Nirmala Kannangara and Raisa Wickrematunge
Muslim families are also being resettled in the North – TNA MP Sivashakthi Anandan; Sinhalese families are being settled in the North, with state support in some instances – Premachandran; Systematically changing the demographics of the North is going against Government policy – DPF Leader Mano Ganesan
A systematic attempt to ‘Sinhalise’ areas in the North, especially in Vavuniya is underway, opposition parties charge.
Members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and even the Democratic People’s Front (DPF) said that in some instances Sinhalese families were being settled in predominantly Tamil areas with state support.
Meanwhile, the government claims that it is internally displaced Sinhalese who are being resettled in the Northern Province.
Sinhalese families being settled – TNA
TNA MP Suresh Premachandran said he had discovered evidence of Sinhalisation based on information collected from officials and residents during his visits to the Northern Province.
For instance, an area in Vavuniya known as Kokachankulam was a predominantly Tamil village, which also had a few Sinhalese families. The people in this area were mostly farmers, Premachandran said. During the war, the Sinhalese farmers were chased away by the LTTE and the Tamil farmers were chased away by the Army, he added.
However following the war, Sinhalese from the South had been settled in this village by the Army about a month ago, Premachandran said. Around 1,000 families had been settled in this manner, he added. Where once Kokachankulam was a Tamil division, it is now a Sinhalese one, he added, and has been renamed Kolobaswewa.
TNA MP Sivashakthi Anandan said the families being resettled in Kokachankulam were from Hambantota. He added that there were plans to settle another 1,000 Sinhalese families in the area as well.
In Weli Oya, Mullaitivu, 3,000 land projects have been given to Sinhalese farmers. Tamils once owned the land in this area. Some of them had permits and deeds as well to prove ownership, but were unable to return to their homes as they were now occupied by Sinhalese families. “Now these Tamils have no place to go and farm,” Premachandran said. He added that the President was aware of these farmers and yet had given Sinhalese families permission to farm there.
Meanwhile, the entire Munnikulam village in Mannar had been taken over by the Navy and their families, he added, while the people who originally had called this village home had no place to stay. Both Premachandran and Anandan stated that the result was that 2,200 families were living in temporary settlements in the jungle.
120 Sinhalese families had been registered with the Army in Navatturai, Jaffna. Premachandran said when he visited around 10 buildings were being constructed, while the rest of them were living in temporary shelters made out of roofing sheets. A woman at the site had told Premachandran that they were receiving support from Buddhist monks based in the South, who were giving them assistance to build houses.
There were more settlements along the Mannar-Medawachchiya road, with around 100 families being settled along the Madhu road area and approximately 50 families being resettled in Murunkan along the same road.
A number of Sinhalese families had also been resettled in Thaneermrippukulam in Mullaitivu, Premachandran said.
TNA MP Anandan further said that 2,500 acres of land had been given to the Sinhalese in Mullaitivu, with President Rajapaksa giving out deeds in the area. He added that land was being cleared with the apparent intention of settling Muslims in the Mullaitivu area, with land being cleared for this purpose. Land was also being cleared in the Manthai West area in Mannar, possibly for the resettlement of Muslims, he added. The army was clearing a 6 kilometre stretch by the side of the road, and he suspected it was to resettle more people in the area, he said.
10,000 acres of land were also being cleared in Karankalani in Vavuniya for resettlement.
Ganesan: Resettlement against policy
Democratic People’s Front Leader Mano Ganesan added that the demography of the North should not be systematically changed as it was contrary to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, which had a section devoted to the issue.
Yet people are ignoring the recommendations in the report, he said.
“People should understand the difference between colonization and immigration,” Ganesan said.
He added that land was generally divided with state assistance, in one of two ways. “Either forest land is cleared and offered to people, or border areas are artificially changed, so that more Sinhalese areas are annexed to the Northern province, thus making it more Sinhalese,” he said. The border areas in Trincomalee and Mullaitivu districts, for instance, were being artificially changed, so that more Sinhalese settlements were being merged into the districts. 3,000 families had been settled in a village called Kokillai. The TNA charged that the land deeds issued belonged to Tamils who had moved out of the country. However the land had been forcibly taken away from them and given to the Sinhalese instead, Ganesan said.
