The Sunday Leader

Army Sticks To Its Guns On Palaly Land

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya in Jaffna

The military has refused to release parts of land in Palaly which is being used for security purposes, despite a demand by some Tamil political parties in the North.

Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General Mahesh Senanayake said that 4419 acres of land which belongs to the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters, the Palaly airfield and the Military Cantonment will not be released for civilian use.

Pointing out that 7210 acres of land out of the 11,629 acres of the land that had been marked as the Palaly High Security Zone up until 2010 have now been handed back to their original owners, the Jaffna Security Forces Commander said that the remaining 4419 acres will be reserved for military use.

He said that whilst 62% of the High Security Zone has been released back to the civilians, the remaining land has been allocated for the military cantonment and the Palaly airstrip.

“There is no possibility of handing these lands back to civilians.  The Government has taken steps to provide compensation and land from other areas for the owners of these lands,” he said.

Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran had recently said that the army in the North cannot do everything as they wish. He had made this statement at the 61st session of the Northern Provincial Council. He had further said that the Jaffna Security Forces Commander has informed the Jaffna District secretary about some land which was to be acquired for the military. The Chief Minister has said that the Jaffna District Secretary has sent letters to land owners in Jaffna as instructed by the Jaffna army Commander, claiming that while some land shall be released, others would be compensated for their land.

The Northern Province Chief Minister has expressed his objection over this matter.

Meanwhile a housing project that is being carried out in Keerimalai, Jaffna will be handed over to the public by the end of this month.

A total of 118,367 individuals belonging to 30,164 families had been living in 218 welfare centers in the Jaffna peninsula in 1993. By 2009 that number declined to 8570 individuals belonging to 2293 families and 64 welfare centers. By 2016, the numbers had further shrunk to 3370 individuals from 971 families and 31 welfare centers.

Following the end of the war in 2009, over 2293 families were settled in these open welfare centers. The numbers also include the extended families of the originally registered families of the area. At present 971 families are occupying 31 open welfare centers. They include 271 land owned families and 700 extended families without any land ownership. The Keerimalai housing project would facilitate over 100 of these families in the first stage and 33 more families in the second stage.

According to available data, the average land value in the Jaffna peninsula ranges from Rs.50,000-100,000 a perch. However, after 2009, the prices had soared to Rs.100,000 and even Rs. 1 Million a perch in urban areas and Rs. 40,000 – Rs. 100,000 a perch in rural areas.


Army provides labour

The Keerimalai housing project is being built in an area that includes plots of land covering 20 perches, where the houses have been built by the Military Engineers Corp in a way that is appropriate with the Tamil culture. The total commercial value of a house is Rs. 4,362,240. Although the scheme had been scheduled to be completed several months ago, shortage  of construction materials had delayed the project, Major General Mahesh Senanayake said.

He said that 21,134 acres out of the 27,259 acres of land that had been reserved for military camps in the Jaffna peninsula have been released back to their original owners on several occasions in 11 stages since 2010.

“Several army posts and units that had been stationed throughout the Jaffna Peninsula have been removed. However the number of soldiers present in the area has not been reduced. At present the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters contains the 51st, 52nd and 55th division headquarters. Under their command various regiments and battalions have been stationed in the Jaffna Peninsula. I can guarantee that there is no truth behind the rumors that are going around in the South about removing the military from the North,” Major General Mahesh Senanayake said.

The housing project in Keerimalai is being carried out by Sri Lankan army on government land, funded by the Ministry of Prison Reforms Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs to facilitate the resettlement of 133 internally displaced families living in the welfare centers in the Jaffna peninsula.

Ministry of Defence and the army with the assistance of government authorities has built houses on 20 perch blocks to each landless family living in the welfare center. The Keerimalai housing project will facilitate 100 families in the first stage and 33 families in the second stage. The commercial value of each land under the Keerimalai housing project is approximately Rs 2000,000. The material cost estimated for one housing unit is Rs 860,351. The construction cost per house is Rs 2,080,000, land development Rs 128,000, and land value Rs 2,154,240. The total value is Rs 4,362,240. The total saving from the project is approx. Rs 122 million.

