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Extracts from Chapter 9:

Whose Country?


9.1 Resettlement or Robbery?

…Now, the principal question determining the position of the people who have lived and worked in their native surroundings becomes: to whom does the land presently belong? 

Method in the Madness

The PTF’s agenda is evident in its attitude toward Tamils who have been displaced for twenty years or longer from the environs of the Palaly military base. To this day, many of the families live in cramped semi-permanent camps for the displaced (so-called “welfare centres”). A UNHCR report of late 2011, quoting the government agent (GA), gave their number as 7,500 persons. The angry PTF Secretary wrote to the GAs on 27th October 2011 demanding, in effect, that they keep these persons off the record: “The Government has already declared that that there are no more welfare centres in the Northern Province [other than the two villages in Mani[k] Farm housing Mullaitivu refugees to be resettled]… In case you deemed it necessary to identify some families as IDPs, you must give details of such families as quickly as possible…All your officers…should be advised not to circulate any reports contrary to the above instructions. You should take personal responsibility to implement these decisions.” For the violently displaced, an erasure of their records means the cessation of rights to their lands.

The Supreme Court judgment over Valikamam North in 2006, points to the Defence Ministry’s acquisitions being tantamount to banditry (Ch.7.11). The Supreme Court had the title deeds checked and confirmed the rights of the owners to their lands.

But the acquisition of land has continued. On 10th April 2013 several notices were posted by the Land Development Ministry seeking to acquire about 6,400 acres of land in the North under the Land Acquisition Act for building military establishments, including military-owned holiday resorts. The pretext was always the same: The owners, though recognised by the courts, ‘could not be traced’. Any hope in legal remedies has been laid to rest as the Army has continued demolishing houses in the Valikamam North high security zone in contempt of the court order.

Divaratne’s ordering of the GAs to suppress records of the displaced is evidence of theft. The PTF continually solicits donor funds for rehabilitation. Is this paying the wolf to rehabilitate the sheep pen?

9.2 The LLRC, Aid and Resettlement Games: Weli Oya and Musali


In the run up to the long-delayed elections to the Northern Provincial Council, scheduled for September 2013, the ranks of the regime grew increasingly hysterical in denouncing land and police powers the Council would exercise even though they were limited. This hysteria appears strange given the Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which concluded in November 2011: “The land policy of the Government should not be an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given Province. In the case of inter provincial irrigation or land settlement schemes, distribution of State land should continue to be as provided for in the Constitution of Sri Lanka (9.124).


The Commission also recommends that strict controls be applied to prevent any alienation of State land other than for IDPs, except where State land is required for other approved purposes, until the proposed programme is implemented (9.140).”


Implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations had been insisted on by the UN Human Rights Council in a resolution in March 2013.  The Government had even appointed a Task Force in May 2012 to oversee the implementation.                                                                                                 


The catch was where the blame would be laid for demographic changes resulting from displacement, and how they could be used by the State to pursue repopulation in the guise of resettlement. As for blame, the LLRC left little room for doubt. It used the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ ten times, always in relation to the LTTE: “By 1987 there were no Sinhalese residents left in Jaffna. The LTTE had begun its programme of ethnic cleansing (6.22)” and “the country did not suffer large scale displacement till the LTTE began its separatist terrorist campaign (6.28).” The same message was repeated in the Government’s statistical report EVE – 2011, which was also published in mid-November 2011.


Selective histories are dangerous, especially when they isolate the LTTE’s violence from the larger scheme of violence initiated by the State. The Sinhalese of Jaffna were caught up in a web of suspicion in a trigger happy environment to which all armed parties contributed. Their insecurity escalated after the random shooting spree of the Army, in the wake of the July 1983 violence, killing several scores of civilians.


Ethnic cleansing actually began in Sri Lanka much earlier, against Tamils in the Gal Oya scheme in 1956 with the blessings of the ruling party, and was repeated during subsequent rounds of communal violence. Ethnic cleansing using the security forces in murder and pillage was an innovation of the Government. The LLRC reports that ‘6 villages out of the 16 [Sinhalese] v=illages [in Weli Oya] were permanently evacuated…’ It skirts the fact that the area concerned was previously called by the Tamil name Manal Aru, from which the Army evicted Tamils by premeditated murder in late 1984 (see Appendix 7).


The LLRC expressed concern about the discrepancy between the numbers of Sinhalese in different northern districts in the 1981 census and the numbers returned according to administrative records, but evinced no interest in the numbers of Tamils evicted from Manal Aru in the same period (mid 1980s) and those who have returned and got back their lands.


Once the war ended, the security forces had been setting the stage for the next move through forcible land acquisitions. In the wake of the LLRC and EVE -2011 reports, the PTF Secretary claimed in his letter to UN agencies and INGOs of 21st December 2011 that ‘resettlement in the North has been a success story’ with almost all post April 2008 IDPs resettled (LLRC 6.31[1]). (He earlier saw red and warned the GAs by letter (27th October ibid.) when the UNHCR reported nearly 40,000 IDP families in the North living with host families.) Citing the ‘success story’ the PTF prioritised the resettlement of those displaced before 1995 with particular mention of Sinhalese displaced by LTTE attacks; and by another letter the following day, sought aid on an urgent basis for Sinhalese displaced from Weli Oya (Manal Aru). The letter said:

The villages in Welioya were old villages occupied mainly by second and third generation of Padaviya settlers. As this area is within the greater Mahaweli zone, subsequently Welioya was gazetted as system "L” of Mahaweli…However, from 1984 onward there had been sporadic LTTE attacks and most of the settlers had abandoned the project and moved to Padaviya scheme to live with their relatives. With the conclusion of the 30 years of conflict and establishment of law and order, people started to return.” 

By contrast, many poor Sinhalese, returned post-war, had an admirable fidelity to the truth – acknowledging that in earlier times Weli Oya had been a Tamil area. That kind of truthfulness is essential to ethnic reconciliation. Some of their leaders said recently to an aid agency: “We initially entered the Weli Oya region in 1984. Prior to this the area was used as an open prison…Prior to the establishment of the open prison Tamil paddy cultivating communities have been living in this area. Ethawetunu-wewa was previously known as “Ana Kondarum”. Some villagers mentioned Dimbulagala Thera, a monk used by the Mahaveli Authority in land aggression (see Arrogance of Power). 

