Image courtesy Young Asia Television

The Head of Bodu Bala Sena, Venerable Galabode Aththe Gnanasara Thero, in a statement after meeting with President Sirisena admitted that the previous government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa colonized the North with alien Sinhalese. He claimed that 4500 Sinhala families who were settled in Bogas wewa during the time of the previous government are leaving the colonized area and going back to their original homes. The reason for their abandonment may be linked to their security concerns. Ven. Gnanasara Thero also claims that these lands were cleared for settlement of Sinhalese by the tri-forces, implying that the armed forces were used to colonize large areas in the Northern province. In addition to the 4500 families settled in Bogas wewa, there are many others who have been granted land and other support in Veratenna, Namalgama, Senaleenigama and Nandamitragama. People of this area insist that all these Sinhala migrants who were brought to the North are from Hambantota and Suriyawewa, from the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s district.

Ven. Gnanasara Thero also revealed that President Maithripala Sirisena had directed the Commander of the army to provide security to the new settlers of Bogas Wewa. Did the armed forces clear virgin forestland to colonize this area with Sinhalese, or did these lands belong to people who have been living there for generations?

President Sirisena, an avid environmental protectionist, claimed that Muslim IDPs returning to their own lands after 20 years from refugee camps have cleared jungles and encroached forest reservations. How can the President encourage colonization and settlement of ‘alien’ Sinhala migrants in the North when he has claimed that the Muslim IDPs who were forcibly evicted from their homes by the fascist LTTE and were compelled to live in refugee camps for over 20 years cannot return to their own land due to the Government’s controversial declaration of forest reservations in 2012. This declaration was made as a knee jerk reaction prior to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections to deprive the NPC of its land rights. Under this declaration, large extents of Muslim owned lands too were brought under the forest ordinance, as there was some forest growth during the 20-year displacement of the Muslims. Yet, it was their private land where they lived and cultivated prior to their eviction.  The LTTE and the armed forces did not allow the Muslims to return to their homes and clear the shrub which had grown over their land during the war.  How can the declaration of these lands as forests be justified because it was overgrown with shrub in their absence due to their forced eviction from their homes, and their subsequent inability to return during the war?

The former administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also accused of amending the Forest Ordinance and declaring large extents of lands in the Northern province as forest reserves through Global Positioning System (GPS) Mapping even without consulting the Divisional Secretaries of the area. This was believed to be a deliberate attempt to deprive the Northern Provincial Council (which the Mahinda Rajapaksa government knew would lose to the TNA) the extensive land powers which are vested to them in the Provincial Councils.  A case in point is the Muslims who had lived in Musali South not being allowed to return to their lands, as their lands were not identified as private property in this mapping due to their displacement in various camps across the country.

The controversy of the Muslim IDP resettlement continues with Environmentalists claiming that it is an encroachment into Wilpattu, Buddhist extremists calling it colonization by a Muslim minister and the armed forces continue to hold large extents of land as high security zones. Some accuse the Government of keeping this land with the armed forces to settle more Sinhalese for strategic reasons.

Regrettably, the Environmentalists first claimed that these settlements of the returnees were in lands that belong to the Wilpattu National Reserve, and when it was proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Wilpattu was far away from these settlements, they changed it to imply that the Muslims have encroached into the Kal Aru reservation. The Kal Aru or Uppu (salt) river that flows through Muslim lands is only a mere 2 kilometers away from the sea. Hence there is no need to have reservations for the Kala Aru river in this area as the water flows unutilized in to the sea. This particular river is only a seasonal river and goes dry during most of the year. The water, when it passes Marichikatti village flows straight in to the sea.  So why do they fuss so much about Kal Aru?

The returning Muslim IDPs have in their possession title deeds to their lands in Musali south that have been issued under the seal of King Edward the seventh of England in 1906. One of these deeds is for a property that is adjoining the Kal Aru river that is only a few meters away from the border of the Wilpattu National Wildlife Reserve. Yet, the current resettlement of the Musali Muslims that was approved by the former governments’ powerful Presidential Task Force (PTF) is 1.25 Kilometers away from the Wilpattu National Reserve.

The Bodu Bala Sena and other extremist Buddhists needed a platform for their foray in to politics. They used racism and hate to draw the attention of mainstream media. Their electoral rejection in August 2015 has left them as orphans and they now need a new platform to relaunch their campaign. Today, they are attempting to piggyback on President Maithripala Sirisena to return to the limelight, speaking about safeguarding the Sinhala race and the Sasanaya.  He should remember that he is the President of all Sri Lankans, and that it is the right of all citizens to be treated equally and fairly. The President should be aware that little drops that came in as minority votes for him made the mighty ocean that toppled the giant Mahinda Rajapaksa from the Presidency. History should not repeat itself this time.