COLOMBO: North Sri Lankan Tamil parties and the army are on a collision course over the controversial issue of land. While the Tamil parties are accusing the army of grabbing private lands, the latter is saying that it is only taking lands once held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), lands, which also do not have any other legal claimants.
On Wednesday, matters came to a head when the Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) organised a demonstration in Kilinochchi asking the army to vacate private lands. The demonstrators were even claiming the land on which the new headquarters of the army’s 58 Division now stands.
Army spokesman Brig.Ruwan Wanigasooriya told Express that the demonstrators had no case because the lands occupied by the army were those occupied by the LTTE. For example, the 58 Division’s HQ was built on the site where the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat stood.
“If there are any legal claimants with the necessary documents, the army will consider giving back the plot sought,” Wanigasooriya said.
“But as on date, there are either no legal claimants or there are conflicting claims,” he added.
But the TNA says that the army, navy as well as the Land Commissioner located in Colombo are arrogating lands to themselves by simply asking the Northern Administration to notify take overs. But the Northern Administration is divided into two warring camps. While the political leadership headed by the Chief Minister, the Ministers and the Provincial Council members are in one camp resisting take overs, the bureaucracy headed by the Governor is taking over lands merrily encouraged by the Central government in Colombo.
Although the 13 Amendment of the Lankan Constitution gives power over lands to the provincial governments, de facto, it is still with the Centre which acts through the provincial Governor, and the Provincial bureaucracy, which is controlled by the Governor.
“The Chief Minister has so far refused to sign on 22 requests for private lands made by the army saying that these are not for public purposes as he understands them,” said TNA’s spokesman, Suresh Premachandran.
On Tuesday Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi had asked Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to fully implement the 13th Amendment of the Constitution which devolves powers over land to the provinces. The 13th Amendment was enacted in 1987 as part of the India-Sri Lanka accord.