On Keppapulavu

by Groundviews, Colombo, February 9, 2017

  1. Residents of Keppapulavu, in Mullaitivu, have been protesting, demanding the return of their land, which is currently occupied by the Air Force. The families have now been protesting outside the airforce camp for 9 days. The struggle for the return of their land however has been ongoing for years. Below is a compilation of reportage on the protest.
  2. The displaced residents of Keppapulavu were reportedly warned not to protest, as President Maithripala Sirisena was scheduled to visit the area.
  3. President Sirisena did not visit Mullaitivu due to poor weather, although a ceremony was held to hand over some land. However, the displaced maintained that they were being given alternative land. They demanded the right to resettle on their own land. The villagers initially held a protest on January 25.
  4. On January 31st, the villagers protested through the night.
  5. The military reportedly pressurised the protesters to stop.
  6. As the protests continued, local politicians and neighbouring villages expressed solidarity.
  7. One of the protesters fell ill and had to be transported to hospital:
  8. Independence Day was dubbed a “Black Day”.
  9. The children of Keppapulavu also joined in the protest.
  10. The story began getting more mainstream media coverage.
  11. Activists from the South also visited in solidarity.
  12. For 9 days, there was no official Government response, apart from local politicos such as Chief Minister Wigneswaran and the Mullaitivu GA who visited the protesting residents and expressed support.
  13. Matters finally came to a head when TNA MP M A Sumanthiran raised the matter in Parliament.
  14. Following Sumanthiran’s speech, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene committed to a meeting to discuss the issue.
  15. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is to meet representatives from Keppapulavu on February 9, reportedly at Temple Trees.
  16. The military meanwhile has asked the families to provide copies of deeds – reportedly an issue as some of those displaced do not have proof of title.
  17. Not long ago, residents of Vavuniya also went on a hunger strike – demanding to know the whereabouts of their missing family members. Their stories too, were captured on social media, although mainstream media was slow to take up the story.
  18. It took four days for a government response.
  19. Members of the TNA, senior Government Ministers and the IGP met with representatives of the Vavuniya protesters on February 9, as promised.
  20. However, a Cabinet briefing on February 8 revealed that a key section of the OMP, allowing it to enter into agreements with individuals or organisations, had been repealed.
  21. This essentially means that the OMP may not be able to hire experts, such as forensic experts for instance, in order to carry out processes such as exhumations. Families of the missing had in submissions to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms expressed the wish that expert advice be allowed for, even if that expertise was international.
  22. This may mean the families in Vavuniya, who were willing to go on hunger strike to get answers, may have to resign themselves to an even longer wait.
  23. As with the families in Vavuniya, the outcome for the residents of Keppapulavu remains uncertain.
  24. UPDATE: Following a meeting with the families, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has reportedly asked the military to shift their camp. The Keppapuvalu residents welcomed the decision, but said that they would continue protesting until their land was returned.

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