Eastern Concerns

Forget the de-merger and resolve land disputesWhile the Tamil party representatives say that the de-merger is likely to lead to more destruction, Muslims are of the opinion it is they who will finally have to bear the brunt of all these problems.

By Wilson Gnanadass
The bifurcation of the northern and eastern provinces through a Supreme Court order of October 16 has further compounded the lives of the Tamils and Muslims.

Today, both the Tamils and the Muslims living in these provinces are confused over the court order and wonder why this was affected when loads of problems faced by them have not yet been solved by the government.
Questions are also raised on who has benefited out of this exercise to separate the two provincesA?A?that were merged in 1989, following the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord signed between Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have vehemently opposed the de-merger, while the Muslims feel the merger means A?a??E?nothingA?a??a?? to them for their problems, they say, are greater in proportion. Therefore, they say the government should have first looked into other pressing issues rather than wasting time in separating the provinces.
While the Tamil party representatives say that the de-merger is likely to lead to more destruction, Muslims are of the opinion it is they who will finally have to bear the brunt of all these problems. The countryA?a??a??s two major Muslim political parties – the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by parliamentarian Rauf Hakeem and National Unity Alliance (NUA) led by Housing Minister Ferial Ashraff, have expressed deep concern over the situation, while also stating that the de-merger was not in any event going to ease the existing tension or salvage the Muslims from the depths they have fallen into.

To an average Muslim in the East, it is not the merger or the de-merger that matters. But what matters is an immediate solution to the long standing land disputes, prevalent among the Muslim villages. Many Muslims have also been killed due to land problems but the government has still not paid attention to this issue.

Land issues
Traditionally, improper demarcation of lands in Muslim districts has caused severe tension among the Muslims in the East.
Recently, 10 Muslims were killed in Ullai in Pottuvil electorate due to land disputes and many hundreds have been killed in the past, due to the same issue.

Repeated representations to the government to find a solution, has fallen on the deaf ears of authorities.
If a referendum was called for by the Elections Commissioner to determine whether the people wanted the merger or not, majority of the Muslims, according to a survey, might have voted against the de-merger.

The Muslims, contrary to statements made by the government, did not want a de-merger until their problems were solved. However, the sudden decision to de-merge the North and East has forced them to silently protest against it.
Under the J. R. Jayewardene regime, Pradeshiya Sabhas have been created in the Muslim areas without any consultation with the Muslim parties. This has been followed by arbitrary distribution of lands by the respective Pradeshiya Sabhas and state aided colonisation, under the pretext of developing the area.

In this exercise, a large extent of lands belonging to the Muslims has been grabbed by the state.
For instance, it is pointed out that there is no clear boundary demarcated between Lahugalla and Pottuvil, Alayadivembu and Akkaraipattu, Erakaman DS division and Akkaraipattu DS division.

Muslims are now of the opinion that the government should have first looked into sorting out this lapse rather than de-merging the North and East, that they say is likely to cause more destruction than ever before.

Travesty of justice
Muslims say, in 1987, with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, when the Provincial Councils came into effect, they were given step-motherly treatment through land demarcation.

They said the government at that time opted to allocate 368. 3 square miles (sq.m) in Lahugalla for a population of 7,085, while in Pottuvil the Provincial Council opted to allocate 103.9 sq.m to a population of 19,831.
In the Sinhala dominated Vevagampattu, 6,585 people have been living in 260 sq.m, while in the Tamil/Muslim dominated Sammanthuraipattu some 40,700 people have been living in just 99 sq.m.

The Muslims, therefore, are of the view that the government should have first given consideration to these issues rather than bifurcating the North and East, which they say did not mean anything to them.

The Muslims have also mounted pressure on SLMC and NUA to take this matter up with the government at the negotiating table. It has been the desire of these two parties too, to place the land issue as one of the conditions for supporting the peace process and also supporting the de-merger, but unfortunately, the Supreme Court had already taken this decision.


GovernmentA?a??a??s plan
Whether one likes it or not, the North and East are separated. Arguments and debates over this could continue for months or for years, but the fact remains that North and East are divided.

On the instruction of the Eastern governor Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrama, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed S. Thiyagalingam as the Chief Secretary for the Eastern province. He was the Secretary for the Northeast Education and Cultural Ministry under the merged Northeast. Earlier, the Muslim parties recommended that a person from the Muslim community should be appointed as the Chief Secretary for the East, but government sources say a suitable person could not be found for this post.

The government has also decided to temporarily administer both provinces from Trincomalee. The eastern administration is now being carried out at Tuwaramkadu, six miles away from the Trincomalee town, while the northern administration is being carried out in the Trincomalee town itself. The government has also decided to construct a new building in Vavuniya to transfer the northern administration there after one year.


SLMC not consulted
Meanwhile, SLMCA?a??a??s General Secretary and parliamentarian, Hasan Ali says that though the SLMC commands the authority of 11 Pradeshiya Sabhas of the 13 in the Eastern province, the government did not have the common courtesy to consult the party, prior to taking any decision with regard to the de-merger.

