By Abdul H. Azeez
Sinhala villagers have recently come in from Balapitiya. Pressure builds along fault lines of ethnic tensions. The Sunday Leader reported on May 8 that several acres of land belonging to Tamil and Muslim villagers were forcibly taken away from them by neighbouring Sinhala villagers.
The whole situation stank of ethnic tensions. A meeting was held soon after The Sunday Leader report to reconcile the situation. However, little or nothing came out of it since the people from the Sinhala villages refused to participate.
The president of the Farmers Union representing the Tamil and Muslim farmers, M. Velmaran, said that upto 500 acres of land had been snatched from them. The current occupiers have started cultivations of their own and have threatened Velamaran and his people of Pudukadu, Ottu and Muthukaymadu and said that the land would be destroyed with strong weedicides if their former occupants attempted to re-enter the land or approach the police.
The Sunday Leader contacted Neelapola Sadhu, the chief of the Sinhala villagers to get the other side of the story. He is a priest in the village of Dehiwattte and is an activist for the rights of villagers.
According to him, the land in dispute is government property and is not owned by Velmaran and the farmers in his organisation. “These lands have no owners, so we want the government to take them over and then redistribute them in a free and fair manner,” he said. The priest added that many of the Sinhala villagers did not have land to cultivate while their counterparts enjoyed upto 25 acres per person.
Velmaran denies this. “We only have a 2-4 acres each. The Sinhala villagers of Dehiwatte have no land here, they came from Balapitiya. There are about 50 families and they are threatening to take away our land.”
The dispute is over a piece of land of 1600-2000 acres.The land in question was originally cultivated from 1956 by farmers in local Muslim and Tamil villages. The lands were officially given over to them with deeds in the 1970s. The villagers were forced to leave their lands due to the intensification of the conflict in the mid eighties, but returned during the ceasefire and then again after the war ended in 2009. The accusation of colonisation is serious.
Velmaran and his group of farmers came back after the war ended to find their land occupied by several Sinhala villagers.
The Muttur Police said that the dispute was ‘resolved’ and given over to the Lands Commissioner. OIC Abeyratne refused to elaborate. The Lands Commissioner remained un-contactable despite repeated attempts by The Sunday Leader.