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 pointed out.

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 Talaimannar Road.

Muslim resettler, 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 district.

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, Mannar
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.


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