Commander (H) SLN Kosala Warnakulasuriya, Media Co-ordinator of the Sri Lanka Navy has sent the following response to an article published in the Sunday Times on August 14, 2011.
It was suggested in the Sunday Times article titled “Gange wadiya facing eviction”, citing villagers, that the Navy had imposed restrictions on residents, disrupting their livelihood and indirectly influencing them to evacuate the area. The Navy denies the said allegation and emphasizes that the Navy has not imposed any such restriction as revealed in the article. According to the villagers in Gangewadiya, the presence of Naval personnel is not a menace but a great advantage for them.
This village, Gangewadiya, is situated on an islet in the estuary of the Kala Oya in the Puttalam District. It has easy access to Battalangunduwa and Kalpitiya by sea and is adjacent to the outer edge of the Wilpattu Sanctuary. This place is of great strategic importance due to its geographic location.
A Naval detachment attached to SLNS Thambapanni, Puttalam Naval Base, was established in this village about two years ago as many illegal activities were taking place using sea routes in this area. With the Naval presence in the village, the lives of residents have become more comfortable as the Navy from time to time provided many facilities including drinking water, medicine, transportation and foods. At times the Navy helped them providing other welfare facilities as well. Especially, the Navy has been instrumental in providing first aid and other medical facilities as there is no hospital in this village while the nearest hospital is in Eluwankulama which is 6 Km away. However villagers do not have transport facilities to travel there. Apart from that the Navy has provided security for the villages from outsiders who engage in illegal activities and exploit their resources. Thus the Navy has stood with them through thick and thin.
People in this village live in harmony with the Navy and are happy with the latter’s presence with them due to numerous reasons mentioned above. But a section of people from the village who are engaged in illegal activities such as illicit felling, drug smuggling and illegal fishing using dynamite, are involved in a vicious campaign to remove the Naval Base in order to continue their illegal activities unhindered. These people with vested interests have resorted to instigate propaganda against the Navy by accusing it with baseless allegations.
The article published accusing the Navy for causing fears of eviction is also an attempt on the part of instigators who seem to have propagated distorted facts. The Navy is being vested with an area over 7 hectares for establishment of a base considering the strategic importance of the location. The constructions within the demarcated area for this purpose have been misunderstood by the villagers as tourism promotion.
This is proven by some of the views expressed by the very residents, who appeared in the referred article. According to Mr. W. Emmanuel whose photograph appeared in the newspaper, the Navy is helping them a lot in various ways. He says that they have been permanent residents of the area for a long time. However they had been attacked by the terrorists forcing them to leave the area.
But with the arrival of military personnel they could live without fear. He emphasizes that they are happy with the presence of the Navy as it provides them security and other facilities such as helping in fisheries activities. Further, he went on to accuse smugglers and illicit fellers for attempting to interrupt the peaceful atmosphere prevalent in the village after the dawn of peace. Several other residents also have expressed similar sentiments regarding the issue. Mr. HA Nicholas Gamini , voicing his opinions regarding this, says that the people are happy with the Naval presence as they are always assisted by sailors, but those who are engaged in illegal activities do not like the Navy due to obvious reasons and fabricate allegations against it.
More than ten villagers have volunteered to express their views citing the benefits they receive from the Navy. Some of them are Thilanga Namal,HA Nilanka,HA Camillus Appuhamy, W Benjamin, LPAC Diwasiri and P. Emmanuel. In their statements, they claim that it is only the outsiders involved in illegal activities who consider the naval presence a hindrance to continue their movements and carry out scathing propaganda to spoil the prestige of the Navy which helps the villagers immensely.
News Editor’s response:
The Sri Lanka Navy’s response confirms the last week’s Sunday Times news item when it says ‘the Navy is being vested with an area of over seven hectares (about 17 acres) for establishment of a base…’
The villagers speaking to the Sunday Times expressed fears of losing the areas they occupied earlier and suspected that it may be used for a hotel project.
The fears of the villagers that they will be deprived of the lands they occupied for decades has now been confirmed though it appears to be for a different reason.
However the villagers had not been informed about the situation. It was only after the Sunday Times news item appeared last week that a team of Navy officers had visited the villagers and collected signature from them saying they were living without problems.
The Navy has not responded to the main issue whether the villagers will be losing access to the areas of the islets and will face displacement.
The Sunday Times stands by the story.