“Tamils living in peace and breathing the air of freedom is important than all these small development projects.” - Seenithamby Yoheswaran, M.P

Mr. Seeniththamby Yoheswaran is the Member of Parliament representing the Batticaloa District in the Eastern Province. Charles Devasagayam interviewed him in Toronto for the Tamil Mirror readers. In this Exclusive interview he describes about the Land Grab in the Tamil areas, reasons for the early election in the Eastern Province and the India’s stance on the Tamil issue. The full interview is given below:

Charles Devasagayam: What is the purpose of your visit to Canada?

Seeniththamby Yoheswaran: The World Tamil Cultural Movement invited Mr. Sritharan, Member of Parliament (M.P) for Kilinochchi and my self for the ‘Tamil Conference’ that was held on July 1, 2012 in Toronto.

C.D: ‘Land Grab’ in the traditional Tamil areas are the pressing issue for the Tamils, according to many sources. As a M.P from the Batticaloa District, can you explain to the Tamil Mirror readers, briefly, about the ‘Land Grab’ in the Eastern Province?

S.Y: After independence from the British in 1948, the ‘Land Grab’ accelerated extensively in the Eastern Province. I am saying this because, earlier there weren’t any Sinhala Member of Parliament from the Eastern Province. But today, there are five Sinhalese M.P’s from this province. This clearly shows that how the Tamil Lands were grabbed and how the Sinhala population was settled in that Province.

Eastern Province includes three districts, namely Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa. In Thiriyai from Trincomalee district, 3000 acre land adjacent to the Pansala has been expropriated by the government for their colonisation purpose.

Same way in the Batticaloa Distrct’s Vavunatheevu Pradeshaya Sectretary’s Division, 25,000 acre land has been taken by the ‘Village Vigilante Force,’(Oor Kaval Padai). Eastern Provincial Council is also providing assistance in this regard.

In addition, Naval Forces have appropriated lands in the Vaakarai area. 1200 acre land has been taken out by these forces in ‘Kirimichchai’ area. They have camped there to build big houses to the Sinhala Navy Forces. This is also a form of Sinhala colonisation.

In the Batticaloa District, government planned to take 10,500 acre land in the ‘ Vada Munai and Oothu Chenai’ area. As a first step they wanted to allocate 5000 acre land to 100 wealthy Sinhalese people on the basis of 50 acre per person. We protested on this development and stalled the process so far.

A lots of land in the coastal Tamil areas are being used for the Sinhala colonisation. They are clearing these areas for this purpose.

Also, in the Trincomalee District, near the 3 rd mile post hill area of the Mutur Pradeshiya Secretary’s Division, lands are being cleared and a small Budhist Shrine is being built as a prelude to a Sinhala Budhist colonisation.

Same way in the Amparai District, most of the areas where Tamils have been living have been changed to Sinhala settlements.

The government also did not resettle the displaced Tamils in this area. For an example, Tamils from ‘Thangavelautha Puram and Kanchi Kudichcha Aru and Sagamam were uprooted and been living in the Thirukkovil area. The government did not make any effort to resettle them in their own land. Since this land is fertile the government wanted it to be given to the Sinhalese. Now, these uprooted Tamils have moved back to their areas by themselves, although the basic amenities are not provided to them.

Therefore, the Sinhala government has been colonising our area in a planned way. So far Sinhalese Members of Parliament have been elected from the Trincomalee and Amparai Districts only. Now, they are determined to elect a Sinhala M.P or a Member from the Provincial council or a member from the Pradeshiya Council from the Batticaloa District as well. In this respect they are working on a strong land grab and or a colonisation scheme.

C.D: Can you shed some light about the status of the Tamil people from the Sampoor area in the Trincomalee District?

S.Y: The government has expropriated about 6000 acre land from the Sampoor Tamils. They are planning to give a small portion of that land to India for the Coal Power Plant Project. The rest of the area has been designated as the High Security Zone.

These Tamils are living in this area under harsh conditions. They are yearning to move back to their own land. However, the government has not yet returned their land to them. These uprooted people are living in the “Kiliveddi and Kaddai Parichchaan interim shelters/ camps” with great difficulties. We believe that the government is keeping this areas not for the colonisation purpose, but to keep the military’s presence and to implement the projects by the Foreign governments.

C.D: On May 18, 2012 when the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, G.L. Peiris paid a visit to the State Department to meet Hillary Clinton, he mentioned that the Northern Province has experienced a 24 % economic development compared to 8 % in the rest of the country. What is your opinion about that statement?

S.Y: The Northern and Eastern Provinces were largely affected by the long war. Successive governments did not do any development work in these areas for over 30 years. Now, the current government is reconstructing the major roads and building bridges.

However, what we feel is that the Tamils should live in peace and breathe the air of freedom. What is important above all these small development projects is that Tamils should live in their own land. Now they are not able to rule themselves.

C.D: What is the real reason behind advancing the Provincial Council election to September 2012 in the Eastern province?

S.Y: The Provincial Council in the Eastern province should have been dissolved only in 2013. However, as per the Geneva Resolution, the Sri Lankan government is compelled to offer a political solution to the Tamils before the next sitting in Geneva in March 2013.

Mean time, this government has already separated the North and East and has created a Provincial Council in the Eastern Province. A Tamil (Pillaiyan) has been ruling as a Chief Minister in the East.

According to the Indo-Lanka accord, these two Provinces ( North and East) can join together as one unit if they wish to do so. So, if the Chief Minister of Eastern Province is a Tamil, he may join with the Northern Province under the suggestion from India and or International community. It will be then a blow to this government.

Therefore, if a Muslim Chief Minister is elected, he will not be willing to join the Northern province. Thus the government can prevent the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces. This is the strategic reason for the government to advance the Provincial council election in the Eastern Province.

C.D: What is the stance of the Indian government on the Tamil issue?

S.Y: As far as India is concerned they are telling one thing to us and another to the government of Sri Lanka. If the Indian government really wanted, it could have provided us with a satisfactory solution.

Due to the pressure from the Tamil Nadu, the Central government is doing certain things. However, they seem not as firm as they should be. If they wish they could even bring about a good political solution to the North and East. Therefore the political solution lies in the hands of India.

The Indian government also prefer, the existence of an Eastern Province. The current Chief Minister’s position was possible because of India. We are engaged with the Indian government because of their close proximity to us. However, we believe that they haven’t come to a conclusion or a decision based on a justifiable thinking.

C.D: Before his arrival in Canada, Sritharan, M.P was taken to the 4 th floor by the CID for an inquiry. Is this to remind and or warn him to address the Diaspora Tamils with caution?

S.Y: After the news came out about our visit to Canada in the news Media, he was asked or summoned to come to the 4 th floor. They were mostly clarifying about his earlier speech from a C.D. It was in the line of that his speech is affecting the Sovereignty of Sri Lanka. However, we don’t know clearly why they would do this at this juncture.

C.D: Finally, what would you like to say to the Diaspora Tamils?

S.Y: Diaspora Tamils should strengthen their unity and support the call for a permanent solution to the Tamil question. At the same time they should try and help those affected by the war and natural disasters. Specially, try to avoid criticising the Tamil National Alliance and support the path taken by them.

C.D: Thank you Mr. Yoheswaran, for your time.

S.Y: Thanks Charles, for giving me this opportunity to convey my views.

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