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Land Seized from Tamils Turned into Luxury Tourist Resorts in Sri Lanka, Report Finds

May 28, 2015
Toronto Star

All the while, hundreds of thousands of Tamil families remain displaced, living in camps.

Six years after Sri Lanka’s army crushed the Tamil Tiger guerrillas and ended a 26-year civil war that killed tens of thousands of people, a silent war continues under the guise of a land grab, says a new report.

Thousands of hectares of land seized from the locals during the war are being redeveloped as luxury tourist resorts, industrial projects and army bases, the report says.

In some cases, fertile land — also occupied during the war — is being used for farming by soldiers and the produce sold to the very people the land was seized from, it alleges.

The report says tourists can book holidays at luxury beach resorts by calling numbers at the ministry of defence.

All the while, hundreds of thousands of Tamil families remain displaced, living in camps, said Anuradha Mittal, author of the report and executive director of the Oakland Institute, a think tank in California.

“These people see no sign of return despite several demands and petitions,” she said in an interview.

The Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa called the report “baseless” and “unsubstantiated.”

“There is nothing to these allegations,” said Waruna Wilpatha, the acting high commissioner. The army, he said, released 20,000 acres of land in the northern part of the country in June 2014.

“Gradually all land will be released but it first has to be cleared of land mines . . . can’t release without de-mining the land. The new government is committed to doing it.”

On the question of internally displaced people, Wilpatha said there are none. “We closed all the camps and resettled all the IDPs.”

Mittal says she visited camps and met several displaced people — mostly Tamils — who had left their land years ago to escape the shelling.

“They didn’t even get to collect their belongings, forget about the land deeds,” she said. “Now, there is almost no way they can prove that this is their house or their land.”

Thousands of Tamils, she said, are displaced, without homes or livelihoods. Many of those who have been “resettled” through government schemes have often been moved involuntarily to areas that lack proper infrastructure like homes, schools or hospitals.

“They are becoming IDPs (internally displaced people) yet again, in their own land.”

It’s tough to get an estimate about how much land is still being occupied by the Sri Lankan army, said Mittal.

“It’s widespread, I was blown away.” she said. “We have worked on land issues around the world . . . but have never seen anything like this where you just move in because you are either the army or have the support of the largest Sinhala majority.”