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Locals fear environmental damage and police brutality as illegal sand mining steps up

Illegal sand mining has been tearing down trees and causing massive environmental damage around the Per Aru river, said locals in Mullaitivu as they feared the long term consequences of the practice.

The problem of illegal sand mining has been long standing across the North-East, but has stepped up since the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka’s president last year. Government-backed paramilitary organisations are amongst those known to have engaged in the practice, which has led to long-standing environmental damage across the region.

Locals in Mullaitivu reported illegal sand mining activity increasing, particularly around the edges of the Per Aru river, which has led to damage to the banks and the tearing down of trees. After appeals from locals, Oddusuddan police reportedly intervened in halting such activity last month, with at least two vehicles and the drivers detained.

The issue of illegal sand mining has been a focal point of tension between Tamils and the Sri Lankan security forces in recent years. Tamil groups say the police use the issue as a guise to target and surveillance communities, accusing police departments of taking bribes to protect actual perpetrators.

Just last month, an unarmed Tamil man was shot dead by the Sri Lankan army during a purported confrontation about sand mining. To date, no one has been held to account.

Raising concerns about the damage caused by illegal sand mining can also be life-threatening. In 2010, Ketheeswaran Thevarajah, a Tamil youth who was documenting the environmental damage caused by the EPDP’s sand mining operation in Vadamarachchi was shot dead.

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