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Families in Sri Lanka Stand Up to the Soldiers Who Took Their Homes

IDPs in the north of Sri Lanka carrying the possessions. Image from Flickr by trokilinochchi. CC BY 2.0

This post by Raisa Wickrematunge originally appeared on Groundviews, an award-winning citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.

Feb. 9 marks the tenth day of protests in Keppapulavu, a village in Mullaitivu, situated on the north-eastern coast of Northern Province, Sri Lanka, where residents are demanding the return of their land. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is meeting with representatives of the Keppapulavu protests, but the struggle for the return of their land has been going on for years.

More than seven years have passed since the end of a civil war. Still, though, as many as 200,000 troops remain stationed in the Tamil-populated north. They occupy significant amount of land belonging to locals, who were driven from their homes during the war, supposedly because of national security needs.

Dozens of families in Pilavukkudiyiruppu village, in Keppapulavu of Mullaitivu, have been protesting in front of an Air Force camp, demanding the return of their 25-acre lands, which the military currently occupies. Families have been waiting to return to their homes since the final phases of the war in 2009.

The displaced residents of Keppapulavu were reportedly warned not to protest, as President Maithripala Sirisena was scheduled to visit the area.

President Sirisena did not visit Mullaitivu due to poor weather, though a ceremony was held to transfer some land. Local displaced persons, however, say the land isn't the same area they inhabited previously.

In response, protesters have demanded the right to resettle on their original land. The villagers initially held a protest on Jan. 25.

On Jan. 31, the villagers protested through the night.

The military reportedly tried to pressure the demonstrators into stopping the protest.

As the protests continued, local politicians and neighboring villages expressed solidarity.

Some dubbed the country's Independence Day a “Black Day”:

Many children in Keppapulavu also joined in the protest.

As the demonstrations continued, the story gained more mainstream media coverage, as well.

Activists from the south of the country also visited in solidarity.

For nine days, there was no official government response, apart from local politicos such as Chief Minister Wigneswaran and the Mullaitivu GA who visited the protesting residents and expressed support.

Matters finally came to a head when TNA MP M A Sumanthiran raised the matter in parliament.

Following Sumanthiran's speech, State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene committed to a meeting to discuss the issue.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe then met with representatives from Keppapulavu on Feb. 9.

The military meanwhile has asked displaced families to provide copies of their deeds, posing a problem for those who do not have these documents.

UPDATE: Following a meeting with the families, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly asked the military to relocate its camp. The Keppapuvalu residents welcomed the decision, but said that they would continue protesting until their land was returned.

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