(UDHAYAM, COLOMBO) – Many Muslim leaders in Colombo called on the government to intervene and solve the Wilpattu issue without any further delay and ensure national reconciliation.
Among them were Muslim civil society leaders, parliamentarians, academics and the clergy.
Addressing a press briefing at Renuka Hotel titled “Our Stand on Wilpattu Issue” organized by the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum on 5 January, they alleged that latest Wilpattu controversy is based on a political agenda and adding that even during the three decades of conflict in Sri Lanka, Muslims continuously sided with the government but today, sadly, they are being targeted by the very-side that they once supported.
Minister of Rehabilitation, Resettlement & Hindu Religious Affairs M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen, State Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation A. H. M. Fowzie, Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahman, and President of Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum N. M. Ameen, and Leader of National Unity Front Azath Salley, were among those who addressed the 5 January press briefing.
Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen said that the latest controversy over Wilpattu resettlement is another “attack on the Northern Muslim IDPs.” “There are no Muslim families living within Wilpattu reserves. The areas being talked about are out of the boundary of the reserve and legally taken” he said. Explaining as to how Muslim people are found in these areas, Minister Bathiudeen said: “Muslims who have been living in Maruthamadu GS Division in Museli Divisional Secretariat were among those who were forcibly expelled from North by LTTE. They were victims of ethnic cleansing in these areas. While they are displaced and living elsewhere, on 2012 October 10 the then government issued a gazette changing the name of Maruthamadu GS Division to Villathikulam. This gazette acquired 2800 Hectare of forest land to Forest Department using GPS and lands belonging to IDPs were also in this acquisition. Later, Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) allocated about 208 Hectare of lands back to IDPs and the latest issue is created around some of these LLRC allocated lands incorrectly showing them as illegally used. This is an attack on the Northern Muslim IDPs. I request the government to resolve this issue.”
“Minister Bathiudeen is one of the displaced Northern Muslim IDPs” said Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahman, and added: “Various people with their own agendas are saying that the resettling in LLRC land to be an attempt of illegal jungle clearing. This is not true and is against the government’s reconciliation process. Therefore we call the government to resolve this issue without delay.”
Minister Bathiudeen, who is also the Leader of the ACMC, was one of the displaced Northern IDPs fleeing Vanni with his family in October 1990.