Sri Lankan war displaced call for land return

Rights groups complain deadline was not achieved, but military occupiers cite substantial progress
Sri Lankan war displaced call for land return

File photo of people protesting over land grabbing in northern Sri Lanka. (ucanews.com photo)

Displaced people and civil society organizations have urged Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena to keep his promise to release all military occupied lands in former civil war-torn districts.

President Sirisena promised members of the ethnic Tamil minority displaced by the 1983-2009 conflict in the island nation's north and east, who had their land seized by the military, that it would be returned by Dec. 31.

However, rights' organizations complained that by year's end the undertaking had not been fulfilled.

Sri Lanka's military occupied thousands of hectares of land during nearly three decades of war which ended with a battlefield defeat of Tamil secessionist rebels.

N.Raji Banu, a rights activist who is also fighting for the return of her own land, said the government had been slow to return occupied lands to civilians as part of post-conflict justice and reconciliation.

"The military runs profit businesses such as hotels, restaurants and plantations on our ancestral lands," Banutold ucanews.com Jan. 3.

"Our land is much more than property with a financial value. The land is linked to religious practices and culture and we suffer from a lack of food security and livelihood."

Coconuts had to be brought for daily needs by people who had their own coconut palms on land they could not access.

Nine years after the civil war ended, rights' activists say reconciliation efforts would continue to be illusive while the land issue was still not fully resolved.

More than 40,000 people remain internally displaced; many living with relatives.

In 2015, the newly elected government of President Sirisena made the commitment to return armed forces occupied land.

Last October, Sirisena set the as yet not totally implemented Dec. 31 deadline for this to be done.

Internally displaced people and rights' organizations as well as nuns and priests are demanding that urgent action now be taken to finally right all injustices.

"We, whose lands have been taken away from us forcibly and are still suffering immensely nearly ten years after the end of the war, demand that you keep this promise and ensure that authorities abide by instructions you gave them several months ago," said IDPs and the rights' organizations in a Dec. 30 letter to the president.

"We appreciate that the government has released some occupied land to different communities in the last several years, but are deeply disappointed that there has been inadequate resettlement assistance and other restrictions and obstructions they have faced which have hampered their resettlement."

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Army Spokesperson Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said that the military has released 80 percent of the land it occupied to the owners.

He said the army would release another 1,099 acres of farm land in Northern Province on the instructions of the president soon.

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