The right to return
Obstacles to resettling Muslims and Sinhalese -
evicted from the North:
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader
blamed the former government for the delay in resettling the Muslims
evicted from the North, adding that it became a media fanfare at the
time to hoodwink the diplomatic community while Muslim IDPs languish in
makeshift camps even six years after the end of the war.
People at a refugee camp.
Pic: ANCL media library
City Planning and Water Supply Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress
Leader Rauff Hakeem in an interview with the Sunday Observer said
although his party became a part of the UPFA Government in 2011, they
were treated as outsiders and it was not fair to blame his party for
inaction on this particular issue because their opinions were never
taken into account.
Emphasizing the need to speed up the resettlement agenda of the
government, the Minister welcomed the President's move to immediately
call up a meeting to discuss the stumbling blocks that prevent the
Muslim and Sinhala IDPs from returning to the North.
Referring to one of the contentions at ground level, he said, "We
cannot agree with the statistics State officials from district offices
were submitting at every important stakeholder meeting."
He said the officials need to review the data at hand and consult the
Elections Department and the Education Department for verification. As
for the refugees in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka's Deputy High Commissioner in
Chennai will be the link to do a proper survey.
"We have observed 'preposterous discrepancies' between the records
the officials hold and the actual figures," he said, adding that the
fact that these families have multiplied since 1990, should be taken
into account before allocating land.
An important meeting on the issue of resettling the evicted Muslims
and Sinhala communities was held at the Presidential Secretariat
recently where a special task force was appointed chaired by
Resettlement Minister D.M. Swaminathan to make recommendations within
three weeks to speed up the process.
In addition, two provincial committees chaired by the respective
Governors were appointed to identify urgently the drawbacks at all
levels and report to the National Task Force within two weeks.
Based on their findings, the task force is expected to submit a set
of recommendations to the President.
The Minister said the issue of secondary occupants in the original
lands of the evicted Muslims' and Sinhalese was one of the serious
issues that has been identified and being addressed.
A law is to be passed in Parliament amending the Prescription
Ordinance by Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe shortly to clear
restrictions in dealing with secondary occupants and removing legal
Special courts, with powers beyond mediation boards, are also to be
set up to handle the cases.
The LTTE prevented people forcibly removed from the North in October
1990 from taking their land deeds or any proof of their ownership of the
lands, making it almost impossible for evicted people to present a
proper claim. Amending the Prescription Ordinance is expected to address
the issue. The Minister said there were no definite statistics with
regard to the people evicted and expecting to return.
Reportedly over 70,000 Muslims and thousands of Sinhalese were
evicted from the LTTE's self-proclaimed Eelam in the early days of its
The families have multiplied since then and the SLMC and other
parties recently renewed their agitation calling for the State to step
up the resettlement process.
He said the Sinhalese were not well informed of their right to return
and are yet to know of the opportunities available.
"It is up to the government to promote voluntary return," he pointed
Wednesday's meeting was attended by a host of top State officials and
several Ministers, excluding the Northern Chief Minister, who was
represented by the Provincial Resettlement Minister.
It transpired at the meeting that the TNA's attitude towards the
program to bring back evicted people was an impediment to the
However, Minister Hakeem appreciated the stance taken by MP M.A.
Sumanthiran at a recent event which commemorated the 25th anniversary of
the eviction of Muslims.
MP Sumanthiran had reportedly criticised the silence of the Tamil
people when their Muslim brothers and sisters were forcibly removed by
the LTTE in an act of ethnic cleansing.
"It was a magnanimous statement. I think he has come under flak for
what he said. All this time Muslims have been waiting for some sort of
acknowledgement, which is important in any sort of reparation and
accountability process," he said.
Minister Hakeem said the TNA parliamentarian was very generous in
saying this and it should be appreciated in the proper context, rather
than making it a political issue to score brownie points by both sides.
[Minister denies rift over Avant Garde issue]
Pic: ANCL media library
City Planning and Water Supply Minister Rauff Hakeen who allegedly
criticized Minister Tilak Marapana's statement in Parliament dismissing
claims against Avant Garde, denied that there was a major rift within
the government over the issue.
"No, there is no serious rift," he insisted adding, "in spite of
unfortunate name calling between members of the Cabinet."
"I must say I have resisted any argument with my colleagues. Whatever
I said was in the best interests of the government, and I did not target
any individual on purpose," the Minister explained.
At the Cabinet meeting following the Avant Garde Adjournment debate,
the Minister had lodged his protest over Minister Marapana's action, on
the basis that the Cabinet was kept in the dark with regard to his
He said, like certain other Ministers who had been very vocal in
criticizing the Avant Garde, he maintains that there cannot be any
compromise in dealing with corruption by the previous regime.
The Minister denied claims that certain ministers within the current
regime were eyeing the lucrative Avant Garde venture and the so-called
agitation for accountability was not marred by personal business
But he acknowledged the monopoly by this particular company has been
a reason for contention. "Supply of sea marshals to commercial liners
were earlier done by the Navy and then it was outsourced, giving the
monopoly to this particular company. That was an issue, he said.
He said the investigators should also probe if the ex-military top
brass misused their offices to appease Avant Garde while in service,
because as much as ex-military personnel were permitted to find well
paid jobs after retirement, it was wrong to promote the interests of a
private company while holding office.