Sri Lanka's war widows seek return of land

Military continues to occupy nearly 19,000-hectares belonging to Tamils
Sri Lanka's war widows seek return of land

A Sri Lankan war widow hands a fact-finding report on the status of the displaced to Jaffna government official, S. Muralitharan, in Colombo. (Photo by Quintus Colombage)

Lakshmanan Dharmarajini recalled a time when she and her husband could eke out a living on their small plot of land in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka.

"There was a time when we could live an honorable life, every family could. But today, nothing," she said. 

Dharmarajini, one of thousands of war widows seeking closure and justice over the fate of their missing family members, is a member of a group known in Sri Lanka as the "disappeared."

She told ucanews.com that many war widows remain impoverished, without access to jobs or aid or land, as many had their property confiscated during Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

Since then, these widows have lived nomadic lives, shifting between camps for displaced persons and the homes of relatives.

Dharmarajini was among a group of war widows and human rights activists who convened in Colombo Sept. 7 to seek the return of land belonging to Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and which is now occupied by the military.

Sri Lanka's military still occupies nearly 19,000 hectares of land claimed by Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east.

The government refuses to remove the army camps and return the land to the rightful owners, said Herman Kumara, a well-respected Sri Lankan human rights campaigner and head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement.

"Thousands of Tamils have been unable to return to their land for 25 years. Their lives are filled with uncertainty," Kumara said.

"Respectable people have become refugees within their motherland."

Janisha Raevathi, 40, a Catholic war widow, said heavy shelling during the war forced her to flee her village, leaving behind all their documents, including the title to her family's land. She said many of the tens of thousands of displaced people were in a similar situation.

"We need all the support possible to return to our lands," she said.

Holy Family Sister Deepa Fernando, a member of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, said that the government should return the land to the Tamils.

"These are not the lands of the politicians to give permission to resettle, they are the lands of poor Tamil victims," said the nun who attended the Sept. 7 event.

S. Muralitharan, Jaffna's deputy divisional secretary, said the government is about to hand over 10,000 sheets to cover the temporary huts that house the displaced before the looming rainy season arrives. But he stopped short of providing a timetable for resettlement.

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Nimalka Fernando, president of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, said it is the responsibility of the president and parliament to return land to Sri Lanka's war widows and allow them to rebuild their lives.

"It is not enough for the government to run vocational trainings for internally displaced persons," she said. "Give back their sea, lands and jungle; let them restart their livelihoods. It is their fundamental right."

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