance,” they said.

“There is a move to settle approximately 6000 Sinhala families on the 1000 acre cashew plantation in Musali. This move is temporarily suspended till the after the NPCE,” stated Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, Selvam Adaikalanathan.

A Muslim returnee to Kondachchi lamented that “We were evicted by the LTTE in 1990, but were born and bred here. There were about 275 Muslim families residing here before. I returned in 2002 alone and started cultivating, until I was evicted by the LTTE again in 2003. As of now, 158 families have returned to Kallaru, Kondachchi, with approximately 350 families left to return, as there are no lands to accommodate them presently. Our local Government authority told us that a plan is currently underway to settle 1300-1500 Sinhalese from the South, and that he couldn’t do anything as his hands were tied,”

“Our port too is under the control of the Navy, so we are forced to go to sea from other areas. The military is also clearing more than 500 acres of land to carry out their own cultivations and farming activities, when these lands belong to the more than 275 Muslim residents who have been denied access to their cultivation lands. We too have all our permits but, have been told that they are not valid any longer,” they elaborated.

“Although most of the internally displaced from Mannar were permitted to return from Menik Farm to their places of origin, there has been little done by the State in terms of “resettling” them. Many of the returnees have no housing and livelihoods, and communities are still unable to function as a community. Not many Tamils from the Mannar district have benefited under the Indian Housing Scheme, as most of the houses have been allocated for returnee Muslims. Most Muslims have homes in the South and many didn’t return even after the war. However now as they’re being offered houses and lands, they are opting to return or maintain homes in both the North and the South,” added Mr. Adaikalanathan.

“Of the approximately 200,000 Tamils who have fled to India during the war, quite a significant number of them have been from Mannar and not all of them have returned yet. However, when they do start to return, there will be no lands left for them, as the Muslims returning have expanded in number, so they are encroaching on lands left by Tamil refugees, and the Government too is providing land for them to move into. Former Minister of Resettlement & Disaster Relief Services and currently the Minister of Industry & Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen continues to polarize the two communities and set them up against each other, even though resettlement doesn’t fall under his purview any more. The Government offices, doctors, engineers, schools and hospitals have mostly Muslim employees. Therefore, there is a rising tension between the communities created by politicians with vested interests,” he said.

“Furthermore, Rishad and his brother have set apart 2 plots of prime land near the main Kondapitty-Palimunai road, belonging to the Urban Council. He had also attempted to fence off a 2 acre plot of land in Thalaimannar, but couldn’t take it because the people in the area protested against it. The people added that Rishad was attempting to acquire a further 700 acres of coastal land allocated for the resettlement of the Tamils, to settle Muslims, further contributing to the growing tension between the two communities in the District,” he added.

Before the war, migrant fishermen from the South would come for the season, fish and return to their homes. Now, as they have the support and protection of the SLN, they come and stay on. Also before, they would get fuel via the local Tamil fishermen, but now they have their own fuel so are trying to dominate the fishing with the help of the SLN. In addition, by Indian trawlers using small hole nets, they are impeding breeding and damaging the coral and are therefore causing many problems for the local fishermen. In Mullaitivu the Chinese are fishing prawns and using technologically advanced techniques to carry out deep sea diving for lobster and Sea Cucumbers, thereby denying local fishermen from quite a significant income, as Sea Cucumbers are quite expensive,” he said.

Jaffna District

Earlier this year, land belonging to the National Housing Development Authority In Navatkuli, Jaffna had been set aside for the ‘Navatkuli Housing Project’. Permanent housing structures were built to house 135 Sinhalese families, including 54 families who had, in 2010, attempted to set up temporary residences at the Jaffna Railway Station[27], claiming they had been residents there prior to the outbreak of war . While authorities claim that no prior permission had been obtained[28] for the construction of these structures, residents pointed out that permission had been in fact obtained from the Navatkuli Army Camp. They also claimed that a Buddhist monk belonging to the Sinhala Ravaya in Dehiwala and members of the Jathika Hela Urumaya were providing financial help to each family to the tune of Rs. 500, 000.

Promises made and not delivered to Sinhala Settlers

“I was only 13 years old, when my father who was a fisherman here in 1984, was shot 20 times and killed by the LTTE when they attacked our village, and my brother lost his leg to a Jonny Mine (anti-personnel mine laid by the LTTE). We were taken to displacement camps in Negombo in 1984, as it wasn’t safe for us to live here anymore,” said a female resident of Motthuwarama – Kokilai (Mullaitivu District). Having returned in 1985-86, she got married but they had to continue to travel back and forth from Negombo depending on the security situation.

“Since our return here after the war, we have got no assistance from anyone. Even to get rations, the DS told us that to receive benefits here, we must move our vote and registration from Negombo to Kokilai. At the time we left in 1984, the Government had constructed 56 houses for us. Now they have all been destroyed by the LTTE.  At least if they can rebuild those houses, it would be very beneficial to us,” she added.

