While the Foreign Minister said these lands cannot be released for security reasons, according to the President the main obstacle in the distribution of lands is the cast system prevalent in the North.
The head of the Sri Lankan Government delegation told the UNHRC in Geneva of the government’s stand against the releasing of lands in the North while many families in the North have been agitating for over a year demanding for the return of their ancestral lands.
The Foreign Minister, citing Defence Ministry data said that the military would continue to occupy certain lands and that the government has so far released 75% of the lands. He rejected the report presented by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner.
Thilak Marapana told the UNHRC that, “From May, 2009 the lands occupied by the military had amounted to 28, 215.29 acres and so far 26,005.17 (92.16%) of the lands had been released.”
However, he said the rest of the lands would be held under military control and compensation would be paid for the private lands.
According to Defence Ministry statistics issued at the start of this year only 75% of these lands had been released and the military still occupies around 29,000 acres.
President’s ‘cast issue’ explanation:
While the delegation told Geneva that the reason for the non-release of the remaining lands were security concerns, a day earlier the President had said that the lands cannot be released due to the prevalence of the ‘Cast system’ issues in the North.
“The people in the areas where the lands were released, have decided to divide the lands based on the cast system where the higher cast families receive the best lands and the lower cast receive the lesser valuable lands,” the President said during the Diploma awarding ceremony held at the Sri Jayawardenapura University.
The President said that former General Secretary of the UN Geoffrey Feltman who visited Sri Lanka earlier had also expressed this view, adding that exactly 90% of the lands in the North had been released.
However, the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet had expressed dissatisfaction regarding the system of distributing the occupied lands and had recommended that an independent mechanism be established for this purpose.