By Hilmy Ahamed –
The assault on the innocent Muslim “Forgotten People” of the Northern Province continues unabated. The media, the Janatha Vimukthu Peramuna (JVP) and the most popular politician in saffron robes, Battaramulle Seelarathana thero of SIRASA and Janasetha peramuna fame have joined the bandwagon of racism. The Environment Conservation Trust Director Sajeewa Chamikara has confirmed in interviews that these returning Muslim IDPs have not encroached in to Wilpattu National Reserve, but have settled in reserves demarcated by the forest department. This is quite a different song from the previous charge of destroying the Wilpattu National park for future generations. Yes, the forest department will certainly have claims to these lands because they were abandoned for 25 years since the eviction of Muslims from their lands and there certainly would be obvious jungle growth. The Government agent and other state officials from the area have confirmed that there has been no land grab from unallocated land and all resettlement processes were undertaken with state approval. There have been claims that these public servants have been forced to make these statements by Minister Bathiudeen. They should now have learnt their lessons if they are lying because even respected public servants in the caliber of Lilith Weeratunga are facing probable jail terms for breaking the law and dancing to the tune of his masters. The JVP’s firebrand Lal Kantha
confirmed from the location that as per the information they have received and witnessed, there is no transgressions by the Muslim IDPs. Questions have been raised by the JVP as to the number of returning IDPs. It is quite obvious that the numbers would not be the same after 25 years of displacement as families have naturally expanded.
There seems to be no doubt that these environmentalists and others with political ambitions have swallowed the bitter pill of racism that has been dispensed by the Bodu Bala Sena and other extremist Buddhist groups. They fail to realize that Mahinda Rajapaksa was sent home because of his nexus with racists. Further, none of these patriots and environmentalists has taken up the complaints made by the Tamils and Muslims of the blatant colonization of these areas with Sinhalese from other districts. Residents from the area claim that the following numbers of Sinhalese from Hambantota district and families of military personnel have been settled in the former war affected areas since the end of the war in 2009.
1 Veratenna – 520 families
2. Bogaswewa 1- 500 families
3. Bogaswewa 2 – 560 families
4. Namalgama – 470 families
5. Senaleenigama – 450 families
6. Nandamitragama – 360 families
These 2860 resettled families have been provided with thousands of acres of land. Their lands have been cleared for resettlement, grants and allowances disbursed, and all other facilities including schooling have been provided by the state. From where did the land for these settlers come? No one talks about the jungle and reservations that have been cleared for this purpose.
While one should encourage co-existence with mixed populations in all parts of the country, these colonization schemes should not be undertaken at the expense of other communities who have traditionally been living in these lands.
Where were the brave environmentalists who now claim that there is rape of the Wiplattu Wild life reserve when the nature and wildlife in the entire Hambantota district was destroyed by the previous administration with their accelerated development plans for their home town. The Mattala airport, Suriyawewa stadium, the Hambantota harbour, conference centres and other administrative complexes destroyed thousands of acres of nature reserves. Bird life was literally eliminated so that planes with no passengers could land in Mattala. Yet, these cardboard warriors were nowhere in sight. The media that includes both print and electronic media did not dare to open their mouths, pens, cameras or microphones due to the iron-fisted tyranny that was the hallmark of the last regime. The media need to be responsible and refrain from using their licenses to promote hate. They fail to realize that they use the frequencies that have been leased by them and allocated by the state, belong to all the people of Sri Lanka, not just the Sinhalese.
The cardboard warriors in the guise of environmental fanatics did not dare to take on the former Air Force Commander; Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonatilake when he destroyed the knuckles range by illegally constructing a massive residential complex in Sudugalla, in the protected Knuckles conservation forest area. They also fail to highlight the number of tourism related projects undertaken by the armed forces that has destroyed thousands of acres of virgin land. No one is talking about the environmental damage caused to the Horton plains.
The environmentalists who protested against the upper Kotmale hydro power project had absolutely no say when the Rajapaksa government decided to destroy the tranquility of the St Clair Major, St Clair Minor, Devon and decrease of water to Ramboda, Puna and Pundal waterfalls.
