“We can see how the people are suffering but who are we to tell? Nothing can be done. Who can fight against the Government? The news on the ground is that the Defence Ministry is trying to secure 1500 acres to build a hotel in this area. This is the main reason they don’t want these people to return to their homes. As we all know what the Defence Ministry wants, it usually gets. Who can stop them,” were the words of a rather unusual source – a Police officer, who was stationed at Marichikattu in the Musali Division of the Mannar district, where 7 huts belonging to Muslims were allegedly burnt on the 3rd of September, 2012.

It is not clear who was responsible for burning these houses – but several Muslim villagers said they suspect the Navy, and that they could be trying to intimidate the villagers from returning to this area.

Click the images above for high resolution versions. 

“On Monday the 3rd evening at around 7-7.30pm, I got a call from one of my relatives in the area saying that they had seen a bright light in the area near my home. So I immediately went towards the area they described, but was stopped by the Navy and not allowed to go beyond a certain point. Villagers from the other side too were stopped at a point and not allowed to come near the scene until after the fire was put out. There were three tractors, one water-bowser and one Buffel (mine protected Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC)) which were providing water to put the fire out. From a distance I could see some Navy officers with buckets putting out the fire and then removing the posts holding up the huts and the rafters of some of the un-burnt cadjan huts on the east of the main road. In the light of the tractors I saw that the utensils and goods belonging to the people that were kept inside the huts in the morning, weren’t there now,” said a village leader from Marichikattu.

There are about 250 Muslim families that live in the larger area of Marakarathivu, within which Marichikattu is located. Luckily there were no people inside the huts as every night people take shelter in a large building near the Marakarathivu junction, in fear of the many elephants that roam the area. Each morning the villagers return to their homes and get about their daily work. “These are our traditional deeded lands, so we have the right to reside here. In Puttalam where we’ve lived for the past 20 years, schools are not accepting admissions of our children for next year, so we have to return to our hometown,” explained another Muslim villager. (These Muslim people had been evicted from their village by the LTTE in 1990).

Someone from the village had called some politicians, but due to local election work, they hadn’t come, but had sent Police to the scene instead. Once the Police arrived on the scene, the villagers too had entered the area where the fire had broken out, along with the Police. The following day, the villagers had made a complaint regarding the incident at the Silavathurai Police Station. Later that day, a high-up in the Police had visited the village and deployed 25 Police personnel to the area to protect the people. On Wednesday, an Army Brigadier too had come to inspect the area and told the people not to protest or picket, that he would meet with the relevant parties and come to a favourable settlement soon. “We are yet to hear back from him,” said a village leader.

On the 6th of September, the Army, Navy, local Government officials and the villagers had all met to discuss the issue. The Navy official had walked in late to the meeting and asked “who are the people who want to return to this village?’ “We feel the Navy is not happy about us being offered a housing scheme project as they don’t want us to have permanent houses here, particularly in the contentious 10 acre plot of land directly in front of the Navy Camp. The SLN has approx. 1500 acres of our land, but they still want more,” laments another villager. Later that day, the Divisional Secretary came and collected details from the people of Marichikattu. They have also been told that following the local Government elections, a meeting will be held with the relevant Ministers, the Government Agent, the Assistant Government Agent, the Army, Navy, Police and Wild Life Department, to settle this matter once and for all. However, they are yet to be notified of the exact date.

Since their return in 2010, 1200 Muslim families have been registered in the three neighbouring villages of Marichchikattu, Karadikuli and Paalakuli. Of those registered, 300 families have settled in these three villages thus far, with many still shuttling between Puttalam and here. According to some villagers we met, UN-HABITAT has constructed 150 houses, 75 in Karadikuli and 75 in Paalakuli. These houses are all being inhabited now, and there are also two functioning schools in these two villages.

With regards to the displaced Tamils who are also looking to return to Mullikulam, the adjoining village, the Muslim leaders say “we are like brothers and sisters. It’s only that we won’t give our children in marriage to non-Muslims. We wholeheartedly support their struggle to return to their homes, as we remember before 1990, we used to help our neighbouring Tamil brothers to fish, and they would give us free fish in return. Our two communities always maintained good ties with each other, so we are more than happy to struggle together to reclaim our land.”

The Tamil community’s reaction to the incident

“We feel for our Muslim neighbours, but they have at least been permitted to return to their own lands, we are still waiting. And as we have faced a lot of difficulty to come this far, we can’t afford to risk it all by taking sides at the moment.  So we’d rather not say anything further on the issue,” said a Tamil villager from the Malankaadu temporary resettlement camp.