The former Tamil residents who were evicted in 1984 (Appendix 9) were brought back for resettlement in 2011, but were not given back their farm lands. Two years after being ‘resettled’ the Tamils in Kokkutoduwai Central contacted the Divisional Secretary for Weli Oya (a newly created Sinhalese division). The latter refused to let them resume farming activity.


Meanwhile, in early March 2013, the Japanese government pledged US $ 4 million to UN-Habitat for rehabilitation of conflict affected areas in the North. At this point PTF Secretary Divaratne announced plans to ‘resettle’ 15,000 Sinhalese in the North.


Uthayan reported (11 Apr. 2013) that in a public petition to the President, displaced Tamil residents stated that 2,540 acres earlier planted by 656 Tamil families in Kokkilai, Kokkuthoduwai, and Karnatukerni had been taken over by Sinhalese. In late 1984 and early 1985, about 200 Tamils, including wives and children of farmers, were massacred by the security forces (end of Ch.10, and Appendix 9) and most of the remaining families fled.


We checked with the Statistical Handbooks for Mullaitivu District, 1985 and 1986. The Army’s depredations caused 1,875 acres of paddy land and 2,000 acres of high land (mainly coconut) coming under the Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services, Kokkuthoduwai, to be abandoned. The farming population in Kokkuthoduwai and Alampil declined by 999 families: from 1,344 families to 345. About 614 of the families found work in Kumulamunai to the north. In Mullaitivu District as a whole, the number of farming families fell by 2,000, to 14,500. Such long term losses in production, much of it wanton, are not accounted for in the true cost of government ‘defence’ expenditure.

In mid-May 2013, the Government surreptitiously brought 200 destitute Sinhalese families from far away places as Matale and Badulla to Manal Aru in Mullaitivu, and the Mahaveli Authority gave them each half an acre of land with a promise of a further acre of irrigated land. Subsequently Mahaveli officials directed these Sinhalese to the lands earlier used by the Tamils to clear the lands for the further acre promised to them.

On 11th August 2013, Tamil farmers in possession of land rights went to Suhantha-murippu and Erichchankadu in Manal Aru and prepared to resume farming. The owners were approached by Sinhalese who said that the Mahaveli Authority had given them the lands and asked the Tamils to vacate. They summoned Mahaveli officials who rushed there and chased the Tamils away, warning them that they are not allowed beyond Kottaikerni, and if they trespass, the Police would be summoned to deal with them. The Tamils are now confronted with apartheid laws barring them from land that was theirs.


The Mahaveli Authority told the Tamils that if they produce deeds to their lands, they could be given some consideration, but none would be given to those with permit lands.[2] Many people had lost their deeds through many years of displacement at short notice and the Kacheri land records have been lost. These Tamils expelled by state violence and rendered displaced for 29 years were brought back for the PTF to claim they were ‘resettled,’ thereby enabling them to ask donors for more cash, while leaving the Tamils destitute.


April 2013 saw an interesting instance of the Government placing the Tamils and Muslims at loggerheads to advance Sinhalese settlement. The Women’s Action Network[3] reported that Minister Rishard Bathiudeen brought 7000 Muslims to Mulliawalai as supposedly the natural increase of 1300 Muslims displaced by the LTTE in 1990 (impossibly high if the original population was 1300) and arranged for 800 acres of forest to be cleared to accommodate them.  The result was a quarrel between Muslims and Tamils, many of the latter either landless or deprived of their lands after the war. Nearby meanwhile, about the same time, on 20th April, President Rajapakse issued 3000 land deeds to Sinhalese settlers (an estimated 6000 acres) urging them to bring forth a ‘golden harvest’.[4]


Contrary to the LLRC recommendations cited above, the Mahaveli Authority, which has from the 1980s functioned as the legal foil for violent Sinhalisation now presumes to give the Tamils’ lands to those with no claims to them. It could have restored the lands of the Tamil displaced, but that would defeat the very purpose of its existence.[5]


The Face of Administrative Anarchy: The Government is now attempting to push the same agenda in Musali Division, South Mannar District, which has a majority Muslim population, besides Tamils. Resettlement there is incomplete and the Navy’s takeover of Mullikulam to facilitate Sinhalese settlement exacerbated the problem of displacement (307 families including 166 from Mullikulam – LLRC).


In 2012 the Government posted Sinhalese as government agents to Vavuniya and Mannar, and recreated the new Weli Oya Sinhalese Division in Mullaitivu, clearly with an eye to Sinhalising the land administration for large scale Sinhalese settlement. The LLRC knowingly or otherwise readied the ground for this move. Take the following from its report:


“The transformations that occurred in…occupation and use of land due to the ongoing conflict as well as the LTTE’s manipulation of land settlement, administration and record keeping systems through intimidation and violence, necessitated the launching of a corrective and legitimizing mechanism (6.32)… The data presented above indicate that the progress of resettlement of displaced Sinhalese families in all of the districts in the Northern Province is slow. It may be prudent to review the process of resettlement of evicted Sinhala families in the [North] including the Jaffna district (6.49). Some civil administration officers in the East are allegedly supporting the land claims of families settled by the LTTE as against the claims of original permit holders (6.77). The Commission recommends effective supervision of civil administration officers tasked with [land matters] by the respective Government Agents (6.104).”


The build up is dangerously one-sided – the actions that apparently need correction are all those of Tamil officials. It logically follows from attributing to the LTTE a monopoly over ethnic cleansing and all the worst evils. And who is to do the correcting? – No doubt Sinhalese officials from the same partisan and politicised state bureaucracy.


Had the LLRC gone deeper, it would have found that the land problem in the East is not about abuse by crypto-Tiger administrators. Like elsewhere in Sri Lanka, administrators follow instructions from powerful persons, who periodically changed insurance policy to be in official favour. As for the slowness of settling Sinhalese in Jaffna, it is now clear that nearly all Sinhalese the Government seeks to settle in the North had are simply poor folk with no previous connection to the North, but were politically canvassed and dispatched with promises of reward by parties in the government. Over four score such Sinhalese were dumped in Navatkuli, on land belonging to the Housing Development Authority. They have been assigned land by the Army bypassing the Housing Authority and local government in Jaffna. The Army further obstructs landless Tamils from acquiring land there. As in Weli Oya, these Sinhalese settlements take the form of camp followers and are not about relief of poverty. The LLRC can hardly be serious in calling upon the government to check abuses concerning land.


