[Present PM Ranil W. participating in a Agitation for land by displaced people of North Walikamam in Jafna Feb 2013; Image by NAFSO]
Trying to address some of the prolonged grievances of the war-ravaged Tamil people in the North, a top Sri Lanka Minister said that the new government has given priorities to the issues of resettling thousands of people in their native villages in Valikamam North in Jaffna and the release of several hundreds of Tamil political prisoners.
Newly-appointed Minister of Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu Religious Affairs D.M Swaminathan said that his ministry was working on resettling Valikamam North people in their own lands “that are not being used by the armed forces, but remain under the control of the armed forces”.
“So, we have written to the Defence Ministry, the President and the Prime Minister to intervene in this matter so that we can give these lands back for resettlement of the Valikamam North people, who have got title deeds for the said premises,” he told Colombo Mirror via phone.
“The army has built many hotels and golf links in that security zone area. There are many areas which have been not properly utilised by the army. We don’t want to disturb the army camps but assessing whether the lands which are pertaining to the army camps but not used for the specific purpose of the armed forces, could be released for the resettlement for the people of the area who have got relevant deeds and all documentations to go into accommodations there,” he said.
He said that the government was also considering to release the people who have been kept in custody for many years without proper charge-sheets being served.
“If there are no charges against them, we are trying to appeal to the President and the Army Commander whether they could be released and be sent to their own homes without further delays,” Minister Swaminathan said.
According to official statistics, nearly 6400 acres of civilians land comprising 24 Grama Sevaka divisions in Valikamam North is occupied by the security forces over the past three decades. Thousands of families have been made permanent refugees as a result. No efforts were taken by the deposed regime to resettle them even five years after the war.
Minister said that he has already discussed matters pertaining to the resettlement with Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Suresh Premachandran, the European Union and also with the UNHCR.
“There are all willing to help us in best possible ways. We are forwarding a report to the UNHCR and the EU, and they are willing to build houses, sanitation, schools and other infrastructure facilities for these people to get back to their homes,” he said.
He said that the government was also exploring possibilities whether Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu could return. Claiming that UNHRC has come forward to be partner to this project, he said about 40 families are expected to return Sri Lanka from India within the next two weeks.
“If we can hopefully get these issues sorted within the 100-day program, then we will be reasonably successful in rendering some service to the community at large,” Minister Swaminathan, who is also the chairman of the United National Party (UNP) said.