04/06/2009, 00.00
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1000 fishermen displaced to build new port of Oluvil

by Melani Manel Perera
For generations, they have earned their living by casting their nets along the coast; now only large ships and tourist boats will be allowed. The government had promised compensation, but only a small part of this has been paid.

Oluvil (AsiaNews) - To make room for the new port of Oluvil, in the district of Ampara (Eastern Province), 50 fishing families will be displaced, who for generations have earned their living along the coast, which is now set aside exclusively for large ships and tourist boats. More than 1,000 people, Muslims and Tamils, will lose their land facing the sea, and with this their only means of support.

"This harbor is not for the benefit of the small scale fishers or their fishing boats at all. This is a commercial harbor and will displace the fisher people further," Herman Kumara tells AsiaNews. Kumara is secretary general of the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) and the convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO).

In 2007, a representative group for 800 fishermen in the area had met with Chamal Rajapaksa, one of the president's brothers, who is the minister for ports and aviation. They had come to a verbal agreement, according to which the government would provide 1,000,000 Sri Lankan rupees (a little more than 6000 euros) for each fisherman, but only 150,000 of the promised amount has been sent by the government of Colombo.

With the expansion of the port and the new navigation rules, the fishermen will be restricted to a one-kilometer area, where it is difficult to navigate their boats and almost impossible to cast their nets. The first news on the new port project goes back to 1994. At that time, various organizations of civil society had tried to present the fishermen's case to the competent authorities, on both the national and local level. The estimates presented at the time revealed that the expansion work would harm more than 12,000 people. The government had promised compensation and meetings with the population, but with the passing of time no discussions have been opened and the work has begun, with its problems and displacements.

Now, the cause of the inhabitants on the coastline affected by the project is being represented not only by the NAFSO and the WFFP, but also by the Palliwasal Society, a Muslim group, and by organizations of private citizens.

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