The Secretariat for Muslims welcomes the statements made by key figures in the Government declaring the Government’s commitment to release lands held by the military to their rightful owners. In particular the cabinet’s decision to release land in Valikammam North (Jaffna) and Raigamwela (Panama) is an important first step. While expressing support for this measure, the SFM would like to highlight the impact of occupation of civilian-owned land by the security forces and to call for further releases.
For persons whose land have been occupied, it has meant that even though they are citizens of this country, there has been a denial of their rights and a delay in effectively restoring normalcy in their lives some six years after the war. The failure to release their lands has obstructed their ability to reconstruct their homes, fully revive their livelihoods, regain access to ancestral religious and cultural sites and and rebuild their lives. This restriction on land and rights serves as a source of animosity and insecurity that polarizes ethnic relations and is hampering Sri Lanka’s transition from war to lasting peace. The military occupation of land owned and used by civilians is a problem that particularly impacts the Tamil community in the Northern Province, but also affects other communities in other parts of the country.
Further releases of land in a phased manner will help build confidence among communities in this Governments’ capacity to bring about a more sustainable peace and to ensure that rights are upheld. It will also serve as a first step towards reconciliation and will demonstrate the Government’s commitment to treating all communities equally. SFM, while acknowledging there are a number of areas that need to be released, is highlighting three such sites where the Muslim community is currently unable to regain full access to their land. We ask that the Government take immediate steps within the 100 Days to release such lands.
1) Ashraf Nagar, Ampara District: In November 2011 the military moved into the village of Kashankerni in Ashraff Nagar and demanded that the 69 Muslim families in the area vacate, to make way for an army camp. While some families moved unwillingly, nine families refused and have continued to live in their homes. A few of them sought redress from the Supreme Court (SC/FR/NO. 192-2012) and their Fundamental Rights application is pending. These families have faced significant problems including harassment and they are unable to cultivate their lands on which they rely for their livelihoods. The army camp should be moved out and the land restored to these families.
2) Silavathurai, Mannar District: Silavathurai was the most prominent town in the Musali division prior to 1990. In 1990 the approximately 280 Muslim families from Silavathurai were expelled by the LTTE along with the entire population of Northern Muslims. Some families returned following the ceasefire agreement of 2002 but were forced back into displacement in 2007 when the war recommenced. When the area was opened for resettlement after the end of the war, residents of Silavathurai found that what used to be the heart of the town was a navy camp. Key public buildings including the post office, the Pradeshiya Sabha building and the main mosque are off limits, as most of the residential neighbourhoods and shops. While small portions of land on the perimeter have been released over the past few years, much of Silavathurai remains restricted to civilian access and use. Similarly the Tamil village of Mullikulam is now used as a navy camp and in Marichchakatti village the mosque along with some houses are cordoned off by the navy. The security forces need to take steps to release these private properties and public buildings in the Musali division so that war affected people can attempt to rebuild their communities.
3) Karumalaiootru, Trincomalee District: Situated on Dead Man’s Cove, this village suffered both as a result of the war and the tsunami. While the community was able to build back after the tsunami on land away from the beach, this largely fishing community continued to maintain their access the beach and the mosque which is set on a small hill by the beach. The mosque is old and the community has legal ownership of the land, dating back to at least the British colonial period. In November 2009, the area adjoining the beach was cordoned off by the military. In August 2014 the mosque was demolished by the forces. In the lead up to the presidential election residents were allowed to finally visit the site where they noticed a temporary building had been constructed in place of the mosque which they are now allowed to use. The ziyaram or shrine linked to the mosque is still off limits. The area where these villagers were living has not been released for their occupation. The SFM calls for the release of the village and the mosque (including the shrine) in its entirety so that villagers can have full access to their lands.
*SFM Statement on the Release of Land held by the Military