Tamil protest pushes back land grab attempt for Sri Lanka navy camp in Jaffna

Tamils in northern Sri Lanka have won yet another ‘Tug of war’ with the Sri Lankan security forces thwarting their attempt to grab civilian land for a navy base.

In a repeated attempt, officials of the survey department along with the Velanai Divisional Secretary (DS) tried to demarcate over 7 hectares of private land located in J/07 GS Division, owned by 29 native Tamils in Mandaitivu, to expand the already existing Velusumana navy Camp. Officials were forced to back down after protests by residents and Tamil parliamentarians.

“Unfortunately, we are in such a situation where we can’t even go to the courts in Sri Lanka regarding this kind of land grabbing attempts, because the rules and regulations of the government are devised in such a way” Kanakaratnam Sugash a local lawyer told the media.

“People can never question this legally. So the public in north and east should gather to protect their homeland. Moreover, this is part of a well-designed ethnic cleansing activity against the Eelam Tamils. When lands are grabbed, people who depend on it for their livelihood are forced to relocate to other places.”

The authorities were compelled to abandon two similar attempts made in June 2018 and April 2019 after facing strong protest from the local population. 

The land in Mandaitivu is very fertile with red soil. Crops like tomato, chilli, onion and tobacco can be grown round the year. Also, fresh water is abundant while it’s a scarcity in other parts of the Jaffna peninsula.

'Not an inch'

Earlier attempts too were stopped due to protests by the public says Selvarasa Kajenthiran MP from the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF).

“There are already six army camps in this area. Instead of making sincere attempts to resettle people in their own lands the government is trying to forcibly take more. We demand not only all the army camps be disbanded and the lands returned to the public, but also to stop any further activities with a view to take over public lands”.

The protesting public say they are not prepared to even give an inch of land to the Navy. But Public fear there is no guarantee that the government would not make any further attempts.

“Why does the Navy need another camp in land when their duty is at sea? There are already camps in Nainathivu and Karainagar,” a protester told the local media.

An elderly couple who stay put at the protest in spite of their fragile health say their lives have been devastated for over thirty years and their only source of livelihood is their land in Mandaitivu. They say their entire family is shattered and split with their sons doing odd jobs for sustenance when they have fertile land to sustain.

Many people were forced to flee this place because of continued land grabbing. “Agricultural land is not only paddy growing areas, but it’s also other crops as well,” the elderly couple say.

'Non combat activities'

The protesting public and Tamil MP’s have requested the District Secretary A Sothinathan to inform the government officials to once for all put an end to the continued land grabbing attempt for the naval camp. The DS told the protesters he would discuss with the concerned ministry and till such time the survey activity would be put on hold.

Huge tracts of land amounting to hundreds of acres continue to be under military occupation even after a decade of the brutal civil war coming to an end. Assurances by successive governments about returning land to the legal owners have been empty promises.

Also, since the end of the war, the military has ‘diversified’ into handling other non-combat activities like livestock rearing, agriculture, teaching among others marginalising the general public. These civilian activities by the armed forces have deprived the public of their livelihood.