ucanews.com reporter, ColomboUpdated: November 12, 2013 11:31 PM GMT
Protesters gather for a hunger strike in Jaffna on Wednesday
Displaced Tamil villagers in Jaffna on Tuesday began a five-day hunger strike to protest against the military’s refusal to return land seized during the country’s decades-long civil war.
Ananthy Sasitharan, provincial councilor of the Tamil National Alliance, said some villagers have waited since 1986 to return to their ancestral lands.
“The army has now put up new houses and created farms on our lands. They demolished all our houses, religious buildings and seized 6,484 acres belonging to 7,200 families,” she said.
The military designated the area a high security zone but has made little effort to return lands to owners since the end of the civil war in 2009.
The protesters, numbering in the hundreds, gathered in front of the Maavattaapuram Kandasami Hindu temple in Jaffna, about 400 kms north of Colombo.
“We have vowed to continue the protest until November 18 in order to get our demands,” said Sasitharan.
She added that the protesters hope to attract the attention of delegates from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting currently in the country. Some Commonwealth member states have been outspoken about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
However, the Sri Lankan military claims that rather than retaining land, it has begun returning portions of it to the original owners.
“The area occupied was about 18,000 acres and today we have only about 5,500 acres,” said military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya in an interview in August.
He further denied any notion of a land grab by the military despite reports of military-owned resorts, hotels and other businesses being operated on seized land.
“There is no land grab in any area,” Wanigasooriya said.
“However, in certain places that are identified as essential for having troops for national security interests and strategic considerations, we acquire lands through proper precedure.”
He added that all land acquired was government-owned.
More than 2,000 families have signed on to a court case claiming private ownership of the disputed land on the Jaffna peninsula.
Chandra Arumugam, 56, one of those who have filed a court case, said the government promised to provide replacement land for the displaced.
“Fishermen should remain close to the beach, not far from the sea,” she said. “We cultivated two acres of onions, grapes and potatoes – even had an ice factory – but nothing now,” she says of her former land.
“If we resettle in our own land, we can fight against poverty. But now we have become refugees.”