by Zacki Jabbar
Industry and Commerce Minister and Wanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen said yesterday that extremist groups hell bent on creating communal conflicts were continuing their mudslinging campaign against him even though he had helped a large number of war displaced Sinhalese and Tamils return to their original lands in Mannar.
The Minister emphasised that members of all communities including over a 100,000 Muslims who had fled their homes in the North in the face of LTTE threats had a right to return to their ancestral lands.
“I was on the LTTE hit list for helping a large number of internally displaced Tamils resettle in Mannar. Similarly, I have also assisted Sinhala refugee families. Being a war displaced person myself, I could understand their suffering,” the minister said adding that those who were making false allegations that he had helped Muslims returning to their lands in Musali, encroach into the Wilpattu National Park had obviously not bothered to check the facts.
Bathiudeen recalled that in 2005 permits had been given to 60,000 families to re-settle in Mannar, but none of the 30,000 Muslim families who were original inhabitants of Musali Division were included in the scheme. After the war had ended some of them went back to Musali in 2010 and cleared the area of weeds and trees that had grown over their ancestral homes for decades, which was now falsely categorised as belonging to the Wilpattu National Park by extremist groups, and rebuilt their modest houses which were well outside the sanctuary.
“Baseless accusations will not deter me from trying to legally resettle the Musali Muslims who have become refugees in their own country,” he said, observing that the same group of persons, who for several years had been carrying on a personal vendetta against him, was behind the recent protests as well.