She further added, “the Fisheries Authority also comes and confiscates our small hole nylon nets, which cost about 6-7 lakhs each, as they claim these nets are illegal. The recently returned Tamil villagers to Kokilai, complain to the fisheries authorities that these nets destroys the breeding of fish as the net catches fish before they’re fully grown”.

“We want the war again, because at least then we were able to eat and drink well. We were able to fish as we liked and the army would protect and look after us, so we made enough and more money to live. We are a fishing community that has been born and bred here and we lived here throughout the war. Now we’re not allowed to do anything as the Tamil returnees have complained to the authorities  about our fishing methods, so now we’re suffering as a result. We’re in debt up to our necks, how are we supposed to live like this?,” she questioned. “We don’t even have clean drinking water., so we purchase 20 litre cans of water at SLR 20 per can, from the neighbouring Tamil village. Before the war, we lived peacefully side by side with our Tamil neighbours. Now their younger generation is making trouble for us,” said an elder of the village.

“When they first came here, my father and the elders of the village cleared the jungle themselves. Then when we were forced to leave in 1984, we were sent to Negombo and when we returned here, we left our children to pursue their studies in Negombo. We were told by the DS that to enjoy any benefits here, we had to re-register ourselves in Kokilai and shift our vote here. We don’t know who to vote for here as we only know the Negombo politicians, but we were told to vote for him, they said, pointing to the UPFA candidate whose posters were plastered all over their house walls.

TNA Member of Parliament M.A. Sumanthiran, in a report tabled in Parliament on 21st October 2011[29], details the continuing efforts to create Sinhala settlements in Kokilai in the Mullativu District and concerted efforts of the military establishment and the civil administration in refusing locals their own lands through forced eviction and land grabs.

There is also no continuity because the DS of Maritimepattu (Mullaitivu District) has been changed 5 times since the end of the war in 2009, as every time the DS speaks out about these forced settlements, he/she is transferred.

Of the 300 families settled in Kokilai now, only about 18 families were resident there before the war. The rest would only come to fish and then return to the South,” said MP Anandan..

“We lived mostly in the Mannar town, Chundikuli, Murungan, Uvilankulam and Muruganpitiya areas, in Permit Lands. Returning home now, after being forcibly evicted from our homes by the LTTE in 1984, our lands now have others living there. We don’t expect our lands back, but at least hope for alternate lands to be given in our home district,” said residents of the recent settlement in Nari Kaadu (along the Madu road).

“We had at least ½ an acre each before we left, but now we have been given barely 15-20 perches each to live in. It was Brigade Commander Vikum Liyanage from Trincomalee who intervened on spoke to Minister Basil Rajapaksa regarding our plight and got this land released for us. Therefore, we also unofficially refer to our settlement as Vikumpura. There are 54 families living here now (three of who are landless Tamil families), but as there are no facilities here as yet, they travel between here and the South on work and school etc., The Hela Urumaya party provided us with tin sheets for our temporary shelters, the military provides us with water, and a Japanese Buddhist monk passing by donated us SLR 25,000 to build 2 toilets for our settlement (which the military constructed for us). But we have yet to get any assistance directly from the State, since we returned,” they added.

Over time, the original Sinhala dwellers from Mannar had dispersed across the South, in areas such as Mihintale, Tantirimale, Thambuttega, Matara and even Colombo. “Cashew cultivation and small businesses was our primary source of income before, but now we don’t have any cultivation lands. We have shifted our vote from the South to Mannar, or else we wouldn’t be eligible to any benefits here. Give us at least a small loan to start up our livelihoods and some land for cultivation. We don’t want anything for free,” they appealed.

In addition, the following is a verified report by a researcher, who had been conducting research in the South, last month (August),

Having visited a rural village in the Hambantota area, some villagers had brought up that the people from their village had been offered free land and a SLR 600,000 housing allowance as incentive to move to Vavuniya, the catch being that they are required to relinquish their residency status in Hambantota and take up permanent residency in Vavuniya. They have also been informed that the required form is available at their respective Divisional Secretariat office, and that once it was filled out and the necessary signatures obtained in Hambantota, they could then travel to Vavuniya and hand the forms over to the military officers in-charge in Vavuniya, who will then proceed to allocate land for them there.

At the time, four families from this village had opted to accept this package and move to Vavuniya. Villagers say that one of the families have even got a prime piece of land, with high quality timber trees growing on the land.

Villagers from a neighbouring village too had been aware of this settler package, but at the time, nobody from the village had taken up the offer as they had been hesitant to give up their status in their village.

Similarly, there are reports from the Kandy district that residents from rural towns such as Malpana in Digana have been offered housing and land incentives in Vavuniya and are therefore opting to shift their residential and electoral areas to Vavuniya.

In addition, in a letter dated 18th July, 2013, the District Secretary for Mannar, M.Y.S. Deshapriya has written to the Divisional Secretary, Musali, to identify suitable land to resettle 500 Sinhala families (Refer letter). Having spoken to local villagers though, the term “resettlement” seems to be used rather liberally by the State, as most, if not all these settlers have never lived in the North before, thus establishing that these are in fact “new settlements” and not resettlement as claimed by the Government.

