Seeking peaceful solutions to Muslims’ grievances in East

By Latheef Farook

A one day workshop will be held in Colombo next Tuesday, August 19, to seek peaceful means to find a durable settlement to Eastern Muslims' grievances and initiate a dialogue with other communities on the basis of pluralism, equality and mutual acknowledgement. This workshop is being organized by the Eastern Muslim Peace Assembly,EMPA, in cooperation with the Foundation for Coexistence.

Though the East is cleared of the LTTE and the "Eastern Provincial Council" has been constituted amidst controversies, Eastern Muslims complain that military victories and political changes have not brought any relief to their long suffering. Under the circumstances, unless longstanding issues such as forcible occupation of land, land disputes and displacement of people are resolved by peaceful means liberation will become meaningless and reconciliation among the three communities will be a distant dream.

An elderly Muslim woman raising her hand towards the sky, seeking divine help to protect them from the atrocities of the LTTE after scores of Muslims were massacred in a mosque in Eravur in 1990.

Eastern Muslims complain that, up to date, nothing was done in this regard and they urge the Government to clearly indicate that it is prepared to stand by the unarmed peaceful Muslim community and help resolve their grievances before it is too late. All previous governments failed to take meaningful measures to ensure security to Muslims who have been at the receiving end of LTTE atrocities for not supporting their call for a separate state in the North East. Unfortunately this fact was ignored by successive governments.

A recent report on the grievances of Eastern Muslims by the EMPA pointed out that all assurances in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord to ensure the security and safety of all communities in the Northern and Eastern provinces disappeared soon after the accord was signed. Instead, in its wake, Muslims were subjected to harassments, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

The report also warned that the " Government and the security forces too make life miserable for Muslims who are no longer prepared to be at the receiving end losing lives and properties in the most horrendous manner for no reason. If this state of affairs is allowed to continue unchecked the country is bound to face another looming problem of immense magnitude -- that is, the possibility of frustrated Muslim youth inevitably being forced to take to arms to resolve their grievances".

The Eastern Muslims keen on averting such a disaster appeal to the government to heed their grievances and ensure peace among all communities in the east. Highlighting some of their grievances the report stated that though more than 65% of the people of Ampara district were Tamil speaking, Tamils and Muslims, yet the Ampara Kachcheri continues to conduct the administration in Sinhala.
In re-demarcating the new Administrative Divisions for Pottuvil, the former Muslim Majority Panamapattu DRO Division (with a population of 26,916, in 472 sq. miles) was divided in such a way that the 74% Muslim Majority Pottuvil AGA Division with a population of 19,831 was given only 22% of the land (103.9 sq. miles) while the remaining 78% (368.23 sq. miles) land area was allocated to the 26% Sinhala Majority Lahugala AGA Division.

The Sinhalese have 208 times more than the land area of the Muslims when land area of Sinhala Majority Lahugala AGA Division is compared with the Muslim Majority Kalmunai AGA Division. Also the Sinhalese land area is 13 times more than the Muslim land area when the land area for the Sinhalese is compared with the land area for the Muslims in the Muslim Majority Ampara District.

The Akkaraipattu AGA's Division had two-third Muslims and one-third Tamil population. A circuit AGA's Office was temporarily created in 1985 for the Tamils in Akkaraipattu which was later upgraded to a fully-fledged AGA's Office called Alayadivembu. Grievances of Akkaraipattu Muslims were aggravated when the legitimate land and natural resources belonging to Muslims were brought under the Tamil majority Alaiyadivembu AGA Division.

In the Sammanthurai Muslim Majority DRO Division, nearly 50 sq. miles of land area covering the Handy Institute, Ampara Tank and the Town area were separated and added to the Sinhala Wewagampattu South - Uhana AGA Division.

The Batticaloa district consists of 14 Pradeshiya Sabhas covering 2633 sq. km. There are four predominant Muslim DS divisions and the land area includes Kattankudi (3.4 sq. km), Eravur Town (3.89 sq. km), Koralaipaththu West or Ottamavadi (6.84 sq. km) and Koralaipaththu Central (6.50 sq. km). The total extent of Muslim land area is about 20.0 sq. km., which is less than 1.0% of the total area of the Batticaloa District where the Muslim population is nearly 30% today.

Serious issues have been raised by Muslims of Batticaloa on the ongoing activities of several international organizations assisted by the Government and the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) in re-locating displaced Tamils on lands belonging to the Muslims.

