Shut out of their homes

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Until its closure on the 23rd of September 2012, Menik farm in Vavuniya district remained the largest camp for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the world. The massive camp for the displaced people consisted of nine zones, and 21 relief areas. At the height of the war in 2008-2009, the sprawling 700 hectares camp was home for the Internally Displaced Persons estimating over 350,000. Gradually, people were moved out of the internment camp, and resettled in their places of origin.

When the final batch of Internally Displaced Persons comprising 1,185 persons (405 families) from four villages namely Keppaappulavu, Seeniyamottai, Sooriyapuram and  Pilaakkudiyiruppu in Mullaithivu district were moved out of Menik farm on the 24th of September 2012, the government officially declared the camp closed.

The Government in its new move has requested the deeds of the properties (houses and lands) owned by the Internally Displaced Persons of Keppaappulavu and Seeniyamottai to be handed over to the Grama Niladhari (a public official appointed by the central Government to carry out administrative duties in a subunit of a divisional secretariat). These relocated Internally Displaced Persons were told that they would be given alternative land, as their properties would not be handed over and they would not be able to go back to their places of origin. But, the people of Keppaappulavu and Seeniyamottai stood strong, and have refused the request to hand over their deeds to the Grama Niladhari.

I will not live anywhere else except in my place of origin. I own a lot of agricultural and residential lands, and a house in Keppaappulavu, in the Mullaithivu district. The military occupies my house and lands” strongly protests Chandra Sivaguru. Her husband and son in law were both killed in separate shell attacks during the war in Vanni.

Chandra Sivaguru is a war widow and led a dignified life in Keppaappulavu before she was forced to flee

Chandra Sivaguru is a war widow and led a dignified life in Keppaappulavu before she was forced to flee

The Internally Displaced Persons, who were relocated in a jungle in Seeniyamottai rather than in their places of origins, are angry and frustrated of not yet being resettled.

The military stays at my house and enjoys the coconuts and mangoes, which I have planted many years ago. They live lavishly in my house, while I struggle to survive in the jungle fighting with poisonous snakes and other insects, and float in floods” said an angry Uthayakumari Ingaramuththu Sivaguru in tears.

Uthayakumari Ingaramuththu Sivaguru lost her daughter to a shell attack in May 2009 in Mullivaaikkaal, Mullaithivu District

Uthayakumari Ingaramuththu Sivaguru lost her daughter to a shell attack in May 2009 in Mullivaaikkaal, Mullaithivu District

After the war ended, the Government has slowly started to resettle the Internally Displaced Persons in the North. But, a large portion of land in the north is still being occupied by the military in the form of offices, camps, checkpoints and sentry points.

I will not hand over my deed to the authorities under any circumstances. I am not ready to live in another place. I want my house back. I don’t want another relocation, I want resettlement at my own house” says Sooriyakumari Manoharan.

Sooriyakumari Manoharan with the deed to her house in Seeniyamottai which is currently occupied by the military

Sooriyakumari Manoharan with the deed to her house in Seeniyamottai which is currently occupied by the military

Internally Displaced Persons from Keppaappulavu and Seeniyamottai were hurriedly relocated to a camp set up in a jungle in Seeniyamottai, which is now named as “Keppaappulavu Model Village”.

I want to die at my own house in Seeniyamottai, and not anywhere else” says Saraswathy Kanthapillai, while tears fill her eyes.

Saraswathy Kanthapillai led a wealthy life before the war and displacement

Saraswathy Kanthapillai led a wealthy life before the war and displacement

These relocated Internally Displaced Persons collectively and continuously demand the restitution of their houses, agricultural lands and immediate resettlement at their places of origin.

It’s not possible to resettle the Internally Displaced Persons in Keppaappulavu and some parts of Seeniyamottai, as the military is currently occupying these areas” says Nagalingam Vethanayagam, Government Agent of Mullaithivu District.

I tried to contact the relevant officials at Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Lands and Lands Development, but I wasn’t successful in getting their comments.

Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Recommendations on Land Return and Resettlement and Reconciliation

9.124 Ensure that –
(1) Any citizen of Sri Lanka has the right to acquire land in any part of the country, in accordance with its laws and regulations, and reside in any area of his/her choice without any restrictions or limitations.

(2) Land policy of the Government is not an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given Province.
(3) Distribution of State land continues as provided for in the Constitution
Issue of a clear statement by government that private lands would not be utilized for settlements by any Government agency.

9.171 and 9.227:-
Phase out the involvement of the Security Forces in civilian activities and use of private lands by the Security Forces with reasonable time lines being given.

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