Legality and Conclusion

The Land Development Ordinance[30] in Sri Lanka does not favour nor protect dispossessed permit holders, unless they’re still living on the land. If one doesn’t possess a valid permit to their land, their claim to their land is not recognized under Sri Lankan law. Also, according to the law, if a permit holder fails to renew his/her permit within the stipulated time frame (usually 1 year), the land returns to the State. Former permit holders must re-apply for a permit, and are thus treated as new applicants.

Ideally, in accordance with the Land Development Ordinance[31], Land Kachcheris must be held, competing claims heard,  and a sound and objective determination reached by the DS, on a best claim basis. Of course these decisions will always leave one party discontent but, appeals and critiques of the decision can be thereafter if required. Although the Ordinance is archaic, at the bare minimum the State must implement the remedies provided within the Ordinance. Furthermore, the root of this problem lies in the lack of a National Land Policy which lays down all the criteria related to land distribution, entitlement, ownership etc.,

The Land Circular: 2013/ 01[32] also suggests that the Land Kachcheri should play a pivotal role in resolving most of the complex land-related conflicts such as distribution of land to the landless, retrieval of lost lands, issuing of annual permits and destroyed or misplaced land grants. Therefore, it is imperative that the Government implements the Land Kachcheris with immediate effect and prioritizes the resettlement of those affected by the conflict and ensure their return to their places of origin, prior to settling the landless from outside districts.

The circular also has a provision to hear land related conflicts on specifically allocated ‘Division Days’ to try and reach amicable solutions to these conflicts. This programme should also be enforced more stringently.

Furthermore, according to the 13th Amendment[33] to the Constitution, during the re- distribution of land acquired for Inter-Provincial Irrigation and Land Development projects, priority should be given to those displaced by such projects, landless of the District in which he project is situated, and then landless of the Province. This provision clearly stipulates the hierarchy of priorities with regards to the distribution and allocation of land. Therefore, this exposes the blatant unconstitutionality of the Governments’ colonization activities in former conflict affected areas (North and East).

The aforementioned information is clearly indicative of the State pursuing their agenda of further polarizing the already strained ties between the ethnic communities, under the pretext of reconciliation. Four years since the end of the war, and having suffered multiple displacement and loss throughout the conflict, the internally displaced are yet to see an end to their struggle to return home. It is time the Government heeds the repeated pleas of its people by delivering a just and sustainable solution to address the grievances of the  internally displaced of Sri Lanka.

[1]          Menik Farm Zone- 4 closed.

[2]          UN concern over Sri Lanka displaced. BBC

[5]          Vanni Emergency Situation Report #18. May 27 2009. OCHA.

[7]          The Shame of Menik Farm. Groundviews

[8]   Memo from the Keppapulavu people to the International community. Via Groundviews

[9]          Relocated to Nowhere. Ceylon Today

[10]         Putting paid to the Government’s false claims: the new IDPs n Sri Lanka. Dilrukshi Handunnetti. Groundviews.

[11]         Relocated to Nowhere. Dilrukshi Handunnetti. Ceylon Today

[12] Land expropriation and Deception in Keppapilavu. The Social Architects. Sri Lanka Campaign.

[13]         Colonisation and Demographic Changes in the Trincomalee District and its effects on the Tamil speaking people. UTHR

[14]         From Manalaru to Weli- Oya and the spirit of July 83. UTHR

[15]         Militarisation, Sri Lankan Style. Tissaranee Gunasekara. Colombo Telegraph

[16] Colonization and Demographic changes in the Trincomalee District and its effects on the Tamil speaking people. UTHR

[17] Settling pioneers in Allai. Tissa Devendra. The Island

[18] From Manal Aru to Weli- Oya and the spirit of 1983. UTHR

[19] ‘Sinhala Only’ law is passed. PACT

[20] An evolving Army and its role through time. The Sunday Times

[21] From Manal Aru to Weli- Oya and the spirit of 1983. UTHR

[22]         The CDF was set up as an auxiliary force to assist the government troops during the war. They were initially deployed to protect the Sinhala villages adjacent to the north and east borders, from LTTE attacks. Post war, these recruits are largely involved in cultivation and teaching activities as CDF run farms and pre-schools.

[23] Re-awakening Project –

[24] From Manal Aaru to Weli Oya and the spirit of July 1983. UTHR

[25]         Resettled population by Ethnic group in Mullaittivu District as at 31.12.2011. Statistical Hand Book, Mullaitivu District, 2012.

[26]         Displaced to be settled in Mahaweli ‘L’ system.

[27] Crisis brews over 183 families seeking State land in Jaffna. Sunday Times

[28]         New Sinhala colony in State land in Navatkuli? Vimarsanam-vimansa

[29] Situation in North- Eastern Sri Lanka: A series of serious concerns. M.A Sumanthiran

About editor 3045 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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