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Sunday, 22 November 2015

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Government Gazette

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.

Secondary occupants

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 impediments.

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 terror campaign.

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 out.

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 resettlement process.

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]

Rauff Hakeem
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 special statement.

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 interests.

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.

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