These Sinhalese settlements are part of the rationale for control by a regime that seeks to concentrate wealth in a clique. Tisaranee Gunasekera observed: “Sri Lanka is becoming a hungrier place. According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index, Sri Lanka’s hunger-score is 15.6. This marks a worrying increase from the 2012 score of 14.4; it is also the highest hunger-score since 2007…For years, experts have been warning about unacceptably high rates of malnutrition in general and child-malnutrition in particular in Sri Lanka. Sadly these warnings were ignored by the regime (Colombo Telegraph 17.Oct.2013).”


The LLRC said in reference to the bygone LTTE regime, it is important to ensure that illegal land transfers and alienation triggered by violence, intimidation and ethnic cleansing are not allowed to be perpetuated or institutionalized (6.101).” The LLRC could not have been blind to the fact that even the worst possible sins of the LTTE in this regard have been committed by Sri Lankan governments on a far grander scale. It recorded testimony on the Supreme Court judgment on High Security Zones which the Defence Ministry violates with impunity. The LLRC failed to question the need for sprawling high security zones swallowing up centuries-old agricultural lands.


Even worse the LLRC was blind to the enormity that is Weli Oya. The State murdered people, chased them away from their livelihoods and placed a legal stamp on the acquisition by gazette notification. Can anyone who stands for the rule of law accept this travesty of legality? Was this not the precedent for the Sampoor land heist (Ch.8) and numerous others that have further made the security forces a law unto themselves?


However, the Government had not reckoned that Sinhalese administrators with a sense of decency may land it in a crisis. The Government ordered the Mannar Government Agent (GA) Sarath Ravindra, a Sinhalese, to settle 500 Sinhalese families in Musali DS Division urgently. According to reports, Ravindra, and the Divisional Secretary (DS) of Musali Division, Mr. Ketheeswaran, refused to register nearly 900 names the Government sent them as they were registered in Anuradhapura and none of them had evidence of having been displaced from Mannar District.


The GA, Ravindra, was transferred out just after a year, like his respected Tamil predecessor, and replaced by an ex-military officer M.Y.S. Devapriya on 12th July 2013. Among the reported reasons why GA Ravindra refused to carry out the Government’s instruction are that it is contrary to LLRC Recommendations 9.124 and 9.140 above. Within four days of assuming office Deshapriya, had a meeting with Ketheeswaran in the company of Brigadier Mervin Silva and promptly ordered him to ‘identify suitable land to relocate 500 [Sinhalese] families’ with additional ‘land to be reserved for future development purpose[s]’ and surveying and registration of ‘displaced persons’ to be completed in a week. A Major Gunasena was placed at Ketheeswaran’s elbow as coordinating officer to jog his compliance.


Events leave little room for doubt that this ‘resettlement’ is about the Defence Ministry’s agenda to change the demographic balance of minority areas it gained control of during the war. Reports from trusted sources say that in Hambantota, the President’s base where his attentions have wrought severe environmental damage, the government is canvassing Sinhalese to move to the North with offers of cash, housing and government jobs. We had similar reports from Kegalle and Bentota: two acres of land in the North on condition of permanent settlement. A source from Kegalle said that three of his friends went, but got less than two acres.


What then of the war-affected in whose name rehabilitation was undertaken? Sinhalese unaffected by the war coming to the North are offered half an acre for residence and one acre of paddy land, even though promises of water given to them are highly dubious. Landless Tamil survivors are promised a mere quarter acre of land and exceptionally to a half in places like Mantai. Soon they would be confronted with dire water shortages and kidney disease, which is already rife in Anuradhapura District.


The LLRC having credited the Government with fighting a clean war, has glossed over the needs of Vanni survivors and has blamed the LTTE for all the ills of Sinhalese and Muslims without mentioning that the Tamils suffered even more from the State as well as the LTTE. It has not confronted the fact that a large segment of the population in the Vanni, over 20 percent, was killed by the combined efforts of the Military and the LTTE, mainly the former. Is there any sense of decency in the Government’s wanting to settle a comparable number of Sinhalese in their place to injure the survivors even further? 


Not all arms of the State were indifferent to numbers: “The number of registered electors in 2011 in the Vanni district comprising Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu electorates was 221,409, down from 236,449, in 2010 and 270,707 in 2009 (Sunday Times, 26 Aug.2012)”. And so, upon discovery after the war of the disappearance of tens of thousands of electors, representation for the Vanni was reduced by one seat!


9.3 Land-grabs Weli-Oya Style: Even Sinhalese not Spared

Along with many other communities, the harsh reality of blatant robbery has confronted the people of Kepapulavu, Mullikulam, Sampoor and Valikamam North whenever they try to assert their rights over what is legally theirs. What worse response could these people receive than to be told – by their supposed armed defenders – that even in instances of pressing necessity, they cannot shelter in their own homes?

An elder from Navy-occupied Mullikulam heard just such a response when summoned to his village for a meeting with the Defence Secretary and the Mullikulam people’s spiritual mentor, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. The elder said: “The Cardinal never even visited our church or spoke to our children. He came directly to the Navy Head Quarters for the meeting and left soon after. On my way to the meeting, it was pouring with rain. As I was exhausted when passing my old home, I asked a Navy officer there if I could take shelter from the rain there as it was where I used to live. He refused and told me that I’d better continue on my way.”[6]

Others are forced into “temporary” shelters, which become permanent, when the Government seeks to displace them from their ancestral homes. For example, the people of Kepapulavu refused to move out of Manik Farm, where the Government placed them as refugees after the war, unless it was to return to their homes. In Kepapulavu, of course, the Army had established a major military camp and denied the people access to over 1,200 acres of very arable land, both private deed and common land.[7] 

Since the Government wanted to close Manik Farm camp by the end of September 2012, they persuaded 110 of the families in camp to move on the assurance that they would get back their land in two months. The Government then took them to a barren patch in Seeniyamottai, south of their original home. Officials told them this was only temporary, but the Army started building houses there and told them that they would be given deeds. Many of the relocated people were farmers who had done well cultivating their lands. Six of the families filed fundamental rights appeals to get back their land. The families were subsequently summoned to the village headman’s office, where senior army officers were waiting. They were told firmly that they must withdraw their cases or face the consequences of their defiance, losing what little land they are presently given. The Government Agent, the chief district administrator, was helpless on his own turf.

