The Struggle For Land And Beyond
By Waruni Karunarathne
Leader of the Tamil National People’s Front Gajan Ponnambalam told The Sunday Leader that the main issue they have related to land is about over 6400 acres of private land occupied by the military in Valikamam North. He added that according to his knowledge Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has also filed writ applications in the court of appeal for about 2000 odd cases of land issues in the Valikamam North and his party has filed about 200 odd cases related to Valikamam North lands in the Supreme Court under fundamental rights violations.
“For military to acquire private land, it has to be for a public purpose that benefits the public. What we question is the purpose of acquisition,” Ponnambalam added.
He added that in Palali for a fact the military has built hotels and soldiers are engaged in farming activities. According to him large amount of land is being used for various other activities which cannot be clearly identified as public purposes. He accused the military for using land acquired from people for economic reasons to generate income for the military. “The military is doing farming and they sell their products in the local market and undercut the local farmers. In the larger picture, they are undermining the local economy of the people,” he added.
Ponnambalam said that when the war was going on and even during the peace process, people were told that the military could not release the land in Valikamam North as that area was used for the security of KKS harbour and Palali Air force base. “During the peak of the war, the government gave various assurances to various countries that once they get rid of the LTTE, they will do away with militarisation. That assurance was given even after the war,” Ponnambalan added. Despite the assurances he said that the military continues to occupy the land in Valikamam North.
However, according to Ponnambalam, the military has definitely released some portions of land – yet they are in a process of formally acquiring the remainder of the land. “The Palali high security zone no longer exists. A part of that land has been released. However, they are trying to acquire the remainder of that land formally,” he said. According to him, not only in Palali but in all other places right throughout the North and East, the military is in a process of formally acquiring private land.
“Recently in Mirisavil, they have tried to acquire about 50 acres of land owned by an old Tamil lady. She has divided that land among her children – on that basis various marriages also have taken place. About three weeks back, surveyors were sent to formally acquire the land,” Ponnambalam added.
According to Ponnabalam, large militarisation is happening in the North where the military is building military cantonments in the North. “There are cantonments where military has built houses – where their families can come and settle. The militarisation is now taking place as part of Sinhalisation process,” he noted.
He levelled allegations against the government for continuing military operation in the North while having a sinister motive to ultimately change the ethnic demography of the region. “They are building towns within the military base. Over time, when they take the military boundaries away there will be an entire Sinhala colonised village within that area,” he said.
He assured that they have nothing against Sinhalese or Sinhalese coming and settling in the North if it is on their free will for genuine purposes.
However, according to Ponnambalam, the issue is that building Sinhala colony is done systematically over time since 1948, yet this government is carrying out the process of colonisation in an unprecedented way and it has become little bit sophisticated.
He pointed out that there are thousands and thousands of people in the Northern region who have no land. He said that if the government has alternate land, rather than bringing people from outside and settling them in the North, they should look into resettling the local people who have no land.
He further added that the government may have said that they would compensate people who have lost land but their only goal is to get the consent of people to take over their lands. He said that people cannot rely on those promises as they cannot be sure whether compensations will be paid or not in the future.
Meanwhile, denying the allegations Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya added that the military does not own a single inch of land in the Northern Province and the military is only deployed in the government land.
“Land is owned by the government. It is the national requirement that drives national security imperatives and that determines where the military should be deployed. Based on that, the government has provided the military appropriate land in those areas that are identified as essential for military deployment in order to meet the national security requirements,” he added.
He emphasised that the military no longer has a high security zone in Palali but there is only a military cantonment where people are allowed access. He added that even the airport and the harbour are open to the public. “It is a military cantonment like military cantonments in the other parts of the world,” he said. He provided examples like New Delhi and Mumbai where there are military cantonments and there are many military cantonments in South India and Goa,” he said.
“We have military cantonments in Panagoda, Minneriya, Ratnapura and Diyatalawa. It is a normal thing in any democratic country where the military is there to protect the sovereignty of the country,” Brigadier Wanigasooriya added. He pointed out that military needs space to live and military cantonments are an accepted norm across the globe.
Denying allegation against the military operating hotels, Brigadier Wanigasooriya pointed out that small resorts like Thalsevana in KKS built for military to spend their leisure time can hardly be called as hotels. “It is a small resort which is there for the military to have some leisure time. It is natural within a camp to have such places. In Mullaithivu within the camp, we have a holiday bungalow. In Diyatalawa there are about 30 holiday bungalows. It is open to the public when it is not been used by the military,” Brigadier Wanigasooriya said. According to him, even military personnel pay a concessionary rate for their stay in such places where as public pay a little higher rate than what military personnel pay. Adding to the list he said that the military have such places in Kukulegama, Diyatalawa, and Down South and in East. He assured that it is not only in Sri Lanka that there are places built for military to spend leisure time but it is a common phenomenon everywhere else to have holiday destinations for military. He also added that those holiday resorts are built within the military premises.
He further added that the military does farming only to fulfill some of their requirements but assured that they do not sell their products to the public. “A small percentage of our daily needs are met with our own cultivations.
That is only a very small percentage. But that small percentage saves this country a reasonable amount of money,” Brigadier added.
He also stated that the military has farms not only in Valikamam but also in places like in Kandeketiya, Panagoda, Diyatalawa, Kuttigala and Kantale “They have been there since the inception of the military. Sri Lankan army is not the only army that has this kind of agricultural components,” Brigadier added.
He pointed out that Indian army not only engages in agriculture but has livestock as well – they produce their own milk and agricultural products and operate their canteens and a department store system which Sri Lankan army does not have.
He further added that in Walalai also they recently released about 300 acres of land and figures are lot less than 6400 acres in the area where military is deployed in Valikamam. According to him, the military is constructing houses for the people whose land was recently released in Walalai.
Denying the allegations against trying to systematically bring about a Sinhala colony in the North, Brigadier Wanigasooriya added that it is a baseless allegation. “We do not have a single family living inside a military cantonment. There are only soldiers who serve in the area. That is also for a specific purpose and limited duration of time. There is no case of such settlements,” he assured. If there are any such case, he challenged whoever who claims so to prove it.
He further emphasised that the security of the country is indeed a public purpose. “This country was engulfed in so much of violence and today we are enjoying the fruit of peace. If the military did not serve the public purpose of bringing peace this country will not be enjoying peace today. If security is not a public purpose I do not know what else would be public purposes,” he added.
He also said that even though the Sri Lankan military defeated the LTTE terrorism, the country is still facing security threats. According to him, there are separatist elements in Sri Lanka openly voicing it in some cases and clandestinely acting in other places.
“These elements are there in the forms of the Global Tamil Forum under Farther Emmanuel. Then we have British Tamil Forum, Canadian Tamil Congress, Australian Tamil Congress, Vinayagam Faction, Nidhiyawan faction, and many other different factions.
They have schools run by LTTE ex elements to militarily indoctrinate the children abroad,” he added.
“We have a very serious threat. They are radicalising their youth to bring back armed struggle to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is under very threat of terrorism. We have eliminated terrorism here but the threat of terrorism is still looming out there,” Brigadier Wanigasooriya said.
Meantime, the Commissioner of Lands for Jaffna Mr. Dayananthan stated that roughly about 90% of land in the Jaffna District is private land where as rest is state land.
On the contrary he added that in other four districts of the Northern Province namely Killinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaithivu there is more or less 10% of private land and the rest is state land as those are jungle and underdeveloped areas where there has not been lot of private settlements.