Land release brings new lease of life for war-torn IDPs | Sunday Observer

Land release brings new lease of life for war-torn IDPs

After 28 years of occupation, the Sri Lanka Army released an unprecedented 683 acres in the Palaly High Security Zone in a single day last week, allowing residents who have lived large portions of their lives in displacement camps to finally return home. For some younger residents of the recently released areas, last week was the first time they were able to visit their ancestral lands, having lived all their lives in camps for the war-displaced.

Nearly one thousand families in the Tellipalai Divisional Secretariat will now set to work clearing shrubs and undergrowth and even trees that have grown inside their abandoned homes over nearly three decades. Around 964 rightful owners are expected to resettle in their native territories in the coming months from refugee camps in Chunnakam and Mallakam and areas such as Puttalam and Trincomalee, returning residents told the Sunday Observer.

President of the Valikamam North Resettlement Society, Arunasalam Gunapalasingham speaking to the Sunday Observer said, the lack of habitation for 28 long years had turned the area into a “mini forest”.

“Most houses are damaged and demarcations are now beyond recognition,” Gunapalasingham explained.

“But once clearing work is completed, we expect houses to be rebuilt under the government subsidized housing schemes, utilities such as water and electricity to be provided and basic public infrastructure such as road connections and schools to be set up in this area,” he added.

According to Gunapalasingham, although there are two large schools located just 50 meters away from the released land, it would not be accessible for returnees, since the military was still occupying that area. Returning residents had also requested for a hospital to be constructed at a location nearby to serve them, he added.

“Due to the lack of infrastructure, the initial period would be tough for the returnees to resettle. There will be around 1,500 houses to be built and people will have to reset their livelihood options as 90 percent of the surrounding areas are paddy lands,” Gunapalasingham noted.

The release of the 683 acres had not required the removal or shifting of any security formation operating in the area, the Army said on its official website.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Security Forces Commander in Jaffna, Major General Darshana Hettiarachchi said, for 28 years the IDPs had been living under terrible conditions in displacement camps.

“Therefore, it is imperative that their lives return to normal now, and this is important for reconciliation in the country,” the Major General said. He noted, with the recent release of land in the Tellipallai area, almost 50 percent of people living in IDP centres will be able to return home. He warned that people must be mindful during the resettlement process however, since there could be unexploded ordnance (UO) in the area. “The area has been left unused so there is a risk of UOs,” he said adding that therefore a special army bomb disposal unit has been deployed to assist the people.

Hettiarachchi claimed that the Army is ready to assist the people by providing skilled labour and material to rebuild homes if requested.

Over 2,000 residents challenged the acquisition of 6,348 acres in the Palaly High Security Zone in the Court of Appeal after it was finally acquired in 2013 under a notice under the Land Acquisition Act, after the army had already occupied the Valikamam North area for decades.

About 4,000 acres of this land remains within the control of the military, but Tamil National Alliance Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, who has appeared in these land cases in both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, says not all of this is privately owned land.

According to the TNA lawmaker, 3,000 acres houses the Palaly Airport area, which is state land. “Thus in my estimation, less than 1,000 acres of private lands are still being occupied by the military in the Jaffna peninsula” Sumanthiran said, but not all this was in the Palay HSZ. “Even these must be released even though they are state lands, since they were used as public spaces for playgrounds, cemeteries and libraries etc,” he explained.

“We have an ongoing dialogue with the military directly in respect of these releases. There is undeniably an unjustifiable delay; but it is also true that substantial areas have now been released and the others are in the process of being released,” Sumanthiran said.

Comments

Not being a victim I must say the owners of these lands must adequately compensated to start fresh and anew