After 1985, the LTTE forcibly occupied more than 35,000 acres of Muslim residential, agricultural and cattle farming land. The government did nothing to help Muslims regain their properties based on title deeds, government permits or the paddy cultivation register. During the ethnic conflict in 1983, 1985 and 1990 more than 12,700 Muslim families were chased out by the LTTE and the Tamils forcibly occupied all the Muslim lands that came under LTTE-control. Here too the government did nothing to provide any relief or pay compensation for the loss of livelihood of these displaced Muslims.

Although the Local Government Commission declared Koralaipaththu Central - the area of historical habitation of the Muslims, covering more than 240 sq. km, consisting of 11 Grama Sevaka Niladhari divisions -- the boundaries have not yet been demarcated.

In Eravur, most of the Muslim agricultural and cattle farm lands owned by the Muslims lie along the Chenkaladi- Badulla A5 Road. Today the entire area along this road has come under the control of government forces.

Resettlement of displaced Tamils on Muslim land in Iyankuni, Meerakerni, Mitchanagar, Hidayathanagar and Thakvanagar, in and around Eravurpathu Pradeshiya Sabha, had further complicated the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Tamils in Eravur.

Ollikulam, Sikaram, Karbela, Palamunai, Kankayan Odai and Keechampallam are the Muslim border villages of Kattankudi in Arayanipathu Pradeshiya Sabha. Displaced Tamils have been temporarily settled in private lands owned by the Muslims and in mosques after the tsunami and the government military operations to flush out the LTTE in the Paduvankarai Tamil villages.

Now the TMVP with the assistance of Government security forces and some INGOs are making arrangements to settle the displaced Tamils who have come from Tamil areas, permanently on lands belonging to the Muslims, depriving the Muslims the lands that legitimately belong to them.

In the Trincomalee District, Kuchchaveli is predominantly a Muslim area with a population of 29,967. Some 65% of them are Muslims, 31% Tamils, 3% Christians and 01% Sinhalese. Kuchchaveli Pradeshiya Sabha has nine members, Muslims 6, Tamils 3. The Divisional Secretary is a Tamil in the predominantly Muslim division. Of the total 24 grama niladharies 65% Muslims are given only 7 GS while the remaining 17 GS are given to the Tamils and others who are only 35%. Average population of a Tamil GS division is 250 people whereas the population in Muslims GS is around 1350.

The Kurangupanchan GS Division is about 20 sq. km in extent and is located 15 km East of Kinniya town. More than 255 Muslims families lived in Kurangupanchan up to 1990. As a result of the war in 1990 the Muslims in Kurangupanchan village were forcibly displaced. Soon after the ceasefire agreement between the government and LTTE in February 2002, the Muslims returned and started paddy cultivation in their fields and resettled in their own lands. They renovated the mosque in terms of an agreement reached with the LTTE on 11.06.2003. But the LTTE chased the Muslims families and put up a military camp in the mosque building and forcibly occupied the areas of historical habitation of the Muslims in the government-controlled area.

After taking over the east by the government Forces, the LTTE camp is converted to government military camp in the mosque premises and the displaced Muslims are not resettled in the area yet.

It is widely criticized that the government has not treated the tsunami-affected Muslims just and fairly.
Ampara, the country's worst affected district, is a glaring example of how ineffective institutions, political rivalries and misinformation can make a mockery of disaster management. Kattankudy border villages such as New Kattankudy and Palamunai still remain untouched. Mutur, Kinniya, Kuchchaveli, Pulmoddai and Trincomalee town are the main Divisional Secretariats Division in the Trincomalee District where thousands of Muslims have been affected by the tsunami.

Sri Lanka government's new flag for the Eastern Province has failed to represent all the communities living in the East in a just and fair manner despite, as stated in his book - War or Peace in Sri Lanka by T.D.S.A Dissanayaka that "the Muslims remain the unquestioned majority in the Eastern Province - 39.6%, Tamils - 33.2%, Sinhalese - 26.1% and others - 1.1%.

The Muslim community which is the largest ethnic group in the East today has raised serious concern over the failure of the government to recognize this community by not printing any symbols in the flag to represent the Muslims.

Law enforcement authorities in many parts of the Eastern province are turning a blind eye to the complaints made by the Muslims against Tamil militants' atrocities. The situation has reached such a stage that most victims have now stopped complaining to the police because details of complainants were leaked and their families intimidated and harassed.

All these issues will be discussed at the workshop which will be attended by ministers and top government officials.

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