Sri Lanka: Tamils march against land seizure

More than 800 people rallied in Thellippazhai on April 29, a town in the north of the island of Sri Lanka. They marched towards the entrance of a nearby military zone.

The Tamilnet website said the rally organisers had been warned by police that a march would not be permitted, but rally participants spontaneously decided to march regardless. They were blocked from reaching the military zone by the army and police.

They were protesting against the confiscation of their land by the Sri Lankan army.

During the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island, large areas of Tamil-owned land were seized by the army.

The land was to create what were termed “high security zones”. At the time the land seizure was claimed to be temporary.

But after the war ended in May 2009, the army kept control of the land. The original owners were prevented from returning. Many displaced people are still living in “welfare camps” or in makeshift shacks.

Now the Sri Lankan government has been “legally” appropriating the land, making the land seizure permanent. This has provoked several protests by the landowners.

People came to the April 29 rally despite attempts at intimidation by the army and police, including the blocking of some roads. The rally was addressed by speakers from the Tamil National Alliance, the Tamil National Peoples Front and the Democratic Peoples Front, as well as civil society activists and religious figures.

The Thellippazhai rally followed a previous rally in Jaffna. On April 24, more than 500 people protested outside the Jaffna District Secretariat office.

At the rally, New Socialist Party leader Vickramabahu Karunaratne spoke of the need for “an island-wide struggle against the dictatorial regime”, to install a new regime that would establish autonomy for the Tamil people.