The Urban Development Authority (UDA), which is now under the Defence Ministry, yesterday, with assistance of Police and the Army, demolished what it called unauthorised constr uctions down Mews Street in Kompa nnaveediya.
However, residents of these allegedly unauthorised houses claimed they held title deeds and complained that they were given barely a week's notice to move out to a temporary resettlement sche me at Weligoda in Thota langa.
They put up a strong protest and resisted the Police and the Army, but they failed to stop the demolition.
M. R. M. Nizam, one of the residents, claimed that he and his neighbours had occupied these houses for decades and that they paid their taxes on time.
He said they were asked to come for a meeting with UDA officials who later showed them the temporary houses at Weligoda where they would stay till permanent residences were given to them in a housing scheme at Dematagoda.
A. C. Kamardeen, another resident, who was living in Mew Street for more than 80 years, said they didn't want to move to the temporary houses as they were not in good condition. "We too like to see the country progress and if it is what is best for the country, we'll gladly move out. We only ask for a suitable alternative house," he said.
Army personnel yesterday destroyed pictures taken by photojournalists at the site where the UDA demolished houses.
An abusive brigadier was heard ordering Army personnel to delete the pictures and remove video cassettes of TV journalists.
People could be seen hurriedly removing their furniture and belongings out of their houses before the structures were demolished. Some stayed back to angrily shout in protest even as the excavators
moved in to bring their houses down.
A 64-year-old woman who had been living in her house down Mew Street all her life said she held an "original deed" for her house, given to her by Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa. "These are not unauthorised houses. I've been living here all my life," she said.
Colombo's former Deputy Mayor Azad Sally, who
now supports the President, told The Sunday Times that only four out of 24 people turned up with deeds for their houses when he requested them to meet him, and that too at the last minute.
Mr. Sally said he had earlier met President Mahinda Rajapksa to discuss the matter with him. The president, he said, had been agreeable to extending the time given to them by one month.
"Only four residents held deeds to these houses; deeds that were given in 1982 by then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. The residents of these 24 houses will be transferred to a temporary location at Weligoda and will be moved to a comfortable place in eight months' time," he said.
Meanwhile Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) Director General Lakshman Hulugalle said the houses that were demolished were illegal and that the residents could seek legal action in courts if they wanted to.
"I don't understand how they can claim that these houses are legal, because it is only illegal constructions that we are removing. This is not a sudden move. It wasn't planned today. They've been warned of this for the past two years," he said.