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Puttlam reality: administrators and Tamil neighbours

...Not in favour of Muslims returning

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Over 200 000 Northern Muslims, who were driven away from the North in 1990 by the LTTE, are unable to return home due to the lack of information, hostility by the Tamil community and government administrators, claims Dr. Fara Haniffa, University lecturer and member of the Law and Society Trust.

She added that although the government has resettled around 90% of Tamil IDPs in Manik Farm, no such initiative has been taken to resettle the Northern Muslim population who are among the oldest displaced communities in the country. This has allowed politicians to manipulate them and resettle them in areas that suit the politicians needs.
“Tamil community leaders and government officials have generally welcomed the return of Muslims when talking to LLRC commissioners. However, the ground reality is that administrators are not sympathetic towards their return. Some Muslims who had returned to the North told us that their Tamil neighbours asked them ‘why did you come?’ Haniffa said.
Around 70 000 Muslims were forcibly expelled from the Northern Province in October, 1990 and the majority of them now live in the Puttalam district, one of the least developed areas with little resources and opportunities. Over time the settled population has become greater in numbers than those who were residing in the area originally which have made them resent and fear the Northern Muslims.

“Puttalam is not a friendly place and many residents are tired of sharing the little resources available with Northern Muslims, whom many now consider as intruders. There have been serious clashes between the two groups in the Al-Mannar area and many of the Northern Muslims, including 60 000 + who still receive rations from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR,) want to go back. However, there are many issues that need to be addressed,” Haniffa said.

Since a large number of the population depend on rations and aid, resettlement in the North means that they will have to discontinue rations in Puttalam to access them in the North. However, since these are long delays in completing the administrative aspect of this transfer these men and women have to eke out a living in inhospitable areas in both Jaffna and Mannar.
“Most of the people are to be resettled in areas like Marichikaddi and Kondachchi which do not have the most basic facilities, including public transport, access roads or schools. And some feel that these sudden resettlements in areas which have secondary forest cover is a play by government politicians to increase his vote bank. That is the biggest problem with this, these people are being manipulated by almost everyone,” she said. The recent resettlement of 1000 families in Marichikaddi and Paalakkuliya in the middle of the Wilpattu North sanctuary ended in disaster as many residents hurried back unable to cope with the lack of infrastructure and frequent attacks of elephants.

Voters’ rights

The Northern Muslims in Puttalam re-registered voters in the North and they have voted in cluster polling centres in the last 20 years. However, latest circulars on voter registration state that this practice will be discontinued in the future -- which means that they have to either move or register in the North or in Puttalam said CaFFE Director Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon.

“The point is that most of these people might not even care about this. The majority live on rations and they lack even the most basic facilities. To make matters worse no one, the government officials or Muslim political parties, are keen on lettign them know about voting. Someone should tell them what is going on and the pros and cons of resettling in the North. But ultimately I fear that a portion will lose their voting rights,” Tennakoon said.


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