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'Stop the land grabs' - Tamil MPs decry ploy to steal Tamil land

Following a refusal by Sri Lanka's president to meet with them, Tamil parliamentarians from across the North East gathered in front of the President's office to protest the continued land grabs by the Mahaweli Authority and  Department of Archeology under the guise of archaeological protection.

For years Tamils have protested against the continued seizure of their homeland by Sri Lanka's military and Archeological Department under the pretext of preserving historical sites. Tamil MPs have decried these justifications as a ploy to steal traditional Tamil land. 

Last June these attacks on the Tamil homeland escalated with President Rajapaksa establishing an all Sinhala task force headed by the notorious war criminal and current Defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne. Whilst the composition of the committee has since changed it remains dominated by Sinhalese and focused on the preservation of Buddhist sites.

Commenting at the time, Jaffna-based Attorney, academic and civil society activist, Kumaravadivel Guruparan described the purpose of this task force as bolstering an image of a unified Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka.

“This is something they’ve been doing right throughout, no governments are really an exception in that they want to present the NE as a uni-national space, a uni-national Sinhala Buddhist nationalist space […] So that it goes hand in hand with the identification of Sri Lanka as a unitary state and negates the claim of the north and east as the homeland of the Tamil people”.

In March 2021, the Oakland Institute released a report which detailed the extent of the military land grabs that noted in Mullaitivu alone, the military has “acquired more than 16,910 acres of public and private land” and has set up “at least seven Army camps and five naval bases located just 15 km from the village of Alampil to the village of Kokkilai in Mullaitivu”.

The report further highlights that “in the Kuchchaveli DS Division of Trincomalee District, 340,33 acres of land were leased to seven Buddhist institutions for religious activities through a gazette notification issued on 2 October 2020”.

After many failed attempts to meet the president to discuss the on-going land grab issue, parliamentarians from the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), and the Thamizh Makkal Kootanii (TMK) attended the demonstration. The demonstration took place in the lead up to the 49th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Tamil MPs held placards in Tamil, English and Sinhala. 

TNA MP, Sumanthiran said "Thousands of acres have already been taken over by the government in the past year," 

He also added that, "Declaring areas as being archaeologically important is the ruse to take over lands traditionally farmed by Tamils in the area."

The president's office dismissed the Tamil politician's efforts on the basis that a prior appointment wasn't made; however, TNA MP Shanakiyan made it clear that they had arrived unannounced to meet the president as any attempt to schedule prior appointments with the president had been routinely rejected for the last three years.

Earlier this month, Kokkilai locals protested against illegal land grab attempts by a state-owned mineral company to appropriate land for the construction of an ilmenite mine. The month before, a Tamil activist protesting against illegal land grabs had been killed by a Sri Lankan navy vessel. Read more here and here.




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