In Jaffna, displaced Tamils want back land seized by the military or used for tourism (photos)
by Melani Manel Perera

Thousands took part in a rally organised by the People's Alliance for Right to Land and the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement. Seized during the civil war, properties are still held by the military or businesses operating them for tourism or agriculture.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Thousands of displaced Tamils, who spent the past eight years in refugee camps in Jaffna (Sri Lanka), rallied on Wednesday to demand their land back.

Protesters shouted "We want our lands", "Stop forced evictions," and "Give us back the land occupied by the army” at a protest organised by the People's Alliance for Right to Land (PARL) and the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO).

Most protesters are people displaced during Sri Lanka’s civil war living in 32 camps scattered around Jaffna district.

"It is unfair that these people are still forced to live as refugees eight years after the conflict,” said rally organiser Inpam Muraly. “There is no reason that justifies the continued occupation by the military. We deserve justice," he added.

“We ask the government a simple deed: give back trust to war victims by relocating refugees,” said NAFSO members Antony Anthony Jesudasan and Francis Raajan. "It should return the land and build adequate facilities to allow people to resettle."

During the 30-year civil war that pitted the army against Tamil Tiger rebels, a lot of land was seized for defensive purposes in the island’s northern region.

Tamils have complained that their properties were later handed over to businesses that are now using them for tourism or farming.

This is the case of Sinharathnam Mahalingam, 68, whose land was requisitioned by the military. "Since 1996 I have lived with friends. The war has been over for eight years. We want at least that what is ours be returned," he said.

For K P Somalatha, coordinator of the UVA Wellassa (Monaragala) Women Organisation, "We are here to build solidarity between the north and south of the country. In the meantime, we struggle together for our land. We are all victims of expropriation. The struggle of the displaced is also our struggle."