In addition, the government undertook many other projects that destroyed the environment and the impotent environmentalists chickened out and retreated with their tails stuck between their legs because of the fear they had for the rulers of the last decade.
Today, these cardboard warriors have teamed up with racist extremists and people with vested political interests to settle old scores to attack the resettlement of the Muslim internally displaced persons from the Northern province.
At a meeting of Muslim civil society convened to address the concerns of the Muslim IDP’s, one participant had this to say “Hiru TV is trying to save Duminda Silva from gallows by creating racial hate and bring Mahinda Rajapaksa to power, Sirasa network is trying to settle old scores with Rishard Bathiudeen for kicking Sri Ranga’s backside at temple trees, and Derana is playing to Gota’s agenda as Dilith Jayaweera is his friend and partner”.
Whatever the reasons may be for the media to be biased, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have an obligation to act decisively. It is a welcome initiative that President Sirisena has ordered an inquiry in to the resettlement of the Muslim IDPs, yet it is important that this is undertaken without any bias.
The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) started this campaign in May last years highlighting this as a settlement undertaken within the Wilpattu National Park. The BBS wanted to highlight it as an attempt to colonize the Wilpatu national park with Muslims. This was a deliberate attempt to mislead the majority Buddhist community by instilling fear in to their hearts and minds that Muslim enclaves are being carved out, foreign nationals would be settled and separatist groups would operate from these settlements. This fear psychosis was undertaken with the sole purpose of harnessing the Sinhala Buddhist votes for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential third term. The majority of the peace loving Buddhists did not buy this canard.
Today, it is being revived because Minister Rishard Bathiudeen betrayed the Rajapaksa’s, crossed over to Maithripala Sirisena and ensured that his entire Muslim block vote shifted to Sirisena. The Mahinda Rajapaksa camp is convinced that the crossing over of Rishard Bathiudeen cost them a third term. If there is any merit to this, Rishard Bathiudeen should be hailed as the hero who brought back good governance and democracy back to Sri Lanka.
What they fail to realize is that the Muslim Community would have voted Sirisena with or without their political leadership. This was evident in the Baddula elections where the coalition of Hakeem and Bathiudeen could not muster any significant voter base for the Rajapaksa’s when they joined hands to support Sashindra Rajapaksa.
There is absolutely no need to mix Muslim communal politics to the unfortunate situation faced by these Muslim IDPs. If there is a score to be settled with Rishard Bathiudeen, this needs to be undertaken without affecting the innocent IDPs.
The Environment Conservation Trust Director Sajeewa Chamikara has changed his tune to now claim that there are no settlements within the Wilpattu Wildlife reserve but insists that over 1,500 people have been resettled in an area around 5,000 acres in the Kallaru Forest. Yes, this is where people lived and had to abandon due to the ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. Any land abandoned for 25 years will become a forest. He added that the resettlement has not happened inside the Wilpattu National Park but the Kallaru forest is part of the forest network and comes under Forest Conservation Ordinance of the Forest Department. “Modaragan-aru Oya lies in the Northern Boundary of Wilpattu National Park. After that there is the Wilpattu North Sanctuary and the Kallaru Forest starts at the end of the Wilpattu North Sanctuary. Under the Forest Conservation Ordinance this area is also being protected,”
The Citizens Commission on the Expulsion of the Northern Muslims in its report states “the expulsion of Muslims was inadequately integrated into the historical narrative of the conflict in Sri Lanka. Close to 70,000 people were driven out of the Northern Province by the LTTE within a two-week period without prior notice, with no opportunity to transfer assets. Some lost their lives on the journey and many lost their futures. This experience is not sufficiently acknowledged in the discussions of the history of the conflict.”
It is a welcome move that the President has taken the initiative to intervene in this crisis. It is important that a proper commission of inquiry is set up to fast track this resettlement programme for the Muslim IDPs. This commission should also provide the opportunity for public submissions and the whole process needs to be expedited. Failure would mean many more years of displacement for these forgotten people.