The Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) criticized Minister Daya Gamage for utilizing military labour to build a hotel complex, a Government project, on lands in Panama belonging to villagers.
Convener of the IUSF, Lahiru Weerasekara said that Gamage in the pre 2015 January 8 period had promised the villagers that their lands would be given back to them along with deeds (deeds had been destroyed when the Military had set fire to the houses way back in 2010 in their efforts to chase the villagers away and get them to vacate the lands – however, villagers possess documentation proving that bank loans were taken for agriculture related activities in the areas owned by them), yet had since then along with other Ministers only visited the site of the construction of the hotel complex and had not visited the villagers who are currently living on makeshift, ramshackle temporary housing and shelter (shacks) they had put up themselves on their lands.
The villagers had then been told that land could be given on the opposite side of the road, a proposal which had been rejected by the villagers since the said area on the opposite side of the road was unsuited for agricultural purposes as there was no water and also because the said area was an area which was a passage for wild elephants, and if occupied by humans this would give rise to the deadly human-elephant conflict, he explained.
The villagers conducted a protest on June 21.
The Government had given the villagers a deadline of June 30, to vacate the lands, he remarked.
The villagers have been promised several meetings for discussions by the Governor of the Province and the relevant authorities yet nothing has materialized and the villagers are continuously being deceived, he observed.
“There were several Court rulings including the most recent one, all of which said that the lands should be given back to the owners. Presently there is a camp occupied by Navy and Army personnel. Out of the 1,200 acres in the said area, the Military is occupying 25 acres. Back then, a quarter of an acre was valued at Rs 8 million. The villagers are being threatened and intimidated yet they are willing to die to protect their lands,” Weerasekera emphasized.