The Sri Lankan army on Monday returned 54 acres of land in the fishing village of Myliddy in Jaffna peninsula to its original residents, after occupying it for nearly three decades.
Consequently, about 200 families living in welfare centres for the war-affected and with friends and relatives returned to where they lived before the country’s civil war displaced them. Fisher folk from the coastal village, who have for long sought access to the Myliddy fishing harbour, also in the military’s high security zone and out of reach, can finally fish there after years of struggle.
The army has released the land after taking into account security considerations, the government’s reconciliation efforts and the livelihoods of people, Jaffna army commander Major General Darshana Hettiarachchi told The Hindu. “Before releasing land, we assess the security situation, looking at whether there is any security threat in the area, or whether there is a possible LTTE resurgence. Asked about the current security situation, Mr. Hettiarachchi said: “It is 100 per cent okay”, adding that there was no threat of LTTE resurgence.
“There are some crimes such as burglary and robbery, which come under the purview of the police. ”
Residents have demanded that the remaining land in army control also be released soon.
According to the Ministry of Resettlement, the armed forces have so far released over 70,000 acres , amid a series of protests by residents in different parts of the Tamil-majority Northern Province. An official figure for land still under military-occupation was not available, but according to local estimates, around 4,700 acres in Jaffna peninsula are yet to be released.
After he was elected in 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena assured the northern Tamils that he would release their land as a step forward in reconciliation.
The Tamil National Alliance’s Jaffna district parliament M.A. Sumanthiran said on Monday the release of Myliddy fishing harbour was of symbolic significance. “The rest of the land must also be released, as per the promise of the #lka govt,” he tweeted.
Even after residents return, there is an evident need for infrastructure support. In Myliddy, for instance, none of the homes of the 200 families have survived the war.
“The Resettlement Ministry has a plan to build some houses, but we need a comprehensive housing scheme that covers all the displaced families of Myliddy,” Jaffna’s Government Agent (corresponds to the district collector in India) N. Vethanayahan said. Moreover, there are currently no schools or hospitals in the vicinity for Myliddy residents who have just returned. They have no choice but to continue attending schools far away, he pointed out.