He said that if the government could not solve the land issues that have been faced by the Muslims during the time when the two provinces were joined, it cannot be expected for them to solve this issue now.

He said the SLMC has been agitating for a separate Muslim district for a long time but has now lost hope of gaining it. A?a??A?We now realise that the government is not sensitive to our fundamental issues,A?a??A? he said. He said, though moderate political parties have governed the country since 1958, they have been subject to extremist pressures and even today, the present government was subject to extreme opinions of the Marxist JVP.

A?a??A?Therefore, we are confident that the government will not be in a position to deliver the goods to the minority,A?a??A? he added.
He says the SLMC is disturbed over the Supreme Court decision for two reasons. Firstly, he says, the government that was aware of the moves made by certain individuals, to go to courts challenging the merger, could have consulted his party.
Secondly, he says, when a plethora of problems faced by the Muslims could not be solved by the government, it was highly unnecessary to waste time on the de-merger.


Azwer welcomes the move
Former Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Presidential Adviser on Muslims Affairs, A.H.M.Azwer has welcomed the move taken by the Supreme Court.

He says what the Muslims face today, is the reality and that no one could have ever determined their fate.
He said the de-merger will enable the Muslims to gain political power, self respect and a province of their own.
He says this will teach a lesson or two to the Tamils who wish to perpetuate their fiefdom in the North and East. He adds, under Tamil dominance in the North and the East, the Muslims have been forced to face untold hardship, and this type of action would put Tamil dominance in place. A?a??A?The genuine fears of the Muslims can now be obliterated with the de-merger. We can have our own chief ministers and our own administration,A?a??A? he said.
He also questioned as to how Muslims could trust the Tamils, given the past history of mass scale exodus forced on the Muslims by the LTTE in 1990.

He is of the opinion that the Muslims will have to live independently under a united Sri Lanka. A?a??A?The Muslims are not willing to be slaves under another particular community,A?a??A? he said.

He said Muslims may be Tamil speaking people but they cannot share the claim by the Tamils for a separate state. A?a??A?Our problems are different and our claims are different. Therefore, we must be left alone,A?a??A? he said.


V. Anandasangari describes govt. plan as destructive Order avanade

The UNESCO Peace Award winner V. Anandasangari maintains that the de-merger will be more destructive than constructive.
He says a de-merger introduced at a time when the people were running for their lives had no meaning.
He says most of the government machinery in the Northeast was defunct and that the government could have invested its time on streamlining the defunct machinery rather than introducing something which was not in the long run, going to pay dividends.
A?a??A?In a merged council, the Sinhalese could have been looked after like how Tamils are looked after in the Sinhala dominated provinces. I really donA?a??a??t understand why and how all of a sudden the de-merger came about. It is very unfortunate, but we canA?a??a??t help but face it,A?a??A? he said.

He said he could not fathom who will be the beneficiary of this exercise and it was his view, only the JVP would benefit out of this.

A?a??A?The government should have given the people a chance to decide. This is a highly sensitive issue and therefore the government should have treated this with sensitivity. But unfortunately a rash decision has been taken,A?a??A? he added.
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Ferial says it is not a matter for concern
Housing Minister Ferial Ashraff says, to an average Muslim, what mattered was his day-to-day problems rather than either the merger or the de-merger.

She told The Nation, the long standing issues faced by the Muslims have still not been solved and therefore, the Muslims do not feel for either the merger or the de-merger.

She says the de-merger was not required at a time when both the government and the LTTE were engaged in war.
A?a??A?When we talk about it, I think we are talking in terms of the Muslim and Tamil interests. When talking about the Muslim interest, I donA?a??a??t think it is the merger or de-merger that bothers them. We have other problems and whether these provinces are merged or de-merged, it does not become an issue for our community,A?a??A? she said.

She further said, when the provinces were merged, the Muslim problems were never looked into. A?a??A?As for us, we maintain that it is not the merger or the de-merger but the day-to-day problems faced by the Muslims that will have to be dealt with,A?a??A? she said.
She also said as far as the national issues were concerned, the Muslims would have been preferred to go into the issues of North-East before the change to status quo.

A?a??A?Basically, we have a war situation here. I donA?a??a??t understand why this came up at this stage,A?a??A? she said.
She said unresolved land disputes is the main problem faced by the Muslims and added if Muslims are appointed to the administrative systems these issues could have been looked into with deeper interest.

A?a??A?I would continue to ask for better treatment by the government officials for all the people in the East,A?a??A? she said.
She also said her party, NUA, has been asking for an additional Secretariat in Ampara district for a long time but to no avail.
She said the people were forced to travel to Trincomalee to attend to their personal needs.

A?a??A?Our people had a lot of problems going to Trincomalee and we have been agitating for an additional Secretariat in Ampara. It will be good if the government can establish an administrative unit at least in Kalmunai,A?a??A? she added.


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