A salutary move | Daily News

A salutary move

The decision taken by President Maithripala Sirisena to set a time frame for the release of all land in the North, presently occupied by the military, to their legitimate owners would certainly be welcomed by the civil population who had to ceded their lands to the forces during the war years. Most of these souls had been living with their friends and relatives away from their traditional habitats over the years and it would be a matter of great joy for them to be back in their homesteads which they had to leave behind during those dark days. Presiding over a meeting of the Presidential Task Force on North East Development, at the Parliamentary Complex on Wednesday, the President said the people in the North and East should be given back the lands they are entitled to and directed the relevant officials to resolve all existing problems and release the land to all legally entitled owners before December 31 this year. He directed the officials to implement the programme according to a systematic time frame and report the progress at the next month’s Presidential Task Force meeting.

The war necessitated the requisitioning of land occupied by civilians to facilitate military operations in the theatre of conflict. Most of this land was used to set up military camps while others were taken over for strategic purposes. This resulted in large scale dislocation of the affected populace and a huge blow to their lives coming on top of the terrorism that was part and parcel of their daily living. There were also periodic demonstrations by those whose lands were claimed by the military calling on the Government for a return of their property. The Government acted with caution at the beginning and released these lands only piecemeal.

It is nearly 10 years since the end of the conflict and while some of the lands have been returned to their owners there is still large swathes that are being occupied by the military. At the Task Force meeting the President drew special attention towards releasing land and buildings belonging to schools held by the Armed Forces, which no doubt would need rebuilding and renovation due to lengthy periods they had been occupied by the military.

In fact the releasing of military occupied land to their original owners have been taking place in stages since the conclusion of the war. The process was accelerated somewhat with the advent of the Yahapalanaya Government.

However there have been complaints from Tamil politicians in the North that the military was deliberately holding on to these lands with the intention of prolonging its stay in the North. Of course there cannot be a full scale pull out of the military all at once and although the war has ended, there is still a need for maintaining a certain level of security in the former conflict zone. But like the President noted, the land of the civilian population should be returned to them and the largely downsized army in the North and East could revert to their established camps while maintaining an adequate presence. Army Commander Lt. General Mahesh Senanayake has already assured that there will be no let up in the security in the North and East and an adequate presence of the military will be maintained so as not to jeopardize security and the release of land to the civilians will take place as and when the army pulls out from these lands in keeping with the security needs.

The President’s decision to set a time frame for the resettlement of those who had ceded their lands to the military, no doubt, is bound to earn him a fund of goodwill among the people of the North. This follows his frequent visits to the North and also the many development projects that had been launched by the Government to improve quality of life of the Northern population. The President of course is mindful that it was the voters of the North and East who tilted the scales in his favour enabling him to win the Presidency. The move to return the lands occupied by the forces back to their original owners, although done without political designs, no doubt, is going to stand him in good stead electorally if and when he decides to contest for a second term. Since it was the land issue that had long been the bone of contention in the North.

The Joint Opposition, no doubt, will go hell for leather in trying to convince the voters in the South that the Government was compromising on national security, if the strident noises made whenever such occupied land was released to the civilians is anything to go by. Already the pro-Rajapaksa television stations are making much of the issue, when the process was started under the former President himself, following the conclusion of the war. It had always been the proud boast of Mahinda Rajapaksa that he had eradicated terrorism root and branch from the country and the LTTE is history. Why then are his acolytes entertaining such fears? 


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