Navy intransigence, mines plague Muslim resettlers
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 25 September 2002, 14:48 GMT]
(Feature) “Muslims are still unable to resettle in their
villages even after six months of a stable ceasefire
because of Sri Lanka Navy’s intransigence and land
mines,” said Mr. M. M Saburudeen, the representative
of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) in the Mannar
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and Chairman of the
Mannar Citizen’s Committee. “The premises of the
Mosques in Talaimannar Pier and Konar Pannai are full
of SLN mines. How can Muslims resettle in a place if
they cannot pray in the mosque there for fear of the
mines?” he asked.
Mr. Saburudeen who is a senior lawyer was speaking to TamilNet about the
plight of Muslim refugees in Mannar.
He said Muslims are unable to resettle in their homes
in the Talaimannar Pier area because the SLN continues
to occupy their homes. “The SLN left the Talaimannar
Pier Mosque building under the terms of the ceasefire
agreement, though much later than the date stipulated
for vacating places of worship. But no one can use the
Mosque because it is full of land mines and the Navy
camp is right behind the precincts,” Mr. Saburudeen
The SL Navy recently vacated the Mosque of Konar
Pannai. But it continues to occupy the houses in this
Muslim village on the 6th Mile Post of the Mannar
A Muslim refugee who has returned to his
village in Periya Pullachchi Potkerni cooking his meal
under a tree.
Therefore the residents of Konar Pannai who have been
living as refugees in a camp in Kandakkaadu in the
district of Puttalam are unable to come back to start
rebuild their lives, Mr. Saburudeen said.
The Muslims of Konar Pannai have been making efforts
to come back to resettle in their village even before
the MOU was signed, according to sources.
“What’s the point in vacating the Konar Pannai Mosque
if the people cannot go back and claim their homes?”
asks the lawyer.
Displaced Muslims in Mannar are suffering most in the
Musali division on the mainland.
This Assistant Government Agent’s division covers most
of the southwestern, southern parts of the Mannar
There were more than 15 Muslim villages in the
division. The largest was Silavathurai. It was fast
growing into a minor town 12 years ago, servicing
remote hamlets in the interior that had little access
to the Murunkan town on the Mannar-Madawachchi Road.
The army was camped by the Silavathurai government
school. In 1991 the Tigers attempted to overrun the
camp and the army’s positions in the adjacent village
of Kokkuppadaiayan. The military pulled out of the
area many years ago. But the Muslims of these villages
are unable to resettle because the whole area has been
sown with land mines. They cannot clear the jungle
that has overgrown their old neighbourhoods near the
Silavathurai school because no one is coming forward
to de-mine the area.
Returning Muslim refugees have put up temporary shacks
outside their villages in the
Kokkuppadaiyan-Silavathurai area because of the
extensive mine fields.
Muslim resettlers in the Musali region carrying cadjan, thatch made with dried coconut fronds, to build a hut. An abandoned mosque is in the background.
In most villages only the male heads of the displaced
families are camped in makeshift huts. They say that
it is still too dangerous to bring women and children
back. Elephants and bears menace them daily.
“The elephants are here almost every night. They try
to chase us out of this place. I never saw elephants
in Muslai in my time. Now the elephants have taken
over our village and think we are intruders”,
Siddique, a Muslim resettler said. Their Tamil
neighbours lend them trap guns to scare the elephants
and bears, he says.
The Muslims of Musali have been living in refugee
camps in Kalpitty, Noraicholai and Pallivasalthurai
for more than a decade.
The government provides them little assistance to
clear the jungle and resettle. The Divisional
Secretary’s office has not paid the 1000 rupees due to
them for buying implements to cut and clean the
undergrowth. They haven’t got assistance for putting
up temporary shelters either. Some resettlers are
bringing in thatch and other building material from
Puttalam to erect their huts.
The returning refugees have to walk a long distance on
dilapidated dirt tracks to get their basic provisions
and medicine in Murunkan town. Tamil villagers in the
area help many with gifts of rice and meat.
The Muslim resettlers in Musali say that the Ministry
for Vanni Rehabilitation does little about their
predicament. Meththanveli is the only hamlet in which
people have been able to resettle so far.
They say that the Ministry has to help them repair
water reservoirs and channels to start cultivation,
the sole basis for restarting life in these lands
which have become inhospitable due to more than a
decade of abandonment.
“Mines are their biggest problem. But the government
is not taking any step to solve it. I took up the
matter with the assistant secretary of defence, local
army commander and government officials at a
conference in the Mannar Kachcheri last week. But
nothing has happened so far”, Mr. Saburudeen said.