Political name-dropping behind forcible land grab
By Chris Kamalendran
Persons claiming they were supporters of Fisheries Minister Mahinda Wijesekera had forcibly entered a block of state land in Colombo's Bambalapitiya seafront, threatened the occupant and even got some senior police officers to show off their uniforms as well.

The 'land grab' had all the hallmarks of the now familiar political thuggery - a pajero arriving, gangs coming and forcibly putting up asbestos partitioning, followed by senior gazetted policemen arriving in their jeeps and showing their allegiances to the law-breakers.

The land situated down Kinross Avenue is currently occupied by a well-known angler in the area B. David Perera, who had been occupying the land since 1986 with the authority of the Coast Conservation Department. The 30 perch land provides a haven for many people to unwind and relax in the evenings.

It was such a group of people who came to Mr. Perera last Saturday requesting permission for them to have a private party. "As I allow any person, I said okay to these people. By late evening they were setting the tables up and it seemed like they were organizing a party. Around 7.00 pm they unloaded roofing sheets, this caught my attention and I felt suspicious. Within moments they were partitioning the land" said Mr. Perera.

Mr. Perera had inquired from them as to why they were partitioning the land, when they threatened him, and dropped Fisheries Minister Mahinda Wijesekera's name.
" A person by the name of Lawrence told me that they were supporters of the Minister of Fisheries and they too had a right to this land. I immediately lodged a complaint at the Bambalapitya police station. I don't mind sharing this land with anybody who is genuine and helpless.

I am also living on some else's land as I have no where to go, but in my case I got permission from the relevant authorities to look after the land, which I have been doing for the last twenty years, I have planted about 20 coconut trees. I did ask permission to put up a permanent building but it was turned down, so I live in this hut" said Mr. Perera.

The Bambalapitya police despatched some constables to investigate and ordered the partitioning to be stopped. Lawrence was accompanied in the 'land grab' by a businesswoman Mrs. Aponso who also participated in a subsequent attempt by the Bambalapitiya police to resolve the issue..

She told The Sunday Times that she was not involved, but that she is only engaged in helping one Rani, a shanty-dweller near the prime beach spot where Mr. Perera lives his life of angling and studying marine biology. Interestingly, Mrs. Aponso says that Rani is her domestic aide.

"This lady by the name of Rani who has no claim to ownership of this state land , is now making a claim. I have lived here for 30 years, but its the first time I'm seeing her", Mr Perera says. "This is yet another ploy to grab the land", he adds.

The Sunday Times made several attempts to contact Fisheries Minister Mahinda Wijesekera. On the first occasion he was asked whether the Lawrences and Aponsos were known to him, and if he knew they were acting under his instructions, the Minister gave evasive answers.

He did not say categorically that he did not know them - nor that he did. During the past week every call was un-answered, the final call to him yesterday drew a response from one of his aide's saying that he was asleep. This is not the first time that Mr. Perera has been threatened by supporters of a politician. In 1999 supporters of the then Deputy Minister Jeewan Kumaratunge too made attempts to grab this land.

' A group of people got my permission to set up a temporary business, I gave my consent, but I later found that they were involved in an illegal business. I lodged a complaint at the Bambalapitya police station. The matter went to courts and the police demolished the construction on a court order. The problem did not stop there. Thugs came with a letter given by the then Deputy Minister Jeewan Kumaratunge demanding a block of land for temporary occupation. I handed over the letter to the police and police intervened to settle the matter" said Mr. Perera.

'The problem is between my maid and David, I have no connection to this. . I did not organize any party at the site" said Mrs. Aponso. However Mr. David says that Mrs. Aponso accompanied by Mr. Lawrence visted the site that night and threatened him. The Bambalapitiya police said that the matter will now have to be sorted out by a Court of Law.

Mara tree case makes progress
By Nalaka Nonis
The Police will hand over the legal documents in connection with Minister Mahinda Wijesekara cutting down of a historic mara tree and the demolishing of the lawyers complex to the AG for his opinion, Matara SSP C . D Wickremarathne told The Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times last week reported that Minister Wijesekara had chopped down a Mara tree and had demolished two lawyers offices and a tennis club building situated at the Matara Fort in order to build a sports complex. SSP Wickrematathne said it was the responsibility of the Department of Archaeology to take action.

Archaeology Department Chief Wijepala said the Department would pursue legal action against the unauthorised buildings that are coming up in the Matara Fort, which had been declared as an ancient monument. "No approval was granted by the Department of Archaeology to anybody for a sports complex or any other building", Mr. Wijepala said.

This contradicts Minister Wijesekara's statement that he obtained approval from the Department of Archaeology to build the sport complex at the Matara Fort. However Dr. Wijepala said that his department was never consulted for permission by the Minister which was a legal requirement before initiating such a project.

The Antiquities Ordinance of 1940 states that "regulations may be made prohibiting, or restricting, subject to the prescribed conditions, the erection of buildings or the carrying out of mining, quarrying, or blasting operations on any land within the prescribed distance of 400 yards of any ancient monument situated on state land or any protected monument".

Director General of Archaeology said that the construction of unauthorised structures at the Matara Fort has been taking place in the last two years despite objections from the Department of Archaeology. However, despite not obtaining permission from the Department of Archaeology, construction of the sports complex has begun. The financing for the project is to be obtained mainly from the Fisheries Ministry which comes under the purview of Minister Mahinda Wijesekara.

EPDP seeks SLMM action on abductions
The EPDP has called on the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to look into abductions of its members following one of its members escaping from LTTE custody. Thirugnanam Sivakumar was abducted on Friday while he was travelling to Jaffna. Mr. Sivakumar got into a bus from the Jaffna town to go to Urumpirai. Two LTTE cadres had got into the bus and forced him to get off.

EPDP spokesperson S. Thavaraja told The Sunday Times the LTTE had not stopped harassing EPDP members and called on the SLMM to take immediate action.
"This is not the first time such an incident has occurred, this is a gross violation of the MoU. We have are already lodged a complaint with the SLMM both in Colombo and Jaffna office. Our member was beaten up and manhandled.

The LTTE had questioned him at length on the EPDP activities," Mr. Thavaraja said. Mr. Sivakumar who was taken to a detention centre escaped in the early hours. He came to a police post where he related his story and was then taken to the Jaffna EPDP office.

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