*Rehab ministry pays nearly Rs 200 mn for relocation of troops
A300-day protest staged by a group of persons demanding that the army vacate 133 acres at Keppapilavu in the former LTTE stronghold Mullaitivu had been brought to an end by relocating troops stationed there, Rehabilitation Ministry spokesperson told The Island.
The spokesperson said that Rehabilitation Minister D. M. Swaminathan had, following consultations with relevant authorities, paid Rs. 148 mn for the relocation of troops. The land would be officially handed over today (Dec 28), he said.
Responding to a query, the spokesperson said a group of villagers had launched the protest early this year demanding their land back.
Newly appointed Military Spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu confirmed the arrangement to shift troops from Keppapilavu in the Muhudubadapattu Divisional Secretariat area.
The Rehabilitation Ministry spokesperson quoted veteran UNPer Swaminathan as having said that tangible measures would be taken in the new year to resettle those who had been displaced at Keppapilavu.
Asked whether Rehabilitation Ministry had paid the Army previously to relocate troops, the spokesperson said that the Army was compensated to the tune of Rs 50 mn on an earlier occasion.
The Rehabilitation Ministry announced the latest arrangement with the Army amidst efforts by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to regain the land. TNA leader and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan has sought President Maithripala Sirisena’s intervention several times to secure the release of land held by the Army.
The ministry alleged that protesting people continued with agitation even after an assurance was given regarding the land and required funds allocated for the project.
Gradual releasing of public and private property began some time after the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009. On the instructions of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the armed forces had released significant portion of military-held land by January 2015 presidential polls.
The LTTE, too, held tracks of land in the Vanni region, both east and west of the Kandy-Jaffna road, where the group maintained high security zones. The Army cleared LTTE high security zones during 2007-2009 Vanni offensive.
According to the Rehabilitation Ministry, since the change of government in 2015, the armed forces had released altogether 37,427 acres in the Jaffna peninsula (3,660 acres), Killinochchi (24,174 acres), Mullaitivu (4,507 acres), Mannar (1,709 acres), Vavuniya (1,496 acres), Ampara (549 acres),Trincomalee (323 acres) and Batticaloa (1,005 acres).
The ministry said that in accordance with instructions issued by the National Election Commission (NEC) pertaining to February 10 Local Government elections, Minister Swaminathan wouldn’t be able to attend the handing over ceremony at Keppapilavu.