By Dharisha Bastians
The main opposition Tamil National Alliance yesterday accused the Government of apathy towards the plight of its citizens demanding the release of their lands in Mullaitivu, as a protest by residents of Keppapilavu entered its ninth day yesterday.
TNA Jaffna District Legislator M.A. Sumanthiran who moved an adjournment motion in Parliament on the issue, lashed out at the ruling coalition, accusing the Government of reneging on pledges to release private lands in the North and East President Maithripala Sirisena had made before the election.
“When there is a Private Bus Owners strike, this Government responds within 24 hours. This demonstration has lasted nearly 10 days. Is this apathy from the Government because of the ethnicity of the protestors and where they live?” Sumanthiran demanded.
“You wouldn’t dare treat your Sinhalese citizens this way,” the TNA Lawmaker charged, addressing Government members.
About 40 residents are protesting day and night about the continued occupation of their original lands by the military, despite a Government assurance late last month to release 243 acres in the area. The land is currently being occupied by the 59 Division of the Army, Sumanthiran said.
President Sirisena’s Coordinating Secretary had attended a ceremony in late January, and announced that 243 acres were being released in the Keppapilavu area in the Mullaitivu District for people to be resettled, Sumanthiran told Parliament. Residents who attended the ceremony to take back their lands have refused to go back after the military refused to release more than 95 acres despite the official promise given to the people by a senior Presidential aide, he explained.
“People have vowed not to leave the place until the land is released. I don’t blame them. We fully support the agitation and if necessary, we will join them,” the TNA MP asserted.
With temperatures dropping at night and early morning in Mullaitivu, huddle by small fires, but have refused to return to temporary shelters they were allocated in 2012, activists said.
The protestors were originally displaced in the final phase of the fighting between the Government forces and the LTTE, and illegally detained at the Menik Farm internment camp, human rights activist Ruki Fernando, who visited the protestors on Tuesday told Daily FT.
Sumanthiran said that when Menik Farm was hurriedly shut down in September 2012, ahead of UNHRC sessions in Geneva the following month, these residents of Keppapilavu were relocated to temporary shelters at Seenimottai. “They were told it was temporary and dumped in the forest. A temporary measure from 2012 has now extended up to 2017,” he charged.
Activist Ruki Fernando explained that the residents were determined to go back to their original lands, because the temporary relocation site was far from the lagoon and cultivatable lands, which had affected their livelihoods.
TNA MP Sumanthiran said that the residents had occupied the lands in Keppapilavu since 1910, over 100 years before they were displaced by the war.
State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardane who replied the TNA Legislator in Parliament, said the Government was willing to meet with the Keppapilavu protestors. Some arrangement could be reached with the residents, the State Minister told Parliament.
Several representatives who participated in the protest will meet Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at Temple Trees today, to discuss their grievances. The discussion will take place after the Prime Minister and other senior Government officials meet with families of the disappeared who engaged in a hunger strike in Vavuniya last month.