Sri Lanka Navy vs. the people of Mullikulam
“The Cardinal never even visited our church or spoke to our children. He came directly to the Navy Head Quarters for the meeting and left soon after. On my way to the meeting, it was pouring with rain. As I was exhausted when passing my old home, I asked a Navy officer there if I could take shelter from the rain there as it was where I used to live. He refused and told me that I’d better continue on my way,” said a village elder in desolation.
“Whatever they (the Government) are offering you, please accept, as I will come forward as your guarantor,” said His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to the people of Mullikulam, at the outset of the meeting held between them and the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa on December 26, 2012, to discuss their plight, having been displaced by the occupying Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) since 2007. The Bishop of Mannar, Most Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, was also present at this meeting.
At the meeting, the Defence Secretary had offered to build a new alternate village in the Malankaadu area, 750m outside of their original lands in Mullikulam, with free access to the school and church that are located within the premises of the newly built Naval Head Quarters. In response, some of the people had rejected this offer and demanded that they be permitted to return to their original villages, whilst others have asked if they could at least have the lands near the church returned to them. The Defence Secretary had told them, that it wasn’t possible to do so “on account of national security” and as the lands near the church belong to the Forest Department. However, the SLN seems to have no problem occupying so called “Forest Department” land without following any proper procedure. Still others had said that if they were to agree to the 750m border, they would also require a road with free access to their church and school, void of any presence of SLN personnel or security check-points. To which the Defence Secretary had stated, “Your Cardinal is here, your Bishop is here, if you give your consent, we will commence work tomorrow.”
The North Western Naval Commander, Rear Admiral Rohana Perera, showed a map of the area, within which 7 tanks were located. “If most of the tanks are within the Navy occupied area, how will we access them to carry out our cultivation,” questioned the people. According to the map shown, the 750m boundary includes the tanks of Puliyankulam and Adappankulam. However, 6 tanks remain located within the land occupied by the SLN. The Defence Secretary had responded that it was not land belonging to the SLN, and that therefore the people could negotiate with the Forest Department and begin their cultivation. The villagers claim that “the Government is coming with iron fists, as they’re not willing to negotiate on anything.”
Thereafter, the people, comprising 95 families (approx. 500 individuals), had been asked to vote, whilst at the same time, Navy officials were holding two village leaders by the shoulders seemingly in an attempt to restrain them from influencing the people from voting against the Government proposal. “When we saw that, we got afraid, and so when asked if we would like alternate lands, we raised our hands,” said a woman from the village.
At the meeting, the people were also promised free access to their church, but they are still unable to visit it freely. Thus far, the people have only been able to visit the church on Sundays or when a priest has called a meeting at the church. As of this week, the SLN has been taking the people’s details and vehicle numbers in order to issue them with passes so that they can show their passes to the SLN and access their church whenever they would like to. The SLN has told them that once they are familiar with their names and faces, they would be able to discontinue the pass system eventually. It is hard to imagine how so basic a right as having access to your place of worship, one that we have long since taken for granted, is considered a rare ‘privilege’ to the people of Mullikulam.
The school children too are required to adhere to a similar pass system each morning on their way to school.
“It’s been more than five years since we were evicted from our homes by the military in 2007, and have been displaced with nowhere to go, ever since. We have been living under gruelling conditions at a make-shift camp for the past 6-7 months, with the hope of returning to our homes. We are very tired now and would just like to settle somewhere for the sake of our peace of mind. Before, we said it should be our village or nothing. But now, we just want to settle down permanently somewhere and get on with our lives,” said a disconsolate villager.
However, following this meeting, in January, officials from the Government Agent’s office (Kachcheri) visited the villagers and notified them that the border would be pushed back further to 1400m outside of Mullikulam. Having been let down yet again, the people are now determined to have the proposal offered by the Defence Secretary and endorsed by the Cardinal, in December 2012, to be implemented. Possibly in an attempt to appease the people, engineers from the SLN had visited the villagers recently and said that they would be surveying the land to identify the 750m border, as the 1400m border would result in ¾ of the land promised back to them by the Defence Secretary, being returned to the SLN.
Prior to this meeting, in early December 2012, the military had visited the villagers and asked them to map out their original lands, inclusive of all the tanks, two school buildings, the church, mission house and montessori. They had also asked if there were any settlements located near the tanks, to which the people had replied that there was nobody living there now.
An elder from the village broke down as he spoke “I’m very sad that I can’t go to our church, our traditional cemetery or to the tanks off which we worked. I feel like crying and my body is shaking as I recall this golden place we lived in.”
