Tamil families displaced by the civil war have taken up shelter in the jungle near their former homes
Dozens of internally displaced Catholic Tamil families in Mannar, northern Sri Lanka have demanded they be allowed to return to their land after the Navy blocked resettlement to what is still labeled a high-security zone.
More than 140 people – who say they have lived in Mannar since 2007 after the designation of the military zone during Sri Lanka’s civil war – have been blocked from entering Mullikulam Village since Saturday.
Failure by the authorities to downgrade the area for civil occupation meant they remained internally displaced, the families said, enduring increasingly difficult conditions.
They responded by staging a sit-in protest opposite the Navy’s camp which then forced the families to relocate to a village nearby.
“This is a real curse,” Agnesia Revel, a 50-year-old mother of four said sitting under a tree outside of Mullikulam. “Our aim is to gain access to our native village which has remained occupied by the military for years.”
The group has erected temporary shelters by hanging cardboard and clothes over the branches of trees in the jungle, she said, adding access to a nearby church was only reopened on Sunday.
“These poor people face more difficulties without basic supplies," said A.E.Sunesh Soosai, a project coordinator at the Fisheries Solidarity Movement, who joined local priests and a monk in visiting the site yesterday.
“The government should be concerned about these people and take rapid action to move them to their own village,” he added.
Located on the small strip of land which connects to India by a ferry service, Mullikulam has remained a strategic area for Sri Lanka’s armed forces since more than 400 families were forced to flee heavy fighting there in 2007.
Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said this month that the area of security-zone land had recently been drastically reduced from 4,096 hectares when fighting ended three years ago to the current 2,582 hectares.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates a total of 448,000 people were displaced by decades of fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, 6,000 of which remain in welfare centers, mainly due to threat of land mines.
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