On the 3rd of September when they were awaiting the Navy water bowser which was later than usual to make their daily delivery to the camp, the camp Coordinator had called the Navy to find out the cause for the delay.  The Navy had told them that some Muslim people houses had been set on fire in Maruchchikattu, and that their delivery of water would be delayed. It was only then that they had found out that there were troubles in the neighbouring Muslim village. When the Coordinator called the Navy again later that day, he had said that they were wearing helmets as they were being pelted with stones and therefore, the delivery would have to get delayed further.  It was only at around 6pm that day that the Navy had arrived at the Camp, with Police escort, to deliver their water.

Clarifying this with the Marichchikattu Muslim community though, they said that nobody had thrown any rocks at the Navy.

  • Orion

    Those who rule SL and their business partners are trying to buy or takeover land in the North and East for their own profitable enterprises. From Mannar to Trinco the Navy and Army with Chinese counterparts control the sea coast. The owners are displaced. With the Oil/Gas explorations in the Palk Strait a Resort in former homes of Muslims and Tamils will have Chinese and local armed forces, families and local tourists enjoying the fruits or is it spoils of war. It will be very profitable for the Ruling Party. May be they will share the profit with their coalition partners.

  • walter

    I pity these Muslim citizens, but you see, they have sold their rights to opportunistic Muslim Politicians, like Rauf Hakeem and his ilk.
    However, these Muslim Politicians in turn, have not only sold the Muslim votes for their personal advantages, but also have obtained disproportionate benefits for their Community.
    Therefore the apparent rift among all these Communities will continue until the G O S L creates one National identity, and nothing else.
    The Muslims must keep their religious belief to themselves, in the search for social and economic security. They must accept that Religion is a personal matter. This should apply to all of us as well.
    In this Country, they have to make a political choice, either they side with the Tamils or the Sinhala Buddhist’s.
    Speaking generally, the Muslims will find it very difficult to integrate with other Communities. However their Political representatives can ‘feather’ their nest’s in any environment. Sri Lanka stands out in this scenario.

    In my view the Tamils, Muslims, and the Burgher communities will have a long battle to win back their identities and dignity, equally.
    Fortunately, still there are Sinhala Christians and Buddhist’s who are not with this ‘Democratic Dictatorship’ and therefore leaving a faint glimmer of Hope for these Communities.
    The majority of the Muslims, due to their total, extreme, uncompromising commitment to their religious belief’s, that this world will be a better place, sends a frightening signal to other communities. They must change this stand for successful integration.

  • Citizen

    The continued occupation of civilian properties in the North and Northeast by the Military is contrary to the picture being painted by the Govt.
    Building roads, bridges and military camps for the use of the armed forces is being showcased as GDP growth and development of the North whereas people are being harrassed and deprived of their lands and livelihood.
    Govt is averse to any criticism and the military is above the law. How long will this type of situation continue?

  • In spite of such atrocious incidents about which the government does not want to conduct any serious inquiries and punish the perpetrators, in the East the unscrupulous Muslim politicians who were elected to the Eastern Provincial Council seem to want to join the government party for their own selfish interests and abandon the Muslim voters who supported them against the candidates of the party in power. So long as the Muslims have leaders of this kind there will be none to help them to protect their interest and give voice to their grievances.

  • Lanka Liar

    If houses are burnt and women are raped people are kidnapped everyone know who did this. Why all these analysis?

  • kadphises

    Is it possible to establish if these people were resettled in their original areas of habitation? From what I have heard there is some problem with resettling these people in their original homes in Manar and in 2010 Rishard Bathurdeen with Basil Rajapakses consent got the Army to clear 15,000 acres inside the designated boundary of Wilpattu National Park near Marichakattu for a new settlement. The Park officials knew nothing about it (The park is heavily militarised and the park officials seem to have very little power these days) until the forest had been cleared and huts built. But according to the game guards the land has mostly been distributed among the well off Putlam business community (friends of Bathurdeen but not genuine refugees) whose permanant homes are in Putlam. However they have built huts on the blocks allocated to them merely to stake their claim to the land. No one lives in them, but occasionally on weekends the owners arrive in their “Monteros” to inspect their newly acquired lands. After the wildlife authorities and various NGOs contested this illegal land settlement Basil is supposed to have washed his hands off the whole affair and claimed that Rishard Bathurdeen settled his men without Basil’s knowledge. This is what I heard second hand from a game guard at Wilpattu. The huts in the photos look rather flimsy and temporary like the ones I was told about. The forest can be seen in the background which makes me wonder.. It is all very murky.

  • Reyaz

    This is playing with fire. Justice should be served in the Country. Law and order should be restored even in the north & the east.