In addition the Kinniya hot springs, which are said to have been created by King Ravana in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, was now being occupied by a Buddhist monk. “The Tamil identity is being wiped away. It is totally against legislation,” Ganesan said.
Government refutes allegations
Chairman of the Resettlement Authority Buddhi Passaperuma said that there was no plan to Sinhalise the north, claiming that it was only the Sinhalese who had left the North and East during the war who were now being resettled.
“The re-settlement of the displaced should not be segregated by ethnicity. The areas that have been resettled should have people of all ethnic groups,” Passaperuma said.
“The government does not want to make resettlement of displaced Sinhalese an issue. When we have done so much for the Tamils after liberating them from the clutches of a ruthless terrorist organization it is a pity to note that the same Tamils are accusing the government of attempting to Sinhalise the North,” he said.
According to Passaperuma, the displaced Sinhalese were the last to be resettled while the Tamils were the first followed by the Muslims.
“We first resettled the IDPs that took refuge in welfare centres and then those who left the war torn areas during the height of the war. It is unfair by the government if the Tamil political parties are levelling baseless allegations as it is their sole responsibility to come up with encouraging ideas if they have any issues over the resettlement drive,” he said.
He queried as to why it was wrong to settle displaced Sinhalese in their native places when there were no restrictions for the Tamils to settle in any part of the country.
“Although Tamil politicians do not want the Sinhalese to settle in the North, they want their people to settle in other parts of the country. It is good that we have Tamils and Muslims in the South as we have been living amicably in the South over the past several decades. Why is this considered intimidation? We are one nation and live in one country. The freedom we got after crushing LTTE terrorism cannot be allow to be diminished,” claimed Passaperuma.
According to Passaperuma attempts to resettle all the displaced in the North was not successful since the Sinhalese still have a fear psychosis as they had to undergo severe hardships at the hands of the LTTE.
“After resettling the Tamils and the Muslims we requested all displaced Sinhalese to furnish their details and places where they were living before the war broke out. But still we have failed to get information from all these displaced Sinhalese. It is baseless for them to say that we have made Sinhalese colonies in the Northern Province when we really have failed to collect the real numbers,” said Passaperuma.
According to him at the request of many Tamils in the North, Sinhalese Government Agents are to be posted to the Northern Province.
“When I visit these areas most of the Tamils who are not known to me personally have requested that Sinhalese Government Agents are posted to Tamil areas. They say it is very easy to work with Sinhalese higher officials. Even one of our senior Administrative Officers – Lionel Fernando has been a Tamil friendly Government Agent in Jaffna. Also the Tamils have a high regard for the security forces as they know that they are well protected by these security personnel,” added Passaperuma.
When asked as to why the displaced Sinhalese are being resettled on forest and Mahaweli lands instead of where they were originally living, Passaperuma said that Forest Department and Mahaweli Authority have taken over the villages which have been overgrown for the past 30 years.
Forest land being cleared to resettle Sinhalese
However, reliable sources from the Mahaweli Authority and Forest Department on condition of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that none of the forests that are being cleared to settle the displaced Sinhalese were originally villages but were virgin tracts of forest land.
“The Government Agent of Vavuniya has requested several thousands of acres of land from the Forest Department and more than 2,000 acres of forest land from the Padaviya Forest Reserve. None of these forests were villages 30 years ago as claimed by the Re-settlement Ministry. Although we have not released lands from the Karunkalikulam Forest Reserve, the Resettlement Ministry has already settled more than 1,200 Sinhalese families from down South,” added the sources.
However Government Agent (District Secretary) Vavuniya Sumangala Harischandra said that he could not remember whether he had requested any forest land in the Karunkalikulam Forest Reserve in the Vavuniya District for a resettlement drive.
“Off-hand I cannot say whether I made a request from the Forest Department to release forest lands in the Karunkalikulam Forest Reserve but we are resettling Sinhalese in Bogaswewa in the Vavuniya South Divisional Secretariat area,” he said.
According to Harischandra while the displaced Sinhalese were residing all over the country most were living in the Southern Province