On the consequences of defying our defenders, we give two examples. Marichchukatty in Mannar, from which the LTTE displaced the Muslim community in 1990, officially opened for resettlement in July 2010. Some went back there, taking the Government at its word for a fair chance at reestablishing themselves. But on the night of 3rd September 2012, naval men came to the area, chased the people out and burnt seven temporary houses and the community hall. 

In Kasangeni near Oluvil in the East, the Army fenced off the village and turned it into another of those proliferating peace time high security zones, after chasing away the Muslim villagers in 2011 using a grease devil scare (Chapter 7). A handful of villagers led by an old woman defied the Army and stayed within the high security zone. They endure harassment by the Army acting as official land grabbers, including Buddhist chant from loudspeakers at top volume.

No community is spared in such bizarre land grabs. In July 2010, an unidentified armed gang raided a village coming under Panama, on the east coast, with a mixed population of Tamils and Sinhalese. These thugs beat up the villagers and burnt their houses. Later, the Navy built houses in the area bordering Yala Sanctuary, an area with strong potential for tourism. A year later the Navy told the BBC that the land had been assigned to them by the Ministry of Defence![8]  

Additional instances of such outrageous land grabs abound. One day, personnel from a notorious wing of the security forces entered a successful Tamil-owned resort on the East Coast, acting as though they were on a mission of national import. The security officers pretended to take the resort’s GPS coordinates. They then informed the owner that they were acquiring the premises for security reasons. Finally, they let the owner know he could stay on if he paid them USD $35,000. He paid this sum, but his continued possession of the premises he legally owns is now in doubt.

The harassment is not limited to land grabs; such bullying of those without real recourse has become even more inventive. A Tamil restaurant owner in the North-East regularly faces security forces personnel and government officials who place demanding orders, and expect to receive them for free. Fear of their power and his own helplessness prevent him from dropping any hint about payment. One day, the officer in charge of a security forces camp ordered nearly four score dinner parcels late at night. The owner complied. Later, the commander phoned him, addressed him as a ‘Bloody Tamil’, and threatened and abused him because of a minor discrepancy – the meat was curried rather than roasted. The owner hurriedly repeated the order. In both instances, he provided the food for free. Rarely does anyone dare tell even a close friend about such extortion.  

Military partisanship has set a pattern of adversarial communal relations, inducing a culture in which the racism and indiscipline of the security forces enjoy informal licence. Tisaranee Gunasekera has pointed out that the Rajapakse regime has divided and diluted resistance to illegal land grabbing by presenting it in the garb of national security; and that the regime flexing its muscles in the South in the same manner has gone largely unnoticed (e.g. the 1,200 acre land grab in Panama and the forcible clearing of slum dwellers in Colombo).[9]

Humanity even in a small island as Lanka has a multitude of regional variations. Instead of serving people as they are, an ideologically motivated state culture that that casts people into ethnic stereotypes of blessed and cursed beings, brings immeasurable suffering on all. In the area concerned (the south eastern coast) ethnic boundaries are very blurred and the mindless brutality of the State has, as is largely unappreciated, led to intense shared suffering as the cases in Appendix 12 show.

Boat people attempting to emigrate and escape such situations reflect collective insecurity, both present and anticipated. These people, many of whom are poor, endured the war years at home and hoped to restart life once the conflict ended. Now they have lost hope. This is not difficult to understand when one sees what they face. 

The Army’s takeover of lands and the precedent of the Army-Dole deal in Somawathiya, which reduced Sinhalese peasants to work as menials on their former commons, is a warning (Ch.7.11). Although ideology serves the rulers to disinherit Tamils and Muslims in the North-East and to plant Sinhalese colonies, one fate awaits the coloniser and colonised alike: loss of viability leading to immense poverty and immiseration. This approach based on greed demands disregard for the restraints of law, and the resulting bias towards cronies of the rich starves education, which is essential to uplift the socially downtrodden. This is why Rajani did not place ethnicity at the centre of what is indeed our common problem.


Against the acute crisis for the State, the Government’s claims – whether on making Lanka a leader in education (see Appendix 8) or bringing prosperity to farmers – take on the character of bombast. The Government spends above two times more on controlling the people under the guise of defence, than on educating them. These are unmistakable tokens of waste, misgovernment, and rising repression.


There are more astoundingly hollow pledges: in March 2012, the Government promised the UN Human Rights Council a re-examination of the Five Students and ACF cases of 2006. But this is only an attempt to make farce of tragedy. At least two Tamil witnesses have been killed; an ACF victim’s wife took ill and died after being importuned by the Police to testify in the State’s favour, and those remaining cower in terror. What more can we expect from an attorney general’s office and police who betrayed witnesses and suppressed or mislaid evidence as obvious as phone records (see Appendices 2, 3 & 4)? The absolute impunity enjoyed by official hit teams for several public outrages of law as the abduction of child protection officer Stephen Suntheraraj in 2007 and the murder of the Sunday Leader editor in 2009, make them almost a symbol of governance in Lanka. These features of lawlessness exert their far-reaching deleterious influence in rural Lanka, on the lives of the peasantry of all communities.

9.4 Lawlessness and the Enclosure of Commons


Commons are lands that people all over the world use for recreation, the study of nature, and to maintain livelihoods.[10] British colonial practice classified them as state lands, and used that classification against the Kandyan peasantry – which had been crushed by a British policy of pacification in the early 19th century – to turn many of the commons into plantations.