Whilst some families from Mullikulum have found refuge in the Mannar town, a group of 47 families have moved to Kayakuli and registered with the Grama Sevaka Niladari (village officer) there. These families will come back to Mullikulum only if a fair and permanent solution is offered. They therefore do not commit themselves to any of the ongoing negotiations between the people and the SLN and MoD. Details of compensation paid to them or facilities made available to them are currently unknown.
The Defence Secretary and all military and state officials as well as the Cardinal seemed to have no qualms about totally bypassing existing laws and regulations in Sri Lanka about acquiring land. None of the procedures spelt out in the Land Acquisition Act has been followed.
The legality of the occupation of Mullikulam had also been studied by National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Project of the National Human Rights Commission, and they had concluded that “SLN (Navy) arbitrarily occupied the private lands and they (Navy) have not followed the procedural due process”
One woman who had appealed to the Cardinal at the meeting said, “the church is our lifeline, so I thought the Cardinal would help us, but he is yet to heed our pleas.”
Timeline of incidents, appeals and unfulfilled promises
- September 2007 – The people of Mullikulam are evicted from their homes by the military.
- 2007-2012 – The people carry out extensive campaigning, comprising protests, petitions, letters and meetings with Government and military officials, to allow them to return home and to remove the occupying SLN from their home lands.
- 2009-10 – Following the return of the Mullikulam community from Menik Farm, post war, they, in consultation with the Bishop of Mannar, agreed to co-exist with the SLN, but maintained their appeal to have returned to them their village school, church and paddy lands, as depicted in a map of Mullikulam. (75% of the people’s residential areas would still be under the occupation of the SLN.)
- June 2012 – In the hope of returning to their village, the people of Mullikulam settle in a jungle area bordering Mullikulam, without any support from the Government.
- December 2012 – The Government proposed relocating the villagers to the 750m boundary outside of Mullikulam, with access to their church and school located within Navy occupied lands. In addition, the people requested that they also be provided with free access and a secure road to their church and school, void of any Navy presence or checkpoints.
- Start January 2013 – Unofficial Navy and GA office personnel tell the people that the boundary has been shifted further away, relocating the villagers 1400m outside of Mullikulam, and with access to their church and school located within Navy occupied lands.
- Mid-January 2013 – The area Commanding Officer of the SLN assures the people that the agreed proposal of relocating the people to the 750m boundary still stands, and that the SLN would build homes, a Parish House, a bridge, provide a mini-bus service for students etc.
Following a visit by surveyors from the GA’s office and officers of the SLN informally telling them people that the boundary was being pushed back to 1400m, the Bishop of Mannar had approached the Commanding Officer (CO) of the SLN and demanded an explanation for this sudden change in plan, last week. The CO had met with the Bishop, GA and representatives of the Mullikulam people, at the GA’s office and promised to adhere to the proposed plan of 750m, as agreed on at the meeting on 26 December, 2012.
He had thereafter met with the people themselves and told them that he had never said anything about moving the boundary back, and that they shouldn’t have believed any of the stories they had heard from others. He had promised them to build a Mission House for the Parish Priest within the church premises, and the shared use of the Adappankulam tank, which would also be used by the SLN and the use of two more tanks in Malankaadu, specifically for the use of people whose paddy lands are outside the 750m boundary (occupied by the SLN). Apparently, local Muslims in the area have said that those tanks are theirs, but the CO has said that the tanks belong to the State and that therefore, they will be given to the people of Mullikulam. He had also promised them to construct a bridge across the tank and a mini bus service to take the children to school. The CO has made many promises, however, the implementation of them are still to be seen.
Surveyors from the Survey Department had also visited the Malankaadu area last week and measured clearly marked the 750m boundary. Thereafter, housing construction has begun for people living along the coastline.
 The Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights, SL Archbishop collaborates with Gotabhaya in militarization land grab – http://thetamilelders.org/index.php/eelam-news/item/193-sl-archbishop-collaborates-with-gotabhaya-in-militarization-land-grab
 See Annex 1, section on Legal Analysis on Acquisition of Private Land and section on State Responsibility
 Ruki, The struggle to go home in post war Sri Lanka: The story of Mullikulam - http://groundviews.org/2012/08/01/the-struggle-to-go-home-in-post-war-sri-lanka-the-story-of-mullikulam/
 WATCHDOG – Mullikulam: The continuing occupation of a school by the Sri Lankan Navy -http://groundviews.org/2012/09/11/mullikulam-the-continuing-occupation-of-a-school-by-the-sri-lankan-navy/
 Herman Kumara (NAFSO),Resettlement of the Mullikulam People: Whither Reconciliation and Peace in the country? – http://www.scribd.com/doc/99798363/A-NAFSO-Report-on-Resettlement-in-Mullikulam