Military demolishes homes in former HSZ in Valikamam

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 00:43 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Dharisha Bastians in Jaffna Military demolition of partially-damaged houses in the contested Valikamam North area in the Jaffna District, a former High Security Zone (HSZ), has drawn sharp criticism from Tamil politicians in the area, but the Army maintains it is well within its rights. Homes in Kattuwan Village, Tellipalai, an area within the Palaly cantonment and former HSZ, were being uprooted by their foundation, TNA Provincial Councillor Dharmalingam Sithdharthan told the Daily FT yesterday. Sithdharthan was among the TNA politicians who arrived at the demolition site on Monday, to protest the moves. TNA MP E. Saravanabavan was also present, with several Jaffna based reporters in tow. Sithdharthan explained that the houses were all partially damaged by heavy shelling during the war. “But many of them could have been rebuilt. Some needed new roofs and repairs,” he said. “These are lands over which cases are pending even now in Court.” The military officer who met the group outside the demolition site said the military had orders from the top to carry out the demolition, the TNA Councillor said. Thousands of litigants with claims to land in the Valikamam area have filed petitions in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court against the alleged land grab. With Emergency Regulations no longer in force, the demarcations of High Security Zones also lapse in areas of the north, allowing land-owners to file suit to demand the return of their property, senior lawyers said. Thousands of families were displaced from Valikamam North in 1983 when more than 6,000 acres of land were acquired and handed over to the military to set up a High Security Zone. According to Sithdharthan, although the Army has occupied the area for decades, the acquisition was never gazetted, to his knowledge. “The military officer told us this land had been designated to put up buildings for soldiers and their families who would all be withdrawn from all over Jaffna soon,” he said. The Sri Lanka Army claims the military has been in control of this land in the Palaly cantonment close to the airbase for decades. “The land was legally acquired by the Lands Ministry and handed over to the military. We are within our rights to carry out development work in the area,” Military Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya told the Daily FT from Colombo. He said there was no question of the houses in the region belonging to civilians because the land now belonged to the Army. There was nothing illegal about the acquisition of this land, the Military Spokesman maintained, adding that he had no knowledge of legal challenges by civilians over the acquisition. Brigadier Wanigasooriya said when the military is granted land, it does things on the property based on security concerns. “Sometimes to develop, you have to demolish,” the Military Spokesman noted. The Brigadier denies that the demolition is taking place for the relocation of military personnel and their families to the area, but in May this year the Army announced it would be withdrawing 14 camps and relocating them at the Palaly cantonment. Tamil politicians say the problem with the relocation is that tens of thousands of people remain displaced from Valikamam with legal claims to the land. Many of the displaced have lived in IDP camps or with relatives since the 1980s. The land in Valikamam North is fertile, making agriculture the major livelihood in the area. Sithdharthan says Valikamam was a highly populated area due to the arable land and the presence of the industrial zone in Kankesanthurai. Thousands of farmers and industrial workers were left unemployed and displaced when the land was taken over by the military in 1983. The destruction of about 200 homes in the area with potential legal claimants will make resettlement of these displaced people even more challenging. “This is why the Army has to go,” says Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, referring to Monday’s demolition. Wigneswaran sees a hidden agenda in the Army’s decision to “resettle” soldiers and families in the area. The Chief Minister said he had informed TNA Leader R. Sampanthan about the Kattuvan demolition. “He will take it up with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. If the President deals with it, the matter ends there. If not we will make it a point to highlight it during CHOGM,” he added. Wigneswaran says the ongoing issue in Valikamam and other parts of the Northern Province are not isolated incidents. “It’s all part of what appears to be an insidious plan by the Government that is working on communal lines, to take control, change demographic patterns and keep the Army in the Northern Province forever,” the Chief Minister charged.