Commons are the property of the locality – it is theirs to cherish and to protect. They are the key to environmental protection. The dry zone is environmentally sensitive, and any use of the land must give due importance to local knowledge and experience. We still have no certainty on why Lanka’s gigantic hydraulic systems collapsed during the Middle Ages, whether from an autocratic political organisation cracking under its own weight, the coming of malaria as an epidemic, or an interplay of several complex factors.[11] 


Exploiting the resources of an area while denying the locals any benefit from them and denying them a voice in protecting their environment leads to a host of evils. The ponderous state security apparatus deploys killer units to terrorise and silence any show of courage in the locality, which only worsens the situation. This appears to be the fate of the hapless people of Vanni (see murder of Ketheeswaran, Appendix 2). The political elite, who dominate the State, view land and natural resources chiefly as means to a quick buck. Relatedly, the enormous and politicised army, which post-war has little to do, tends to become an instrument of greed. India and Pakistan, where the abuse of commons by the military has led to resistance or bitter insurgency, have not offered the world a good example. In Lanka, Sampoor provides a further sorry example of the military capture of an area, the declaration of a high security zone and the transfer of land to cronies (Ch.8)


The British practice used to take over Kandyan commons, referred to above, was terrible, but it is far more obscene to watch governments of independent Lanka do the same to a minority who have suffered no less grievously than the Kandyan peasantry during the 1818 rebellion. The similarities in the practice are ironical. The State used the Army to get the Sampoor folk out of their lands and to keep them out. The whole point about the project is the commissions.


The Government has kept telling the people that all land that will not be required for the Indian coal power plant will be given back. The Indian power plant needs only 500 of the 12,000 acres, as the Indian Embassy told the locals several years ago. The Indian government’s present silence is deafening, although the Government uses the power plant as the pretext to deny access to the displaced locals.


9.5 Conserving the North’s Delicate Environment


Militarisation with its focus on land grabs and Sinhalisation, paving the way for tourism and capitalisation of agriculture, places a huge strain on resources and environmental viability. In Jaffna, the Old Park is one of those commons with a rare collection of flora and fauna. The land, which was purchased by Percival Acland Dyke, the colonial Government Agent (GA) of Jaffna from 1829 until his death in 1867, was left as a public trust with provision for the GA to live in the residence that he had built. Each tree he planted had a separate file. If the Forest Department determined that a tree had to be cut down, another was planted in its place. But during the war, when the residence was damaged, the incumbent GA turned it into a museum and cleared part of the park for a new official home rather than move outside. The ex-general who became governor of the North followed that lead; he has also constructed himself a residence in Old Park.


The fate of Old Park is a grim portent. Local activists who view Jaffna as their home prefer to err on the side of caution in disturbing the environmental balance through the mining of sand and limestone. Experts may disagree, but once your home is gone, it is gone; the balance in Jaffna is very delicate, especially regarding its fresh water. Mining activities that should not be permitted without local concurrence are conducted under de facto army protection, with no checks or certification by an environmental authority.


Jaffna has a small land area of around 400 square miles and a variegated environment of astounding scenic beauty. The ongoing meddling by government agencies would horrify anyone who understands its delicate balance. When the Mahaveli Scheme as originally intended in the 1960s, did not bring water to the North, an older generation of native engineers was relieved. They held that reliance on imported water would lead to a failure to conserve and nurture local resources, and leave the North prey to the fickleness of the weather and the Island’s politics – a view supported by the mid-2012 drought.


From the 1960s to the 1980s, public awareness campaigns by scientists and environmentalists emphasised repairing village tanks and conserving ground water through economical use. Jaffna, in 1981, supported a population of 740,000. But over-pumping for agricultural purposes led to salination. The Arumugam Plan and its antecedents were engineering solutions to combat salinity; this would have turned some of Jaffna’s lagoons into fresh water lakes by constructing barrages in Thondamanaru, Elephant Pass, and Ariyalai to hold back rainwater.[12]


The plan has emerged once more. Its critics point out that the fundamental mechanism of fresh water availability throughout the year is the presence of the fresh water lens in the limestone aquifer below the ground. The lens floats on a layer of salt water lower down in the aquifer. The freshwater lens which is charged during the rainy season thins rapidly in the weeks after the rains mainly owing to flow to the sea induced by gravity, but its upper surface keeps a relatively steady height above Mean Sea Level (MSL) during the dry months, permitting modest extraction. This is reflected in the sharp rise of water in wells soon after the rains and rapid fall in the weeks after. The mechanism is explained in Joshua et al[13], who acknowledge that systematic hydrological investigations were initiated by Arumugam himself in 1965[14], but the raw data of the extensive study is presently unavailable. The mechanism sketched, suggests that any water stored above MSL using barrages or bunds has little value, owing to gravity and evaporation average 4.7 ft p.a. (Water Statistics Handbook, Irrigation Department, 1988)…


The authorities neglect local resources and ecology in favor of carpeting roads and village lanes supported by foreign loans and large commissions. Gravel lanes in villages have long proven eminently serviceable in comparison to metal roads that decay and impede movement after only a couple of years. In addition, gravel roads become small rivers during the rainy season, ferrying rainwater to village tanks. Metalled roads disrupt this system. Even as the Government floats huge loans for dubious public works, village tanks last repaired some years ago under the LTTE’s management are in a state of neglect – their channels, surroundings, and beds themselves clogged with plastic refuse. 


Short-term profits erase long-term concerns for the environment. In Vadamaratchy East, for example, government ally EPDP is commonly blamed for mining sand on a huge commercial scale. Persons close the EPDP; however, say that the Army is the main beneficiary of such sand mining (see Appendix 2).     


Even an official study issued in January 2011 recommends a number of precautionary measures when mining (Mineral Resources in Jaffna District, Geological Survey Mines Bureau). Among these: backfilling of mined areas, avoidance of the use of heavy machinery for mining sea sand, and, in any parallel system of dunes, leaving one untouched or leaving behind a few feet of a dune so that it will renew itself. During the December 2004 tsunami, the sand mass saved lives by enabling people to shelter above the level of the surging foam. The report above, as well as local knowledge, recognises the role of the dunes in protecting fresh water deposits inland.[15]


But while the study authors made these recommendations, they have not been properly implemented. In KKS, gaping holes where limestone has been mined reveal the perfunctory nature of enforcement. Limestone is being mined on both sides of the coast ‘road by contractors on government projects. In the event of another tsunami, residents fear, many of the holes would entrap salt water that would then contaminate the fresh water table already exposed by mining.


Much has been said about the rapid development of Sri Lanka’s roads in the post-war era. But locals’ pace is measured, not hurried; bicycles are adequate. Costly roads are for the privileged who will speed in and out at sixty miles an hour, menacing beast and fellow man through a rise in traffic accidents causing severe injuries when not fatal. It seems clear that this short-term benefit for the privileged comes at the long-term cost of locals. 

