Coming home is not easy
Land acquired for HSZs in the North is being
released, but for the owners of these lands, rebuilding lost homes is a
The sea side road along the recently released lands of the former
High Security Zone in Kopay, Jaffna was dustier than usual with the
little construction work that started a few months ago. The overgrown
lands and gravel roads are getting cleared removing the thick vegetation
War-affected villagers who took refuge in Point Pedro, nearly 10
kilometres away, in the mid 1980s, have now returned to slowly rebuild
their houses on these cleared lands. Just like any rural area of the
country, people in these villages have also owned a significantly large
extents of land.
In the Valalai area, in Kopay Division, Emanuel Jayaratnam (50), a
fisherman by profession, was clearing his land making it ready for his
family to resettle. The land faces the shallow waters of the Palk Strait
and a six feet earth bund at the edge of the land separated it from the
“I got the land six months ago and I have to start from scratch to
rebuild the life we had here,” Jayaratnam said.
He said nearly 60 families were in his village at the time they were
leaving it in 1985 when the war between LTTE terrorists and the
government forces was at its height.
Presently residing in Point Pedro, Jayaratnam comes to his native
land as time permits. “We can not leave Point Pedro because we are not
allowed to fish in this part of the sea,” he explained.
Ramakrishna Konsi (51) was sitting under the shade of an abandoned
Church compound adjoining her land, to avoid the scorching glare of the
sun. She was alone as her sons have gone to sea that morning for
|Making bricks to construct
|A temporary house
“I was able to return to my land in March and there is a lot of
clearing to be done,” she said. Konsi, now a widow, she was residing in
Point Pedro, where her sons grew up to become fishermen.
“I do not know whether they would come to settle down here as there
is more than ten kilometers to Point Pedro. But I will come,” she said
with gleaming eyes full of hope.
The church compound, is in ruins – collapsed over time due to
negligence but there were less signs of gunfire or aerial attacks. Young
men of the village working for a daily wage were making concrete bricks
for housing. The bricks were laid in the church premises to dry.
There is no bus service at the moment for this part of the village
and most of the people use bicycles as their transport mode. It appears
that the poor people of the village, who were poor even 30 years ago are
the ones who have returned to their native lands. Those who were more
capable financially had settled abroad nearly two decades ago.
Reclaiming one’s own land after leaving them due to life threatening
reasons has become a life long struggle for Northerners. The war has
sealed many problems in the social and administrative systems in a way
that returning to the normal state is seen as a rebellion. Even though
it is the Government that is ultimately responsible to settle the land
issue in the North, the Tamil political parties hold the military
responsible for seizing their native land. And the dispute continues
despite the reports frequently published over media on lands being
released in the Jaffna High Security Zone.
Northern civil societies say the military is still attempting to be
an obvious and active presence within the day-to-day life of
Northerners. They complain land acquisition has prevented the local
population from accessing their homes, farmlands and fishing access
A petition was handed over to the Jaffna District Secretariat in
September 2014 by leaders from Poonthalir Women’s Organisation and the
National Fisheries Co-operation Movement with regard to lands not
released in Valikamam North Mayiliddi area said that “is causing us lost
job opportunities and with no basic livelihood more difficulties for
“Furthermore, we are affected in terms of economy, education,
hygiene, and culturally. Therefore we request to resettle us back in our
own lands,” they stated in the petition.
Despite these facts the military has released about 6,260 acres lands
of the Palali Military Cantonment within the last six years which was
around 11,630 acres before 2009.
“The number of camps were reduced to 93 from 152 within the last few
years,” said Major General Nandana Udawatte, Jaffna Security Forces
The Jaffna High Security Zone was around the Palali cantonment. The
lands were released since 2009 in seven batches.
The first batch was in October 2010 where nearly 371 acres were
released in the Kadduvan area located South to Palali. The second was in
November and in Senthankulam to the west of Palali and around 1,952
acres were released.
High Security Zone
On May 9, 2011 another 1,972 acres of lands were released in
Thellippalai. On October 6 the same year 346 acres of lands in Kadduwan
were released to the owners. In stage five, another 628 acres were
released to the owners in Thondamanaru area in November 2011.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed a three member
committee in March this year to examine the fullest extent of land in
the High Security Zone in Jaffna to be released to legitimate owners.
The committee comprises Resettlement Ministry Secretary, Ranjini
Nadarajapillai, Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Land Development,
Dr. I.H.K. Mahanama and Defence Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake.
Following the appointment of the committee as the latest stage in
land releasing, the Government announced the release of 1,000 acres of
land in the Valalai and Thellippalai High Security Zone where 400 acres
were initially returned to the owners on 23 March and the balance on
When questioned whether the military is ready to release the balance
lands, Maj.Gen. Udawatte said it depends on the instructions from the
“There are a few number of requirements to maintain a Security Forces
Headquarters and that requires land too. As the security Forces
Headquarters of Jaffna we need to have land and buildings for training
and basic requirements for usual administration work. We will need that
space,” he added.