Report of the visit of Members of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to Santhapuram and Vavuniya on 29th July 2010
On 29th July 2010 Members of Parliament of the TNA, Suresh Premachandran, M A Sumanthiran and S Shritharan visited Santhapuram and met with the original inhabitants now living in a transit camp at Santhapuram. On the same day Suresh Premachandran, M A Sumanthiran and Sivasakthy Anandan also met the original inhabitants of Indupuram and Thiru Murikandy who are still at the ‘Welfare Centres’ in Chettikulam.
This follows the visit of the Parliamentary delegation of the TNA to the war affected areas in the Districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitheevu, and Killinochchi on 21st 22nd 23rd and 24th May 2010, details of which are given in the Report of same submitted to the President and tabled in Parliament on 9th June 2010 by Hon R Sampanthan, at the time of making a Statement on same.
We quote from that Report the following:
Returnee families from Santhapuram in the Kilinochchi District
288 families from Santhapuram in the Kilinochchi District who are presently in the transit camp at Kilinochchi Central College are not able to return to their village. Similarly, over 400 other families from 8 other villages in Kilinochchi are unable to return to their villages. Further information in regard to these matters are contained in our detailed report. All these families should be enabled to return to their respective villages.
Resettlement at Thiru Murugandy between 232 km and 247 km
The families around 1,000 in number living at Thiru Murugandy on the Eastern side of the A9 Highway were also displaced and lost all their assets as a result of the War. They have been living in camps at Chettikulam. Some of these families have been living at Thiru Murugandy from 1977; the others from 1983. They are all persons of recent Indian origin who were displaced from the areas in which they lived, in other parts of the country. They lost all their belongings, came to Kilinochchi and at great effort cleared and occupied the land at Thiru Murugandy.
They developed the land and established their homes here. They had been living on this land for over 25 to 30 years and looked upon this as their home. There seems to be a move to temporarily delay their resettlement. These people are anxious to resettle with the others and recommence their lives. They should be afforded the same facilities and enabled to resettle in the lands from which they were displaced.
At the discussion held at the Presidential Secretariat on 7th June 2010 these issues were discussed and we quote below from our letter dated 17th July 2010 addressed to the President, after the Media Minister Hon Keheliya Rambukwella made an announcement that these persons will not be resettled in their original places since the military requires these lands:
On the issue of Internally Displaced People not being able to return to their land in Thiru Murikandy, Santhapuram, Keppapulavu and Sannar (Vide – pages 12 and 13 of our Report submitted to you), you will recall that Hon. Basil Rajapakse informed us that the delay in resettlement in these areas was only due to roofing sheets not arriving on time. To our query as to how much longer these people should wait, he stated that in a couple of months the ships would arrive and that they would be resettled soon thereafter.
Your Excellency will appreciate that we accepted these responses in good faith and agreed with you to continue to be engaged in these matters with the government, although we had information that some steps had been taken to acquire land (totalling 4,811 acres) in Indupuram, Thiru Murikandy for the purpose of establishing a military cantonment. In this background, the announcement by the Hon. Media Minister after a Cabinet meeting comes as a shock to us and to the people who have been kept away from their original places of dwelling.
Presently though, in view of the contradictory positions taken up by two cabinet Ministers, we think it has become necessary for Your Excellency to clarify the position to the people concerned and alleviate their anxiety in regard to their resettlement in their original places. We trust Your Excellency will also see it fit to assuage the feelings of these people who have been away from their homesteads for over 1½ years now. Such a step will go a long way in the process of reconciliation that Your Excellency is very keen to initiate with the Tamil People of this country.
However, there has been no response or clarification from the Government on this issue up to date. The Army Commander was also reported to have told the Venerable Mahanaykes in Kandy that soldier families will be settled in these places and farm lands will also be given to them for cultivation.
It was in this background that the visit of the Members of Parliament was undertaken to ascertain the true facts in this regard.
As we approached the Santhapuram Vidyalayam premises on 29th July at around 10 am , we saw a number of people lugging their meagre belongings and trekking towards the school. On inquiry we were told that these are persons whose places of residence were beyond the 10th Lane and three days previously they were told by the Brigadier in Mankulam and they could go back and resettle in their original places. However, after they went and set up their temporary shelters, on 29th morning army personnel had come and chased them out saying that they were not permitted to resettle in those places.
Apparently this is the third time they have been allowed to go to their land and then been chased back to the school. The people were highly distressed and were literally rolling on the ground and weeping. The army had forcibly loaded their belongings on to a tractor and was bringing it to the school premises when we got there. On seeing us the tractor was hidden behind some bushes. But we managed to photograph it before leaving.
There are 281 families (980 persons) in this school premises. They were taken out of the so called ‘Welfare Centres’ in Chettikulam on the 7th of May 2010 and kept in Kilinochchi Central College . On the 1st of July 2010 they were moved to the present location. Their tents are low tarpoulin sheets. Twice previously, on 12th July 2010 and on another occasion, they were first allowed to go to their land and then chased back. They fear that they may not be permitted to ever go back to their own lands. Once the rains come, this month, the present location will be flooded. Some of them managed to reach the President at Kilinochchi after the Cabinet meeting and he had assured them that they will be allowed to resettle in their own lands soon.
In Vavuniya, later in the day, we met with a representative body of the people of Thiru Murikandy and Indupuram who have not been allowed to resettle back in their original lands. They too have been told several times to be ready on occasions to be taken, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Military tells them to ask the District Secretary and other civil administrative officials about their resettlement. But those officials say that the Military is the one that is not permitting their resettlement. These people have Land Development Ordinance permits for 2 acre (0.869 hectares) plots to their lands. They are all now entitled to Crown Grant as well. Over the last 30 – 40 years they have lived in these lands they have planted many trees and plantations, which has been their main livelihood apart from paddy cultivation. Coconut, jak, and other trees have taken decades to grow and bear fruit. They will not go to any other land but their own.
The traders in and around Murikandy temple have not been permitted to re-take their own shops or re-start their businesses. Other outsiders have been allowed to put up shops and business places. A new hotel is also being constructed close to the temple on temple land without any authorization.
The people have written many letters, in Tamil, English and Sinhala to the President, the Minister of Rehabilitation and others, all of which have gone unanswered! They only ask that they be granted the equal right as any other citizen of this country to be permitted to live in their own land. The people of Santhapuram, Indupuram and Thiru Murikandy appeal to the collective conscience of this country to speak up on their behalf and obtain remedy for them.
Suresh Premachandran MP
N Sivasakthy Ananthan MP
M A Sumanthiran MP
S. Shreetharan MP
1st August 2010