Frustration in the wake of such pseudo-progress finds the people irritated by the lawlessness and corruption. And as the state ignores history, so do the people, who begin to hope, wistfully, for armed groups to act as a corrective. Even those who detested the Tigers remember that they planted trees and protected the forests. This clearly shows that attempts to bury the past without learning from it will only perpetuate its worst legacies…  

9.7 Portents of Rehabilitation

9.7.1 The Government’s Calculus of Racial Worth: We are thus witness to post-war “resettlement” plans in which the military and security forces are continually appropriating land, evicting Tamils and Muslims and bulldozing their houses. Moreover, the PTF has warned Government Agents to suppress the claims of Tamils displaced by so-called high security zones (9.1 above). 

These acquisitions have become casual affairs in which Tamils and Muslims robbed of arable acres of farmland are, after the fact, offered compensation packages of maximum 40  perches (1/4 acre) of land or nothing (e.g. Sampoor, UTHR(J) Bulletin No.46 of 2008). The arithmetic of the exchange speaks for itself. In 2011, the military took land belonging to 160 families in Kepapulavu, Mullaithivu. The families, who were at that time confined in Manik Farm, were first offered 20-perch plots of low-quality in Kombavil, where the people were to be forcibly relocated. International agencies (e.g. EC, UNHCR) protested and the Government did not want to meet the entire cost of the relocation. In an attempt to mollify the international community, and get from them some assistance, the Government increased the offer to 40 perches for a family. But even at this rate, they were offered a total of 40 acres for the loss of over 1,200 acres of healthy, arable land. Being landlocked, it was also not an ideal solution for fishing folk.

The people of Kokkachchan Kulam were also robbed. In this Tamil village in the Nedunkerny Division, nearly 165 families from Semamadu, including persons of Indian origin, were given an acre apiece under the One-Acre Scheme of the early 1970s. Owing to a lapse, the land was never registered in their names. These people left during the post-1983 disturbances when the Government moved to force a Sinhalese settlement in Manal Aru. Post-war, in 2010, the Army brought Sinhalese families led by a monk to Kokkachchan Kulam, and the Mahaveli Authority was tasked to repair the local tank. But many of the Sinhalese left dissatisfied. The Daily Mirror in June 2012 reported that several Sinhalese brought there launched fasts to the death because even as their rations were about to stop, promises of housing and materials had not been honoured. These protestors threatened to depart, as 75 of the 175 families brought there already had.

Subsequently, the Army’s website ran regular reports of its distributing gift parcels to the settlers, and the Government bypassed the District Administration in Vavuniya to give the Sinhalese possession of the land in the village, which is now renamed Kelebogaswewa. On 13th February 2013, Namal Rajapakse ceremonially upgraded state patronage to include electricity, housing and infrastructure from foreign donors (e.g. India and Japan). The settlement will expand by encroaching on jungle, with the State’s blessings. The resettlement ministry website said the number of families ‘resettled’ in ‘Kelebogaswewa’ village was 650 in March 2013 – up from 175 in mid-2012. However, the State still cannot provide one thing: adequate water (see Ch.10). The Government calls this repopulation, ‘resettlement of war-affected areas’.

Like in Kepapulavu in the east the Army has built a model village in Akkarayan, west of Killinochchi, and was put up 450 prefabricated Chinese houses for Sinhalese ‘army families’. They have also taken over permit lands previously used by Tamils and refugees from the estates and, according to local administrative sources, plan to give two acres of land each to the Sinhalese, i.e.,  so-called ‘army personnel’ settled in those houses, who are to receive water from Akkarayan Tank. The system was designed to cultivate 3000 acres. As in Mudalikulam-Morawewa earlier, the dynamics and scale of army intrusion would eventually make life untenable for the war-affected.

And Tamil losses are not, of course, limited to land. A huge number of Tamil survivors are starting life from ground zero – facing the loss of family members and all assets; unusable limbs and/or shrapnel injuries; and/or nervous and psychiatric disorders. Many were unable to resettle in the conditions of extreme privation having no emergency medical aid; the families being of women widowed by the war, having disabled or young girls without male protection. Sinhalese and Muslims returning to (or settling in) the North cannot, in all fairness, be prioritised at the same level of need as Tamils who survived the military onslaught. Nevertheless, this is just what the PTF has done. In fact, the PTF accused Tamils who could not ‘resettle’ of staying with host families to enjoy ‘urban facilities’ (op. cit. Letter to GAs by the PTF secretary of 27th Oct.2011).  

The foregoing gives us an idea of the Government’s calculus of racial worth. For Tamils, from whom the State robs several acres of their land, the compensation is 40 perches (¼ acre) of low-quality land at best. For Sinhalese, who are brought to these areas from outside, the land given is a minimum of half an acre for home and garden and one acre of paddy land (240 perches).

In Matale, for the 2378 Sinhalese families being displaced for building the Kaluganga reservoir, the Cabinet decided (31 Dec. 2010) to allocate 0.60 hectares of irrigated land and 0.20 hectares of homestead for a family – that is, 316 perches. They have publicly protested that the compensation is insufficient and the Government will give in. Does this mean that one Sinhalese is worth a minimum of six Tamils? Antecedents of the Government’s present actions can be traced to 1984 (Appendix 9)…

9.7.2 Spurious Resettlement of Duped Sinhalese: Sinhalese colonists, particularly those being sent to the North, are themselves a broken people. They are – understandably enough – driven by the dubious benefits that the State dangles before them. This is obvious in a number of situations. For example, in 1984, Indian Tamils who were successfully cultivating alternative crops in Kent and Dollar Farms were driven out. These farms where they lived, now renamed Monerawewa and Gajabhapura, are home to Sinhalese settlers forced to make the best of the one acre apiece given for paddy cultivation. But they encounter severe problems with irrigation from local tanks. Even the security the Government promised them was questionable. When the Sinhalese in Weli Oya fled to Padavi Sripura, the Government built some limited accommodations for them there. Nevertheless, that was where the assistance ended: when they found life hard there and were unable to make ends meet, many of them chose to return to Weli Oya, where they live below the poverty line. 


