10/18/2016, 16.38
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Activists distributed seeds start farming on seized land in Paanama

by Melani Manel Perera

Two organisations donated seeds to grow peanuts, red beans and corn. The government of former President Rajapaksa had seized the lands of coastal villages to develop tourism. Many residents are still living in tents.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Activists with Sri Lanka’s National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) and the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) have donated seeds to residents in Paanama to grow peanuts, red beans and corn, hoping that their help may facilitate the return to farming of land seized by the former government in order to develop tourism.

Parallel to the World Food Day, which marked ion Sunday, some sacks of seed and farming equipment were donated by activists of Nafso visiting residents in Raagamwela recently.

Their story began in July 2010 when armed men wearing masks attacked the villages, setting fire to houses and destroying the local temple. Residents were expelled and their land seized by police and soldiers.

The rightful owners were barred from the area, since the government of then president Mahinda Rajapaksa planned to redevelop the coastal areas to attract tourists scared off by the civil war.

In February 2015, the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena decided to return the land to its owners and acknowledged that they had been victims of forced evictions.

After months of dashed hopes and no land restitution, villagers decided to force the issue and take back their own lands.

Since then, 34 families live Raagamwela camped in the streets in makeshift shelters. For this reason, “this year we decided to help them make a new start with their lives and crops,” NAFSO coordinator Francis Priyankara Costa told AsiaNews. “Fishing and farming is the only thing they can do."

According to the activist, the villagers "were victims of human rights violations. They were attacked by force, and their homes, lands and property confiscated. Everything was destroyed in one night."

The aforementioned organisations are the first to provide practical help, but already other associations have promised to help.

For now, only three types of seeds have been donated, but farmers are hoping to grow what will guaranteed their survival: mango, cashew and various vegetables.

About a million Sri Lankan rupees (US$ 6,800) would be needed to get everything up to speed on 37 acres of land.

Paanama Pattuwa Protection Organisation chief Punchiraala Somasiri thanked the NAFSO and MONLAR. "We hope that in three or four months we will get something from these crops. We want to continue."

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