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Monday, February 26, 2024

Is Jaffna our first military town? – Editorial, Ceylon Today

The prospect of ‘Gaza’ of the Sri Lankan kind emerging in the Northern territories is beginning to appear increasingly inevitable. The government’s decision to acquire well over 6,000 acres of privately owned land in the Jaffna peninsula has only made it look even more plausible an event in the aftermath of the 30-year-old war.

The seriousness of situation was reflected in a report and a statement released by two of the leading civil society organizations in the country, earlier this week. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in its Field Report on the Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts, warned that the persistence of land problems, recently compounded by policy directives, may lead to the dispossession of land of thousands, and called upon the government to take urgent steps to address this situation and to institute processes that are transparent, participatory and just.

The National Peace Council (NCP), in a strongly worded statement, pointed out that government moves to take over the land of the war-affected people has caused agitation and panic amongst the thousands of affected people in over 24 villages who continue to be displaced, and now stand to lose their lands forever. Pointing out that the situation has given rise to disaffection amongst the majority of people living in the Northern Province, it noted the promise made by the government shortly after the end of the war in May 2009, to resettle the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in their original places of residence.

The promise necessarily implied private land would be restored to their rightful owners and was one of the recommendations in the government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, it said, expressing its concern about the retreat of the government from promises it made, and the use of strong arm action against the people using the security forces.
A political solution to the so-called Northern ethnic problem has been an evasive issue for as long as one can remember. The mutual North-South distrust and doubts about the intentions, strategies and tactics on the fields of education, land settlement, social assimilation and political power-sharing, have eaten into the once-cordial relations that existed between the leaders of the two communities, particularly at the turn of the 20th century.

Successive governments since Independence have tried but failed to bring about a lasting settlement to this festering national malaise. Instead of introducing some middle-ground reconciliatory measures in order to attain peace and co-existence between these ‘warring’ ethnic groups, leaders of each party have chosen to play to the ancient drums of ethnic superiority-claims, buttressed and propagated by their pseudo-historical legends and scriptures.

The results have been gruesomely negative to the well-being of either party’s advance in society in particular, and economically disastrous to the country at large. A 30-year war and its successful closure with a resounding victory for the majority people of Sri Lanka and her security forces ideally should have led to a more magnanimous response from the victor. On the contrary, the flagrant indulgence in triumphalism and the sheer humiliation that this triumphalism is causing to the psyche of a vanquished people should be deplored by every patriot in this country of ours.

The latest efforts, via the Land Acquisition Act and its Chapter 2, by the government to grab the lands legally and legitimately owned by the people of the Northern territories are not helping the reconciliation process that has been recommended by the LLRC.

Given the fact that the government has given an undertaking to the international community that it would abide by the recommendations proposed in the LLRC Report, it is vital the government makes every effort to fulfil that undertaking. However, if, on the other hand, it opts to do just the opposite, it will only succeed in making matters worse and propel the country back to a time when the war drums determined the country’s progress. Should that happen, it’s not only the Northerners who would turn against the government but the Southerners too will erupt in unison for the cause of peace.



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