Planted by governments that no sooner turn their back once cash flow dries up, the settlers presently blame the scarcity of rain throughout the year as a direct consequence of deforestation of catchment areas for the building of more settlements. In the thick of military confrontation, they suffered pain and loss; the Government did next to nothing to improve their lot and now, nearly 29 years later, is requesting donor funds by selling their misery. The PTF, ostensibly trying to divert resources for the Sinhalese in Weli Oya, gives them an appearance of privilege. But the reality is different: the Government’s commitment to the Sinhalese stops at pushing NGOs to serve them.


Many Sinhalese are badly served by the obsession with Sinhalisation as distinct from the welfare of Sinhalese. Sinhalese returning to areas in the East, such as Pullumalai in Batticaloa District, where they have lived since the migrations that followed unsettled times in the wake of the Kandyan rebellion of 1818, are today neglected. Governments are keen only to plant new Sinhalese settlers in the North-East, who too will be in time forgotten.


Like the Vanni Tamils under the LTTE, these Sinhalese too have been milked dry – their sufferings used for propaganda and their sons for cannon fodder.


9.7.3 Kidney disease in the NCP: Recently, a University of Kelaniya physician charged that “Other than politicians and big wigs of the government all the down trodden people in the North Central Province are suffering from kidney ailments though it had gone unnoticed and this disease is a curse which would eventually wipe out the whole population of Rajarata”. One of his university colleagues contended, at equal volume, that he was an unethical charlatan seeking publicity. This controversy has since spread to other universities. The first allegation comes from Dr. Channa Jayasumana, the leader of the research team that has identified arsenic in agro-chemicals as the main cause of the area’s kidney ailments (Island, 7 Jan 2013).


Without any real agreement among their number, other researchers have suggested that the causes may include cadmium, a high level of fluorides in drinking water; or blue-green algae formed in stagnant water and made worse by fertilizer and manure runoff into lakes and streams, combined with a warming climate. Others have blamed politicians for interfering with customs clearance and permitting the import of toxic fertilisers for kickbacks. One is reminded of apocalyptic moments in history when strong public dissension has gone hand-in-hand with political paralysis.


The grim reality however, as confirmed by a WHO investigation, is that about 200,000 people, about 15.3 percent of the population in the North Central parts of the country, are affected by kidney ailments that have accelerated over the last 20 years.[16] In the absence of agreement among experts, the Government has done very little except to bring in more dialysis machines, otherwise unaffordable to affected farmers who are poor. There are five for Padaviya Hospital, where a reported 50% of patients come with kidney complaints. The Government has, belatedly, acknowledged the gravity of the problem, and has pledged a national policy on agro-chemicals.[17]    


9.7.4 Dire implications for the Vanni’s war-affected: Governments have long ceased to regard agricultural colonisation schemes – the country’s major plank of development since the 1930s – to be sustainable economic assets. They are pursued largely as a pretext for massive foreign borrowing to oil networks of patronage on which politics runs. 


In the wake of the North Central Province’s epidemic of kidney failures in colonisation regimes, the Government must show some minimal responsibility in not pushing the regime in the Vanni. Those who have already been victims of war are the least able to survive another such onslaught of illness or deprivation. The disease has already claimed a significant number in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu Districts (1,227 or 6.3 percent of total of 20,336 patients in 2010[18]) and is on the rise. The latter are areas targeted for Sinhalese colonisation.


The authorities have known of the problem of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in the NCP and other colony areas in the South for 20 years. The snowballing of the disease represents a grievous and inexcusable failure on the part of the State. It is time for these same authorities to admit that the present top-down schemes for the North, which ignore local concerns and wisdom, can only spell disaster for the region. The North-East needs and deserves a chance to give its people a better deal.


From the start and into the 1980s, irrigated colonisation schemes were advanced on a scientific basis, and used state-of-the-art methods. And yet recipients were marginalised instead of finding social upliftment. With the onset of kidney disease, their very lives became tenuous.  The current initiative to Sinhalise the North is just a crude exercise to drive marginalised Sinhalese settlers into the Vanni, stretching the Vanni’s minimal resources. The Vanni is drier and has fewer resources than the NCP; the Mahaveli water, which politicians and irrigation bigwigs promise, can only materialise at the cost of pushing up domestic electricity bills astronomically. The grim fate of the NCP may have been an unforeseen consequence, but after that series of mistakes, those advocating the same strategies in the North-East cannot profess ignorance of what is to come…

9.14 Chickens Home to Roost


With each passing anniversary of the LTTE’s defeat, President Rajapakse’s declamations centred on the recent war present a government increasingly beleaguered. His upbeat victory speech in 2009 celebrated the triumph of the unitary state against terrorism. In 2012, his regime marked a troubled third post-war year with great pomp, by parading its new acquisitions of, mainly Chinese and East European, military hardware. The President also used the occasion to reiterate that he would never withdraw the Military from the North-East. The festivities’ tone suggested an aura of victory against another powerful nation, rather than a homegrown guerrilla force born of decades of misgovernment.


In 2013, on the fourth anniversary, the President delivered a petulant and xenophobic speech that complained about demands for legal accountability: “…there were many strategies tried out by these [external] forces to rule our Motherland. These included…the independence of the Judiciary, media freedom and human rights. There were attempts to make us file answers over such charges [to the HRC] almost every six months,” the President moaned. He further said, “It is these sinister aims that are put forward as the protection of human rights and democracy. All these are ulterior attempts to break up this country. We will not allow a single inch of the land that you [the armed forces] won by the sacrifice of your life to be taken away,”[19]  Whatever was necessary for a healthy nation with a future was anathema to the Government.


The ideology of Sinhalese exclusivism, which the Government banks on for its survival, is increasingly blinding the regime to how others view it. Inclusive anniversary commemorations could have been a unifying force for the country, but this was entirely lost on the Government. Its embrace of the Military as the Sinhalese pillory in which to set the minorities has inured the Government to glaring instances of crass vulgarity.


For example, in the Vanni, war-affected Tamil survivors starve or are severely malnourished for want of aid. Nevertheless, the Government offers cash rewards to the Military, which occupies lands stolen from these survivors, to produce more offspring.[20] Far from championing the Sinhalese, however, the regime will bring them an equal measure of ruin. The Government is developing the Military as a shield against public anger stirred by the use of external borrowing, especially from China, for wasteful projects that destroy our environment and reward the rulers with commissions.


