Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 23 August 2015





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Government Gazette

What the Thalsevana luxury cannot hide

Sri Lanka has everything a holidaymaker could want: a wonderful climate, friendly people, delicious food and beautiful beaches. But some of its resorts hide dark secrets. The fact that you have to go through a military checkpoint is a warning that the Thalsevana resort is no ordinary hotel.

Thalsevana Holiday Resort

The troops want to see passports and check the car for cameras. I don’t mention that I am a journalist, I know they are not welcome here.

We are waved through security and onto a large military base. There are canteen buildings, long blocks of barracks and mechanical workshops with military vehicles parked in the yard. And armed soldiers milling around everywhere.

Then, after a short drive, a bizarre sight: a large, luxury hotel.

Children splash in the generous pool. A few yards away stretches a perfect arc of white sand – the hotel’s private beach.

Although they don’t wear uniforms, many of the staff at the resort are soldiers

I find a free table in the cafe and lean back in the large, comfortable chairs. As the sunlight scissors off the ocean an unusually clean-cut, but slightly uncertain waiter sidles up to the table to take my order.

Service staff

There’s a good reason the waiters have perfect buzz cuts – and appear a little unclear about their role. It is because they – and many of the other staff in the hotel – are actually soldiers.

This dream destination is evidence of the legacy of misery and division that still remains, six years after Sri Lanka’s civil war ended.

The hotel is owned and run by the Sri Lanka Army and the military base is on land seized from the Liberation Tigers during the civil war.

Residents of a slum not far away from the resort claim the land it is one that belongs to them.

Just a few miles down the road, but a world away from the luxury of the hotel, is the slum where some of the people who claim to be the real owners of the land now live.

Dessert corner - tumbler
Inside view -tripadvisor

There are more than 200 people – 58 families – there, but just two water points and a couple of shared latrine buildings.


I met Julius Selvamalar outside her cramped corrugated iron shack. She tells me that Sri Lankan troops drove her family from their beachside home on a plot right next to where the Thalsevana now stands.

“We are forced to live like refugees in this slum. It is like living in hell. I had to bring up my children here,” she complained.

She told me the land is now very valuable but she doesn’t hold out any hope of getting it back.

The army insists, however, that the land was bare when it showed up and erected the hotel. “It is a welfare project of the army for the army personnel,” Brig Jayanath Jayaweera tells us.

He says, no one has tried to claim ownership of the land. But if they did? “I will have to speak to the commander,” he says.

The visible scars of Sri Lanka’s civil war may have almost vanished, but deep divisions still remain.

Even in Kilinochchi, once the headquarters of the rebel Tamil Tiger army, there are few signs of the terrible conflict that raged here for more than two decades.

There are new roads and the ‘Northern Line’ railway has been rebuilt.

Yet, many human rights abuses have yet to be addressed. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans are, like Julius, still displaced. Besides the seeming peace, there is much more to be achieved.




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