The Divisional Secretary of Jaffna has selected the landless families who are living in the welfare centers. The beneficiary’s enthusiasm to move from welfare centers to have their own house was the core consideration. The army said it contributed e to the resettlement, reintegration and reconciliation process to assure sustainable peace and to reduce expenditure on the construction of houses and achieve the crucial time lines.

Major General Mahesh Senanayake said the 5-R concept (Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, Resettlement, Reintegration, and Reconstruction) will be followed in Jaffna. As per the instruction given by the government, the security forces Headquarters in Jaffna has released land and maintains what is required for the army establishment.

He also said that the expansion of the Palaly regional airport for commercial activities and enhancement of tourism in the North Province is underway.

“47 acres of government land in Keerimalai was provided for the construction of houses for IDPs in the Jaffna peninsula as the initial stage. The work force has been provided by the army. The house plan has been decided and selected according to cultural, moral, religious values of the IDPs with the coordination of the government agent. Other than the houses a proper road network, playground, preschools, police stations, community center, medical center, water and electricity is being provided to provide a conductive environment for reconciliation and national unity is the achievement envisaged for the reconciliation process. Co-existence between the military and civilians as they begin to live side by side is also a goal. Maintaining impartiality against cast and creed and achieving a long lasting reconciliation process is also a priority. The soldiers and civilians have put their focus on achieving sustainable peace,” he said.

Meanwhile, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda said that it is good to see the poor people in these areas being given their lands back along with their houses.

“I have visited this area several times. The Army is doing a good job in providing the necessary labour and the material in building these houses. The profit of this scheme ultimately reaches the poor community in this region. At the moment I don’t know how these lands are being released. But we must also look into the livelihoods of these people. If we distribute fish among these people it would be enough for them only for one meal. But we must make sure that they must be given an opportunity to rebuild their livelihoods. Most of the displaced people who have been settled in various areas have lost their traditional jobs. So the government must also pay attention to the issue of livelihood when providing housing for these people. Only then we could show the international community that we are doing something productive,” he said.

Devananda said that there are two types of IDPs and there are those who do not have any land and there are those who had owned land but had been thrown out of them during the war.

He says the authorities must first try to give these lands back to their original owners and only then can the country move towards providing housing for those who do not have any land.

8 Comments for “Army Sticks To Its Guns On Palaly Land”

  1. S B Lokuge

    Good, courageous and patriotic officer. We do not need any more puppets like the three rulers.

  2. Sangaralingham

    If it is a private property it should be returned to the owner or equivalent property of equal content and commercial value should be given subjected to location microclimate productivity fertility of soil

  3. Patrick Rodrigo

    I wish the same stand is taken in Fort Fredrick in Trincomalee where the people running the swami rock devale are quietly grabbing more and more land around the devale, the target the whole area within the fort. The famous lovers leap is no more a place of interest, the ancient graves behind the devale are almost unapproachable. This place should be kept as it was.

  4. kumaran

    Let us hope that Gen. Senanayake will not be over-ruled by some high person.

  5. raj

    If Tamils demand for army’s present in Jaffna, then the army has every right to stay and fulfill people’s demand. Likewise, if people of Jaffna does not want army’s present or see army is a threat to their safety, then they have every rights to demand to remove army camps. Most of us don’t know any army command involved in war crimes are being positioned in North and East. If there are army commander who is war criminals, then it is a biggest danger to the people.

  6. raj

    Tamils should demand to rights to separate from Sri Lanka by a referendum if there is a need arise for separation. If this rights in place, the South will fulfill Tamils’ demand in order to keep Sri Lanka united. This is called democracy.

  7. raj

    If Singhalese people and Singhalese government wants to have united Sri Lanka, they should respect democratic demands from Tamil people. If not, Tamils should be left to separate from Sri Lanka. Singhalese government and Singhalese people should not impose their wishes on Tamils without Tamils’ consent. It is called democracy.

  8. raj

    If Singhalese government and Singhalese people wants to have united Sri Lanka, they should respect Tamils right and autonomy. If Singhalese government and Singhalese people do not respect Tamil people’s rights and their autonomy, they should let the Tamils separate from Sri Lanka. Don’t impose Buddhism or Singhalism on Tamils because it will alienate Tamils further make them to pursue for separation from Sri Lanka.

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