Nearly 13 Members of Parliament (MPs) representing the Tamil-speaking people held a protest in front of the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (24), demanding an audience with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to raise issues about land grabbing occurring in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
“Today, 13 MPs are holding a protest in front of the Presidential Secretariat. We heard from our sources that the President is due to be at the Secretariat today. We have raised our land-related issues in Parliament on a number of occasions and have held protests in a number of places. However, this issue still has not been resolved. The issue has intensified. We cannot be patient anymore,” Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam told the media at the protest yesterday.
He explained that the Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority is distributing traditional cattle grazing land in the Eastern Province and that farmers from traditional farmlands are being evicted by the Forest Department. “Recently, we saw a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government MP taking some rocks belonging to the Archaeology Department from the North and the East. In the name of archaeology, even Hindu shrines have been removed and thrown away,” he added.
Rasamanickam said that yesterday, an official at the Presidential Secretariat had advised them to hand over a letter with their grievances but that a meeting with the President could only be given at a later date.
“We are not trade unions (TUs) or a village committee. We are MPs elected by the people. If you count the total votes that the 13 of us have obtained, it comes up to about 1.5 million votes. The President should remember that we are the people’s leaders of nearly 1.5 million people,” noted Rasamanickam.
Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani Leader and MP C.V. Wigneswaran, who was also present at the protest, said that in recent times, a “lie is being spread that traditional Sinhala Buddhist lands have been taken by Tamils.”
“You kicked our Tamil people out in 1958 and 1983,” added Wigneswaran.
Meanwhile, the MPs who were present, also claimed that an individual, who was not representing any media organisation, was videoing the protest. Video footage shows an individual in a red shirt being questioned by Rasamanickam and ITAK MP and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman and President’s Counsel (PC) M.A. Sumanthiran, and suspicions being raised over whether the individual represented the intelligence forces.
“This is the exact problem. If MPs are to face this in Colombo, you can imagine what Tamil youths have to face in the North and the East,” said Rasamanickam.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Media Division (PMD), in a statement issued yesterday, said that it is clear that the protest is a “conspiracy to paint a false assumption about the Government in light of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva, Switzerland”. The 49th regular session is due to begin in Geneva on 28 February, and an oral update about Sri Lanka will be given on 3 March.
“The TNA MPs did not give any prior notice about wanting a meeting with the President. The President has already gone to a pre-committed event. A time with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has been granted for the MPs but they continue to protest,” said PMD Spokesman Kingsley Rathnayaka.
However, Tweeting in response, Rasamanickam said that the TNA’s requests to meet the President by prior appointment have been continuously denied for nearly three years.
ITAK Parliamentarian and TNA Spokesman President’s Counsel (PC) M.A. Sumanthiran said on 31 January that Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris had assured that the meeting between the TNA leadership and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would “happen very soon”.
In June 2021, a meeting between TNA Leader and Parliamentarian R. Sampanthan and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was scheduled to be held at the Presidential Secretariat, but was cancelled at the eleventh hour. The TNA at the time said: “The Presidential Secretariat informed us a little while ago that tomorrow’s meeting has been postponed and that a new date and time will be notified soon.”