01/26/2007, 00.00
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Fishermen in Galle take to the streets to protest forced demolitions

by Melani Manel Perera
Local administration orders the demolition of equipment shelters used by local fishermen without informing or providing them with any alternative. The action seems to be informed by a desire to clean up the town’s image ahead of an international aid conference to get funds for the area’s gentrification.

Galle (AsiaNews) – In Galle, a town in southern Sri Lanka, the authorities tore down fishing equipment shelters used by local fishermen without informing or providing them with compensation or alternatives. For the affected fishermen the reason behind the action lies with an upcoming international conference and the desire of the local administration to “clean up” the town’s image and rid it of the sight of poor dwellings in order to get funds for an ambitious urban development plan.

The fishermen yesterday organised a demonstration (see photo) on Ratgama beach, the bone of contention, to protest against this type of abuse.

Galle’s Urban Development Authority decided to demolish 38 shelters each containing fishing gear and tools worth five to fifteen thousand dollars.

Fishermen, who live far from the beach, cannot afford moving their equipment elsewhere and cannot bring them back and forth everyday from work.

The 500 or so demonstrators included men and women. Some said that on Wednesday “the authorities arrived and destroyed two huts and six boxes where we kept our boats. They did not listen to our pleas and soon afterwards ordered us to clear off in two hours”.

“We asked the Urban Development Authority why they were doing this? Why are you treating us like animals? They made plans concerning out property without informing us or asking us what we thought,” said K. Titus, an activists with Galle’s Southern Fisheries Solidarity.

Demonstrators are convinced that the government wants to “clean up” the area in time for an International Aid Conference scheduled to open in town on January 28. They want to show foreigners that there are no poor in the area or illegal buildings.

“They want to chase us out in order to get money to turn the place in a luxury place”, said Byris, 62.

Demolitions will affect about a thousand people in the area who are dependent on the sea. Locals estimate that some 135 boats and 12 vallam (a local boat) use Ratgama beach.

“We want the administration to provide explanations; otherwise we shall continue to fight for our rights,” said another fisherman.

Demonstrators handed the commissioner of the Urban Council a memorandum demanding that no building be demolish unless an alternative is provided. The commissioner however responded saying he did not know anything about the issue.

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