Peasant groups call on Sri Lankan government to immediately implement court order allowing the Panama people to cultivate their land once again
The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) hit World Bank for land grabbing in Panama, South East, Sri Lanka. This was disclosed after the groups found out that the World Bank in collaboration with the Sri Lankan government is to blame for the impacts of Arugam Bay Tourism Promotion Zone in Panama.
“Our forefathers have cultivated our land since British colonial period. We have legal documents to prove it and the Magistrate of Court already made a decision that we are the rightful owners and we can cultivate it once again,” remarked P. Somasiri, local leader of the Organization for the Protection of Pannam Paththuwa (OPPP) and a member of the IFFM team.
“The Commissioner of the Ampara Office of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has stated that the people of Ragamwela should be allowed to settle and cultivate the land as there had been evidence that they own the land. The judge therefore, instructed the SP Ampara, the DS of Lahugala to let the people go in the land. However, when we are trying to go back and reclaim our lands, the Navy and the security forces are harassing us.” added Somasiri.
“During our interviews, most of the villagers said that their parents and grand-parents have cultivated and lived in the land since the 1960s. We have learned that people had legal documents from the Divisional/District Secretariat Offices to prove their ownership of the land.” said Zenaida Soriano, APC Southeast Asia Coordinator, who also joined the mission.
“Unfortunately, the overall conditions of life & livelihood changed dramatically because in the past the people had land where they could farm and sea where they could fish at the same time, being in one place, their homestead. Now the villagers of Ragamwela, Shasthrawela, Ulla, Ulpassa, Egodayaya and Horewkanda have to look for menial labour work outside of the village mostly,” Soriano added.
“Most of the people now live with their relatives in Panama. They live in compounds with about 2-3 families living in one house. It gets so crowded for them and there’s no room anymore. They would have wanted to plant crops in the lot but they also need shelter,” according to Sunil Santha of MONLAR, also a member of the IFFM team.
“We condemn the World Bank for investing $18M in this so-called ‘Sustainable Tourism Development Project’, signed in January 2010. Its documents said that the project’s objective is to’ strengthen the institutional framework for the tourism sector to facilitate environmentally and socially sound investments, in eastern Sri Lanka’. But who really benefits in this project? For whom is this investment actually? “, stressed Soriano.
“The government’s collaboration with the World Bank obviously, is the reason for Panama’s conversion into a tourism zone. Unsurprisingly in 2010, the arson attack on the Ragamwela village coincided with the signing up of the project and extensive road construction and infrastructure building programs of the government in the area.” exclaimed Somasiri
“Worst, Sri Lanka today is aggressively promoting local and foreign investments in tourism towards ‘transforming Sri Lanka to be Asia’s foremost tourism destination’, with the capital investors getting the upper hand as against the rights of the people of the land.” both Soriano and Santha added.
“We call on the World Bank and the Sri Lanka government to stop the Arugam Bay Tourism Promotion Zone project. We demand for the implementation of the court order allowing the Panama people to cultivate their land once again,” the three leaders ended.
The APC and MONLAR conducted the “International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) in Defense of Land and Livelihood in Panama, Southeast, Sri Lanka,“ on February 24 until March 1, 2013. The IFFM team composed of twenty two (22) local and international participants from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, were invited by the OPPP to Panama to gather data from the villagers on the current land grabbing problems in the area. You can download the IFFM Key Findings at www.asianpeasant.org.
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