The Panama Pattuwa Protection Organization has given government authorities a 30-day ultimatum starting July 24 to return the land that was allegedly illegally taken from them. Speaking to The Nation P. Somasiri, resident of Panama and leader of the group, said having been patient for five years the villagers will now only give the authorities a month’s time to return their land to them.

“This includes the time it takes to quantify and divide the land” he said adding that if it’s not done during the stipulated time the residents will enter the lands they owned earlier. Currently the group is attempting to obtain the required documents from the Presidential Secretariat directing the Amapara District Secretary to return the land to its rightful owners. The group is expected to meet the District Secretary on July 24 to inquire on the progress of the issue.

“If the answer given is unsatisfactory we will take action as we see best” he said.
Currently 1,220 acres in Shasthrawela, Panama has been appropriated by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Air Force after the land was transferred to the Presidential Secretariat by the Lahugala Divisional Secretariat stating the land is not in use. These lands included property that once belonged to villagers as well, but was taken over after being attacked and evicted by an unidentified armed group in 2010.

Speaking to The Nation, Military Spokesperson Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera said the Ministry of Defense having discussed with the relevant parties are now analyzing the situation. “The Ministry will do the needful if any party has been aggrieved and treated unfairly” he said.

District Secretary of Ampara Thusitha P. Wanigasinghe and Lahugala Divisional Secretary L.A Somarathna too on July 15 (Wednesday) promised the villagers to take swift action once a directive is received from the Presidential Secretariat. However, even though the Cabinet decision was made on February 11 to redistribute the land no directive has so far been issued to the government authorities in order to take the necessary steps required.

(See full story on the Panama land grab)