The Government is preparing to relocate 500 Sinhala families to Mannar as part of its agenda to change the ethnic demographic of the predominantly Tamil North, but has recently shelved the plan likely because it had angered the Muslims in the area, the Colombo Telegraph learns.
Sinhalese families are being offered land and setting up money and even Government positions if they were willing to leave villages in the South to relocate in the Northern Province, it is reliably learnt.
On July 18, 2013 a meeting was held with the recently appointed Mannar Government Agent (District Secretary) M.Y.S. Deshapriya, a former military official after which a memorandum was issued to the Musalai Divisional Secretary providing instructions regarding the relocation of 500 “Sinhalese IDPs”. Deshapriya’s appointment was made on 12 July this year, soon after the former GA J.A.Sarath Raveendra was transferred, allegedly on the grounds that he refused to expedite the Sinhalese relocation. Land distribution is a subject directly under the District Secretary, making Deshapriya’s appointment noteworthy. Raveendra had refused to undertake Sinhala settlement before resettlement of Muslims was complete in keeping with LLRC recommendations, resulting in his transfer on 12 July. Starting the relocation process was the first of the tasks Deshapriya undertook upon his appointment, resulting in the memo to the Divisional Secretary of the area earmarked for the resettlement.
The Musali Divisional Secretary has also been given a warning for not expediting the relocation of the Sinhalese “IDPs”.
Musali is the only northern divisional secretariat that is predominantly Muslim.
Minister Rishard Bathurdeen and several other Muslim leaders have taken umbrage at the attempt to resettle Sinhalese in this area and have reportedly addressed the issue with senior members of the Rajapaksa ruling family. Bathurdeen and others are gravely disappointed about the fact that the Government is not prioritising the resettlement of Muslims to the area, after they were evicted from the region by the LTTE.
The military led administration in Mannar has accused the AGA of Musali for giving land to Muslims without settling the Sinhalese first. Previously a list of about 920 Sinhala names have been sent to the Musali DS but he and the GA refused to register them on the grounds that there was no evidence to prove that these were displaced families from Mannar.
With the leadership of the new GA with the military, The Environment Ministry and Forestry Department, the President has set up a committee to look into settling Sinhalese quickly.
AGA Musali has been vocal in articulating the need first to resettle the displaced Tamils and Muslims. He has also spoken against new settlement since it could jeopardize the initial efforts of bringing normalcy in the north among displaced communities and implementation of LLRC recommendation.
There has also been rapid colonization by the government in Vavuniya (Thalabosgama and Namalgama ) and in Mullaitheevu (Welioya). It is learnt that over 10,000 families have been settled in the last few months and there has been huge infrastructure development taking place in the new Sinhala settlements. The Government is now setting its targets on Mannar. According to reports, the military is bringing Sinhalese by the bus loads (with the help of the governor) and giving them land permits overnight without even informing administrative officials in the region.
However since the announcement of the Northern Provincial Council elections, the GA of Mannar has reportedly told colleagues that the resettlement plans had been postponed for the time being because Muslim votes are crucial for the Government to prevent a TNA landslide in the poll.
The Colombo Telegraph also learns of several moves to entice families in villages in the Hambantota District to move to Vavuniya. Sources on the ground in the District said that several people had been offered land and a Rs. 600,000 housing allowance if they moved to Vavuniya. The offer has come from such high places as UPFA Hambantota MP Namal Rajapaksa. However in order to avail themselves of the offer, the families would have to relinquish their residency status in Hambantota and take up permanent residency in Vavuniya. The villages had been told that a form was available at the Divisional Secretariat which needed to be completed. Once this documentation process was complete they could then travel to Vavuniya and hand the forms over to the military personnel there to be assigned their land. Four persons had already made the journey and it is learnt that at least one such Hambantota resident had been granted a prime piece of land with high quality timber on the property. Most villages in the District have been made aware of this option and that the necessary paperwork could be obtained from the Divisional Secretariats of their respective region.
SLT personnel have also indicated that staff from the institution, specifically those who reside in the deep south have been offered relocation options with housing, relocation allowance and government job opportunities in the north.