Sri Lanka, the government returns Paanama village to its inhabitants
by Melani Manel Perera
The land had been expropriated by the previous administration for tourist purposes. For years, the local population had launched a campaign to regain their property. Local leader: "Despite threats and abuse, we have had the courage to go on."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The villagers of Paanama, in the eastern province of Sri Lanka, will soon return to live in their homes. The Council of Ministers has decided to return the land to its rightful owners, who had suffered a forced expropriation by the previous government to pave the way for tourism.

"Last February 11 - explains Chinthaka Rajapakshe, moderator of the Movement for National Land and Agricoltural Reform (MONLAR) - The Council of Ministers established the restitution of our land, under the control of the army and air force as' high security areas'. It is a positive move by the new government and a great victory for the local people".

"Many local and foreign groups have supported our fight - P. Somasiri, president of the Organization for the Protection of Paanam Paththuwa (POPA) told AsiaNews -, we are so grateful to all of them both here and abroad, and we are very grateful to all of them who helped us and strengthened our fight to get back our lands. It is a collective effort. Amid threats and harassments we all had the courage and commitment in the struggle. Truly, it is a peoples' struggle".

In 2011 the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa (defeated in the elections this year, ed) initiated a number of development projects - especially in tourism - to make Sri Lanka a "Wonder of Asia". They planned the construction of luxury resorts and hotels, with the ambitious goal of having 2.5 million tourists by 2016 and revenue of billions of rupees. The contracts, however, are all entrusted to large foreign multinationals: the local population was not involved in any decision, at most were exploited as  cheap labor. This, despite the projects affecting citizens with forced evictions and violations of various kinds.