What the Sinhalese poor, like the rest, need most is social justice that includes better quality education for social advancement – and not to be made part of a destructive scheme of colonisation in the North-East. As a fraction of its total spending, the Government spends less than a half what its neighbours do on education, and directs more than twice the money spent on education into security (Appendix 8).


The JVP insurrection in the late 1980s showed that the repressive practices the State develops in the North-East are amplified when they come South, as illustrated by the recently discovered Matale mass graves, which date back to the late 1980s. These are presumed to contain the bodies of suspected JVP cadres who were victims of enforced disappearances. Tens of thousands of Sinhalese youths removed by force disappeared during that period. The graves have become a thorn in the Government’s side since command responsibility implicates the President’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. Early fears, which were proved right, that the magistrate and JMO, who have acted professionally, will not remain on the case, set off alarm bells in the South, where, even belatedly, lawyers who turned a blind eye to crimes in the North-East are beginning to ask how such transfers to suppress justice are effected almost casually. It should surprise no one that the fate of the minorities will be the fate of the country.


We may recall once more the January 2006 Trinco Five case, in which the local Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) who did the post-mortems on the five students slain by security forces resisted official pressure to conceal the actual cause of death: firearm injuries. Despite or perhaps because of his honesty, the authorities sent the Anuradhapura JMO to Trincomalee to do the inquests into the killing of the 17 ACF aid workers seven months later. They further transmitted the case from the Mutur Magistrate who showed a determination to investigate, to the Anuradhapura Magistrate. Such deliberate miscarriage of justice not only hurts minorities, but compromises the country’s rule of law in a manner that eventually affects everyone.



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[1] The Commission also notes that the Government accomplished the complicated task of physical return and resettlement of the vast majority of ‘new IDPs’ amidst many difficulties.

[2] The Thinakkural of 5th October 2013 reported that Tamils who were disallowed from returning to their 2000 acres of land around Kottaikerni Pillaiyar Temple had complained that the Mahaveli Authority was clearing more of their land for Sinhalese settlement and that GA Mullaitivu had written to the Mahaveli Authority objecting to the move.



[5] See

 Almost the entire Vanni is gazetted as ‘Area of Authority of the Mahaveli Authority’. A gazette dated 16th April, 1988 redefined an area previously known as Manal Aru[5] to place a legal stamp on the State’s violent eviction of Tamils in 1984. The scheme involved seven GS Divisions in 1984. The gazette covered the GS divisions of Kokkilai, Karnaddu Kerni, Kokku Thoduvai, Kumulamunai East, a portion of Kumulamunai West, Maruthodai and Oottu Kulam (Vavuniya North AGA division) affecting the lives of over 2000 families. The gazette made several changes by: 1) changing Manal Aru’s distinctly Tamil name to Weli Oya, a Sinhalese one; making Weli Oya the new 26th District; 2) placing it under the largely Sinhalese district administration of Anuradhapura (while under Vavuniya for election purposes); and 3) bringing Weli Oya under the Accelerated Mahaveli Development Scheme of the Ministry of Lands and Land Development. As the prospect of Mahaveli water was distant, the Mahaveli Authority tried to promote coconut cultivation and each Sinhalese family was given 5 acres of land consisting of ½ acre for residence, one-acre of irrigated land and 3 ½ acres of high land for coconut that remains largely unused.  

[6] Watchdog, in Groundviews, 24 Jan.2013, , and Ruki Fernando, The struggle to go home in post war Sri Lanka: The story of Mullikulam - 

[7] Ruki Fernando and Sr. Nichola Emmanuel,


[9] 26 May 2013

[10] “The concept of the commons flies in the face of modern practice that each spot on the globe consists merely of coordinates on a global grid laid out by state and market; a uniform field which determines everyone’s and everything’s rights and roles. “Commons” implies the right of local people to define their own grid, their own forms of community respect for watercourses, meadows or paths; to resolve conflicts their own way; to translate what enters their ken into the personal terms of their own dialect; to be “biased” against the rights of outsiders to local “resources” in ways usually unrecognized in modern laws; to treat their home not simply as a location housing transferable goods and chunks of population but as irreplaceable and even to be defended at all costs.” – ‘Whose Common Future?’, The Ecologist, Vol. 22 No.4, July/August 1992

[11] The Collapse of the Rajarata Civilization, K. Indrapala, Ed., Ceylon Studies Seminar, University of Ceylon, 1971: Rhoads Murphy in his paper of 1957 conjectures from Portuguese and other records in South Asia that malaria made its advent as an epidemic in the 13th Century against the context of political instability. Murphy points to soil alkalinity and salinity as a factor in abandonment in irrigation schemes elsewhere but finds no evidence for its having been widespread here: “Both may result from a dry climate from excessive evaporation and inadequate drainage, leaving stranded salts and alkalines to whiten and poison the ground.”

[12]Thiru Arumugam, D.L.O. Mendis, K. Shanmugarajah:,

The plan, first mooted by the Dutchman Captain Hendrile van Reede in the 17th Century, was revived by Twyneham, GA Jaffna in 1879. Twyneham dropped the plan when he judged that the effect of the 1883 cyclone would have been worse had the barrages been in place to hold back flood waters. GA Horsberg revived the idea in 1916, abandoned it again four years later. The plan was rekindled once more in 1945. In the 1960s, financial constraints once again stopped it. Analysts have held that indifferent progress, poor maintenance and sabotage by prawn fishermen prevented the idea’s success.

[13] Joshua W.D., Thushyanthy M. and Nanthagopan N., Seasonal variation of water table and groundwater quality of the karst aquifer of the Jaffna Peninsula-Sri Lanka, J. National. Sci. Foundation 2013 41 (1) 

[14] Arumugam S., Development of groundwater and its exploitation in Jaffna Peninsula, Transactions of Institute of Engineers, Ceylon

[15] The peninsula may, in fact, be said to be the joint gift of the coral polyps and of currents that come laden with alluvial matters from the Coromondel Coast and deposit their burthen on the coral reefs – Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Ceylon Census 1901.


[17]‘…the rise in kidney failure cases each day has become a major health problem in Sri Lanka. Not only a health problem it has also become a social problem as whole families have become victims of kidney disease’ – Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Daily News, 19 Mar.2013.

[18] Amarasiri de Silva,


[20] Economic and Political Weekly, Notes on the Military Presence in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, 14 July, 2012

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