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Occupation of land will ‘never lead to reconciliation’ warns Chief Minister

Chief Minister of the Northern Province C V Wigneswaran said attempts by the Sri Lankan military to hold on to land in the North-East will “never lead to reconciliation” at a speech in Jaffna on Saturday.

Speaking at a ceremony where 700 acres of land where handed back to Tamil civilians in Jaffna, the chief minister said that “the return of even one acre of land to the owners by those who are not entitled to hold on to it, is to be welcomed” noting that “As soon as the War was over, steps should have been taken for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) which is an integral part of post conflict peace consolidation”.

He added that more land must be released, stating the military cannot continue “point to the Militants to enable them to continue to hold on to any property without handing them over to the legitimate owners”.

“Any attempt by the Military to hold on to such land would create the perception among our people that they are being held forcibly by an Occupational army,” he added. “The Sinhalese would then be continued to be looked upon as aliens who have forcibly taken possession of their traditional lands. This could never lead to reconciliation.”

“Every person displaced because of the war must be allowed to get back to his/her land, trade, profession or means of livelihood,” continued the chief minister. “That is sacrosanct.”

The chief minister's comments came as protestors in Jaffna blocked attempts by the Sri Lankan military to survey an area of land which was reportedly due to be taken over by the government

The issue of occupied land in the North-East was also highlighted by the UN Human Rights Chief last month who called on Sri Lanka’s military to return land that it is occupying in the Tamil North-East. "The military needs to accelerate the return of land it has seized and is still holding to its rightful owners," he said after concluding a visit to the North-East. "While some land has been returned in the Jaffna and Trincomalee areas, there are still large tracts which can and should be swiftly given back. Once the land has been given back, the remaining communities of displaced people can — if given the necessary assistance — return home, and a lingering sore will have been cured once and for all."

At the ceremony, which was attended by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and several military commanders, Justice Wigneswaran also touched on the issue of an international accountability mechanism for mass atrocities committed during the final stages of the armed conflict.

Referring to Sri Lanka's former army commander Sarath Fonseka’s comments, Justice Wigneswaran said that he was “glad the Field Marshall has called for an International Inquiry into the War Crimes”. Mr Fonseka said the military “should not shy away from any investigation” and “should not resent foreign participation” in comments to parliament last week.

The recently appointed minister also said that he was 100% sure the army as a whole did not commit any war crimes in the final stages of the armed conflict, as he "was monitoring each and every progress day and night".

See our earlier posts:

100% sure army did not war crimes says Fonseka (05 Mar 2016)

Low ranking officers could have been responsible says Fonseka (11 Mar 2016)

See the full text of Justice Wigneswaran's speech on Colombo Telegraph here.