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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

Lopsided ‘conflict resolution’ moves

By Janaka Perera

Over the past decade a plethora of both local and foreign conflict resolution pundits,' governments, academics, international bodies, INGOs and NGOs have been relentlessly advising Sri Lankans how to run their country. These sermons have been directed not only at successive governments but also all those who firmly oppose any covert moves to destabilize the State in the name of power sharing and devolution.

During the anti-LTTE military campaign these foreign-funded do-gooders were hell-bent on stopping the war for the sake of a dubious peace. But instead of stopping it the Rajapaksa caravan moved speedily ahead and successfully ended war while the dogs barked.

Now we again hear barking in the distance.

The very same self-proclaimed and well-paid ‘anti-war crusaders’ are apparently exploring new ways and means of justifying the existence of their heavily funded organizations. One of these – the Centre for Policy Alternatives – is reportedly organizing a discussion on minority rights and its relevance in the context of the current political debate on minorities at the JAIC Hilton, Colombo on Thursday July 23.

We do not yet know what the organizers’ real agenda this time is.

However in the light of the controversial Indian-backed 13th Amendment everyone who is concerned with country’s stability and territorial integrity should be on full alert for any subtle attempts to introduce proposals identical to those in the UNHCR Draft for Discussion (published on March 27, 2003) which was submitted to the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government in the name of devolution.

These proposals were on land issues, housing and property rights in relation to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The draft was based to a great extent on experiences the UNHCR had gained in the area of refugee and IDP housing, land and property rights in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia, Guatemala, Georgia, Tajikistan and many other countries undergoing post–conflict reconstruction. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was trying to prescribe the same panacea for our national problem, with no concern for the root causes of the conflict here.

In the Draft for Discussion under Obstacle 6, in the last paragraph of page 13 and the first paragraph of page 14, state:

"The Government may alienate State Lands (Crown Lands) by way of Crown grants and permits under the provisions of the Land Development Ordinance. The intention of these grants and the issuance of permits are to encourage the development and cultivation of land in unpopulated areas. In addition to this form of alienating Crown Lands, settlements were implemented in the Eastern Province under the Allai, Kantalai and Mahaweli irrigation schemes. With the escalation of the conflict, strategic settlements were also established by the Central Government with the support of the military in various locations. One such scheme is the Weli Oya scheme, a part of the Mahaweli L System. This area which engulfs various districts - Trincomalee, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura- is now exclusively administered by the Anuradhapura District authorities. Tamils have perceived these Sinhalese settlements as a strategic military move to disrupt the settlement pattern from North to East and the establishment of a militarized Sinhalese settlement corridor. These settlements could very easily undermine the return process. "

Then it goes on to state:

"In other cases unseen forces with the help of the Army and Police are unofficially settling persons from outside the district along the main road from Habarana to Trincomalee and in the fish market area in Trincomalee. This has caused concern among the Tamil community as they are seen as calculated attempts to disturb the ethnic ratio or demography in the region. There are also reports that agencies, such as the Mahaweli Authority, have given land in the Eastern Province to people with no reference to previous ownership/occupancy."

Noting the glaring distortions in this report, Lt. Colonel (Rtd.) Anil Amarasekera wrote to the UNHCR on June 14 th 2003 and pointed out that the Allai and Kanthalai schemes commenced over 60 years ago, when there was no `ethnic conflict' and fact is that land at the time was alienated without any ethnic bias.

In his response Amarasekera also recalled efforts of the so-called Gandhian Movement, in the early 1980s to settle Tamils of Indian origin repatriated from the plantations, in the Yan Oya basin. This Movement was a front organization of the separatist terrorists. Their intention was to link up the Northern Province with the Eastern Province, through a corridor of exclusive Tamil settlements. In this endeavour LTTE was later successful in removing 23 ancient Sinhalese villages from the Gomarankadawala Divisional Secretariat Area, in the Trincomalee District.

The Lieutenant Colonel also drew the UNHCR's attention to LTTE attempts to destabilize the Padaviya Sinhala settlement, in the Anuradhapura District that was established in the early 1950s. These are two areas in the Yan Oya basin with many ancient Sinhala villages had existed for thousands of years.

Amarasekera says that he could clearly observe that the UNHCR raft had been manipulated to discriminate against the Sinhala majority in the name of upholding minority rights. He notes that such reports would not only mislead the international community but would also be counter productive for conflict resolution in the long-term.

He has made it clear to the UNCHR that the LTTE’s aim was to terrorize and drive away the Sinhala population from the Yan Oya basin, a landmass needed for their so-called Tamil Elam to be established in a merged Northern and Eastern Province. In such a context the government had no option but to establish the Weli Oya settlement, to give extensive protection to both Padaviya and Gomarankadawala.

The UNCHR has to be reminded that the ethnic ratio in the Trincomalee district will never become problematic, if the ratio stated in the 1981 census is accepted, and land policy formulated on that basis.

UNHCR should realize that like in most countries in Sri Lanka too territorial ambition was the cause of conflict. Consequently it is not only one community that has been displaced but people from all the main ethnic groups. And these include the Sinhalas and Muslims who were driven away by the LTTE from the North and East whereas the Tamils continue to live in predominantly Sinhala areas, where they suffer no discrimination.

The last paragraph in page 39 of the UNHCR Draft for Discussion, which deals with Land Allocation states:

As a first step to solve the problem of the landless, State lands in each of the nine districts where the Boards on Land, Housing and Property Rights will operate should be identified for distribution to the landless. These reserve lands will be of use both in solving long-term landlessness and for providing a pool of land for distribution to current secondary occupants who will need a land or housing solution once they move from refugee or IDP lands or homes. "

The fact of the matter however is that provinces other than the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the country are over populated and there is an acute shortage of land for development projects. It is also a fact that most of the land that could be developed is available in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Every citizen, living in this country should have the right to purchase land and live in any part of the country, without harassment said that this basic human right of a citizen is practiced without any discrimination, the right for any citizen of this country, to develop land in any part of his country, without any ethnic bias

It is amazing that the UNHCR in making its recommendations failed to consult the Sinhala Commission on this issue despite that fact that over 75 percent of the population in this country is Sinhala.

The approach of the dubious peace makers to “conflict resolution” in Sri

Lanka still remains largely the same.

- Asian Tribune -

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