By Hilmy Ahamed –
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe nexus Government that the Muslims voted overwhelming (believed to be over 95%) to cause the astonishing regime change from the decade long rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa has totally betrayed the Muslim community by ignoring the plight of the Northern Muslims. These unfortunate Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were forcibly evicted from their homes in 1990 by the fascist Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE) with 48 hours notice and in the case of the Jaffna Muslims, it was just a mere two hours notice.
As we remember yet another anniversary this October of the brutal eviction and displacement of the entire population of the Northern Muslims once more, there seems to be no redress to the plight of this unfortunate patriotic citizens who refused to betray the Sri Lankan nation by siding with the LTTE’s Eelam quest. It is 25 years since this tragedy dawned on the unsuspecting Northern Muslims. Why is it that no government in power since 1990 has offered a reasonable solution to the Muslim IDPs, while all other war affected are being adequately addressed. The Tamil population with the support of the Government, the Tamil National Alliance, the International Community and the United Nations Mechanisms seems be heading in the right direction towards their full resettlement. 1055 acres of land that was under armed forces control has been returned to them in Sampur in the Trincomalee district. The Geneva process and the Sirisena-Wickramasinghe administration’s resolve to address the war affected through an internal mechanism does not seem to extend to the Northern Muslims. While addressing the suffering of the Tamil population needs to be appreciated as they suffered for over 30 years under the LTTE brutality and the domination of the Sri Lankan armed forces, it is regrettably that the Northern Muslims who sacrificed their lives by being patriotic Sri Lankans, are not offered any reasonable consideration by the Sri Lankan state or the international community. It is unfortunate that even the Muslim political leadership has been divided over this issue due to their political rivalry. In the absence of state or the international community’s support for their resettlement, even Muslim initiatives to seek financially support from Muslim nations for their resettlement has been challenged by some extremist Buddhists. The Sri Lankan civil society, who would have screamed at the drop of a hat if this had happened to another community, is silent on the Muslim resettlement to say the least. Is this due to Islamaphobia, or is it due to the politics of the land.
President Sirisena, whose dream of high office would never have been a reality if not for the Muslim vote, too accused the Muslim IDPs of Musali south of encroaching in to the Wilpatu and Kalaru reserves and clearing forestland. This is a totally misconceived perception and is a fabrication caused by some extremist Buddhists and misguided environmentalists. The Musali IDP’s are going back to their own lands that they were forced to abandoned by the LTTE’s ethnic cleansing in 1990. During a recent visit to the area, I personally witnessed the ridges of paddy fields that the Muslims abandoned and other signs of farming in areas that the forest department has now demarcated as forest reserves. It is ironic that all the circulars and amendments to the Forest, National environment, Antiquities Ordinance, Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance that deprive Muslim resettlement had been brought in only after the Muslims were evicted from their lands in 1990. Is this a deliberate attempt by the Government to permanently ethnically cleanse the Muslims from the North? While the Muslims are denied their resettlement, it is alleged that the Rajapaksa administration with the assistance of the armed forces settled over 3500 alien Sinhala families from Hambantota and Suriyawewa clearing thousands of acres of forestland in the Northern province. The Armed forces too occupy large extents of civilian land in the Musali area where military camps were established during the war.
The following are some of the legislation that has been used to deprive the Muslims of their lands:
National Environmental Act
Act No. 47 of 1980 (Section 23)
Act No. 56 of 1988 (Section 23Y, 23Z, 23AA)
Gazette No. 772/22 (1993.06.18 – Order under Section 23Y)
Amendment No.53/2000 (Section 23A)
Act no. 12 of 2005
Gazette Notification No.1152/14–2000
Amendment No. 24 of 1998 (Section 40B, 43A(1)
Antiquities Ordinance –(no. 7, 8 and 20)
Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance
As amended by Acts Nos. 44 of 1964, 1 of 1970 and 49 of 1993
Section 2(1), 2(4), 3(1), 3(3), 6, 67(f), 71(4)
Gazette Notification No. 1779/15 of 2012
Amendment Act No. 22 of 2009
Chapter 283 of the Forests Ordinance (Section 3 and 4(2)
Circular No. 5 of 2001
Gazette Notification (1779/15 of 2012
The former administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa is also accused of amending the Forest Ordinance and declaring large extents of lands as forest reserves through Global Positioning System (GPS) Mapping undertaken from Colombo prior to the Provincial Council elections of 2012 even without consulting the divisional secretaries of the area. This is believed to be a deliberate attempt to deprive the Northern Provincial Council (which the Mahinda Rajapaksa government knew would lose to the TNA) the extensive land powers that are vested in the Provincial Councils. The Muslims who were not allowed to return to their lands were not identified in this mapping due to their displacement in various camps across the country.
It is an obvious reality that there would be natural forest growth in the 25 years of abandonment, yet the forest growth in their lands is not ancient and is a mere 25 years. The LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces prevented the Muslims from returning to their lands during the period of their eviction.
The returning Muslim IDPs have in their possession title deeds to their lands in Musali south that have been issued under the seal of King Edward the seventh of England in 1906. One of these deeds is for a land that is adjoining the Uppu Aru that is only a few meters away from the boarder of the Wilpattu National Wildlife Reserve. Yet, the current resettlement of the Musali Muslims that was approved by the former governments’ powerful Presidential Task Force (PTF) that was headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sibling Basil Rajapaksa is 1.25 Kilometers away from the Wilpattu National Reserve. The PTF constituted of government institutions that included the representatives from the Forest and Environment departments, the divisional secretaries, representatives of armed forces and all other institutions involved in the resettlement of the war affected.
The “Right of Return” is a principle, which is drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That right should not be deprived to the Northern Muslims to go back and cultivate their lands due to a continued racist agenda of a few. Let us resolve as a nation to address all the issues of the war affected through the proposed local mechanisms without any racial discrimination.