BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sri Lankan government forces may never return swathes of land taken from ethnic Tamils during a decades-long civil war, land and human rights experts said on Friday, further impoverishing tens of thousands uprooted in the bloody conflict.
“Anthony Quinn lost his home to the Sri Lankan army at age 17. He’s now 45. He badly limps in injury from shelling during the long war that ended with the government forces crushing the separatist Tamil Tigers. Ever since the military seized his family’s house near the airport of Jaffna, the provincial capital of the north where the fighting raged, Quinn has lived in assorted crude encampments – no privacy, no sanitation. In this one with its barking dogs and corrugated tin walls, he raised four children.”
A Sri Lankan soldier was on Thursday sentenced to death for killing eight Tamil civilians, including four minors, by slitting their throats in Jaffna nearly 15 years ago, in a rare case of the military being held to account for its actions.
ELLIPALLAI, 19 June 2015 (IRIN) – As a young girl, Kasthuri Udayakumaran’s grandmother would tell her of a house where birds chirped as the morning sunlight streamed through the thick foliage of a peaceful village. It seemed like a fantasy, a world away from her home in the northern city of Jaffna where soldiers manned checkpoints and claymore mines exploded on dusty streets.
Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province, and it is also the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna District located on a peninsula of the same name. At one time Jaffna’s population exceeded 85,000. However, by today the number has been reduced to 60,030 and the total population in the Northern Province, which once showed as 734,000 (1981) at present stands at 614,428, according to the Jaffna District Secretariat.
After the end of the war against the LTTE in May 2009, the government began its mega development programs in the Northern Province and the Security Forces also left most of the lands which they were using during the operation period.
“A pristine white building with a classy brown wooden finish overlooks the blue Indian Ocean at Kankensanthurai, about 19 km from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. It’s a luxury resort, and on Sunday mornings, families come here for a meal, a swim in the pool, and to play on the beach. Foot-tapping music plays at the restaurant, and DJs are hired for corporate-sponsored parties.
The owner and operator of this beachfront property, called the Thalasevana holiday resort, is the Sri Lankan Army. It is one of the many commercial establishments that the Sri Lankan armed forces — numbering a massive 300,000 uniformed personnel in this small country of about 2 crore — own.”
“The UN Human Rights Commission’s decision to investigate violations and the huge loss of life during the last months of the war concluded in 2009 was a significant victory for the victims. The dignity of the victims required that the truth must be told without fear or favour, and processes of justice and restoration set in motion. And the wrong was not all on one side. Dignity also demands that we await the verdict of the judges with restraint and reverence for the name of justice.”
Sri Lanka’s new government plans to return private land seized by the military in the civil war-ravaged north and release several hundred detainees, a minister said, in an apparent move toward reconciliation with ethnic minority Tamils. Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters late Wednesday that the government of new President Maithripala Sirisena will ease its military presence, and that unlike the previous administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa that was defeated in the Jan. 8 election, does not believe military action alone can prevent a resurgence of the rebels. “Especially for the north, we don’t think we need all that security. Our entire concept will be different,” he said. “About the lands in the north … we have already decided whatever acquired for business purposes, other than the security purposes, to give back to the owners.” He said the administration of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the civil war, was always concerned about a resurgence of the group. “We don’t think you can stop an LTTE resurrection (just) with an army,” he said. “So spending on security will be very moderate.”
So if someone says, ‘Let’s forgive and forget, it’s time for a new Sri Lanka’, we should say to them: We can forgive, but we must never forget; there is no new Sri Lanka without the old; we cannot build a future that does not acknowledge the past; we will not live in a nation in which we have not all, without exception, been given the chance to rebuild our lives, and the very luxury of the choice to forgive.
The National Democratic Front (NDF) yesterday said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s attempt to hijack the electoral process by abusing military and government power at yesterday’s Presidential Election had failed badly due to the indefatigable efforts of the Polls Chief and the Inspector General of Police.
“The vote is an indication that the campaign for democracy, reconciliation and demilitarisation has emerged victorious. But we have a tremendous challenge. I am compelled to say that the North has voted for change. It is our duty to deliver the freedom for the people. The women in the North who are tillers of the land want their rights. Their faces and tears once again reminded me of the difference between my reality and their life experiences. The massive difference of votes between the swan and the beetle leaf in the Tamil homeland has to be understood properly. Sinhala political leader who are going to lead this country towards changhe has been trusted by them to take them towards this new future. I hope and pray we will not let them down.
I salute the citizen’s of Sri Lanka for igniting their conscience after several years.”
In less than a week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka will be facing the toughest political battle of his life as the country votes in the presidential elections on January 8. The Sinhala strongman, credited with ending a 30-year war against the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009 was expected to have a cakewalk until one of his closest colleagues Maithripala Sirisena walked out of the ruling combine and mounted a credible challenge after the fragmented opposition rallied around him.