COLOMBO: The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is unlikely to hand back large chunks of land back to the Tamils until after the parliamentary elections in September this year, a highly placed official source said.
Land is a sensitive subject in Sri Lanka, which is why power over it is held by the Central government in Colombo, even though it is a Provincial subject under the 13 th. Amendment of the Constitution. Sensitivity is particularly high in the case of lands seized from the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces for strategic reasons during the war.
Handing back lands seized by the military for strategic reasons is fraught with great political risk, especially when a general election is round the corner. Therefore, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, which is committed to handing back lands which are not actually used by the military, will wait until the parliamentary elections are over in September, the source said.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Resettlement, D.M.Swaminathan, told Sunday Observer that as per Defense Ministry figures, the armed forces hold 44,548 acres of land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Out of these, 9,000 acres are in Jaffna district, and 9,000 acres are in Mullaitivu district. About 1,000 acres have been released in Jaffna, and 818 acres are to be released in Sampur in Trincomalee district.
Speaking to Express on Sunday, Swaminathan said: “We are not asking for all the lands taken by the armed forces. We are conscious of security imperatives. We only want lands which are not being used by the forces directly, and lands which are not used at all. We are also not asking for State lands, but privately owned lands for which the original owners have deeds.”
The Minister further said: “We may or may not get all the 18,000 acres we want now, but we are optimistic. This is because President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga (who heads the Taskforce on Reconciliation), are genuinely interested in giving back lands seized from the Tamils.”
There are 32 refugee camps in Jaffna district and three in Trincomalee. Swaminathan wants to close these, and resettle the inmates over 2,000 acres of land which he hopes to get from the military in the near future.
Transfer Of Sampur Land On Hold
Meanwhile, the 2,000 families who were to reoccupy 818 acres in Sampur in the Eastern Province, had been prevented from doing so because of a Supreme Court order.
The apex court had asked the parties to the dispute to maintain the status quo until the case is heard again on June 15, which meant that neither the peasants to whom the land originally belonged, nor the private company Sri Lanka Gateway Industries (SLGI) to which the land had been handed over by the Board of Investment (BOI), could take possession of the land for now.
The Lankan government had taken back the land from the SLGI to give it back to the original Tamil population because former had not made use of the land in any way, and the latter had lost the land because of the war.