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Britain highlights lack of land release as 'major source of discontent'

The British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka spoke on the importance of returning land to its rightful owners at the launch of a British funded documentary and report on the Sri Lankan military’s occupation of land in the North-East.

British High Commissioner James Dauris said his government was pleased to support a new report by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) that found over 12,500 acres of land remained occupied by the Sri Lankan military and called for reparations and the restitution of land to its rightful owners.

Also supported by the British was a documentary by Kannan Arunasalam entitled ‘Sampur’, examining the struggle of Tamils in the Eastern Province to reclaim back land occupied by the Sri Lankan military.

Land is deeply and emotionally linked to family and identity,” said Mr Dauris. “It is not just a socio-economic issue. Land issues unresolved can become major sources of discontent and inhibit efforts to reconcile people and heal wounds.”

“We warmly welcome the return of land by the Sri Lankan government to its rightful owners,” he continued.

Watch the full documentary below.

The Sri Lankan navy released a tranche of land that it had occupied for almost a decade in Sampur last month, but pledged not to let the move affect troop deployment in the area as it moved into a larger base in the area. Though the land has been handed back to the Governor of the Eastern Province Austin Fernando, it is yet to be released to the original Tamil owners, who have been displaced and living in camps for almost a decade.

Following the Sri Lankan military occupation of Sampur in 2006, Tamil National Alliance leader R Sampanthan called the establishment of the High Security Zone there a “blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of the Tamil people”.

He also said he was concerned “because of the impression that is sought to be created by certain very highly placed Government persons that this Sampoor area was indeed a Sinhalese village in ancient times”.

Some 60,000 Tamils were displaced in the Eastern Province by the massive Sri Lankan military offensive in 2006, which was preceded by an 18 month long economic blockade and triggered a humanitarian crisis. At the time, LTTE political officials slammed the invasion as a severe breach of the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Since the displacement, Tamils have repeatedly staged demonstrations calling to be resettled in their original lands.

In our September 2006 editorial the Tamil Guardian said:

“But the occupation of Sampur marks the first forcible occupation of territory since the truce. And it has taken place at a horrendous civilian cost. An estimated 60,000 Tamils are displaced in the east. The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of Muslims there also and tens of thousands more people in Kilinochchi and Jaffna. Sri Lanka's justification of this onslaught - that it was necessary to protect Trincomalee harbour - is utterly spurious. By the same logic, any offensive against LTTE can be justified - to safeguard Batticaloa, Jaffna, Vavuniya, even Colombo. What does the CFA mean then?"

“Expectations of the international community have never been greater than now. The question is what value can be placed on the international promises which have underpinned the peace process thus far. Can the international community get Sri Lanka to respect the CFA? Can it ensure the over 200,000 people displaced in the recent violence receive desperately needed help, despite Sri Lanka's punitive blockade on relief agencies and supplies? Press reports say the Co-Chairs are scheduled to meet next week. In the meantime, large numbers of people, mainly Tamils, are caught in a humanitarian crisis which has been deliberately engineered by Sri Lanka. The dynamics of the infamous 'war for peace' have resumed in earnest.”

Read the full piece here: The Crunch (06 Sep 2006)

Also see more in our earlier posts:

Over 12,500 acres of land occupied by Sri Lankan military in Northern Province – CPA (30 Mar 2016)

Sri Lankan navy leaves Tamil land to move into bigger base (29 Mar 2016)

Sirisena visits Trincomalee, announces release of military occupied lands (22 Aug 2015)

Sri Lanka's supreme court cancels stay order on Sampur land (21 May 2015)

Sampur resident begins hunger-strike demanding Sri Lanka to return appropriated land (19 May 2015)

Sampur land release blocked by Supreme Court (16 May 2015)

Sri Lanka shifts navy camp in Sampur, pledges to release land (09 May 2015)

Sri Lankan government pledges to return 818 acres in Sampur (24 Mar 2015)

IDPs urge TNA to reclaim their appropriated land (10 Dec 2013)

New eastern security zone 'discriminates against Tamils' (04 Jul 2007)

60,000 Tamils despair (06 Sep 2006)

Rajapakse hails Sampoor ‘capture’ (06 Sep 2006)