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Briefing of Panama Land Issue

Written By NAFSO on Friday, February 12, 2016 | 2:42:00 PM


Panama, is situated in the District of Ampara in Southeast of Sri Lanka. It comprises of the villages of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Egodayaya, Horewekanda and Ulpassa. Prior to their lands were acquired by the military and tourism projects were commenced, the villagers in the area lived a peaceful life.
Majority of the people in the area were engaged in agriculture, fishing and honey bee collection. They had free access to their farmlands for agriculture and equally engaged and enjoyed the lake, lagoon and sea for fishing.They cultivated pulses and other cereals; yams, vegetables, fruits including permanent crops as well as paddy. The crops cultivated were sold and also used for family’s sustenance.

 2003                                   A delegation comprising of the then government Minister of Health, Nutrition & Welfare, the Assistant Government Agent of Ampara, the Divisional Secretary of Lahugala, informed the villagers in Ragamwela that the lands belong to the State and they will be evicted immediately.
2005                                 The lands in the area of Ragamwela were taken over by the former Chairman of Pradeshiya Sabha in the area.
2006- 2007                     With the involvement of the Chairman of Pradeshiya Sabha, lands belonging to people in Ragamwela were handed over to Sooriya Match company.
2009                                     After the end of ethnic conflict, these lands were acquired by Navy and Air force for the purpose of establishing villages for the military officers who were disabled. This included 1,220 acres of lands in Shasthrawela-75 families, Ragamwela-84 families (Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Egodayaya altogether 250 families)
2010                                            Alternatively the Navy built a camp in the area.
Navy acquired lands in the areas of Horekanda , Egodayaya and Ulpassa. Further the area was fenced by electric wires.
Navy built a camp in the area and also a hotel in Panama Lagoon “ Panama Lagoon Cabana” and a few other buildings.
Seven houses and cultivation fields belonging to residents in Ragamwela and Shastrawela were burnt down by an unknown group of people. The people were evicted from their lands and the Air force took over control of the area. Potuvil police denied residents’ access to their land for a period of one year. 350 families in the area were displaced.
The residents of Panama held a protest against the Police and the Police Special Task Force.
The villagers filed a case (Complaint Number H.R.C./M/105/10B/OT) with the Human Rights Commission in Ampara, invoking their right to life and land.
Following a lengthy investigation the Human Rights Commission presented the report that included their recommendations to the Presidential Secretary on the 27th of August 2010. The report clearly explained the unfair treatment and pressure that the residents had faced. The report had also clarified that these lands belonged to the residents.
2011                                     The Panama issue was first raised by MONLAR. Thus MONLAR has faced severe threats from the government and MONLAR was step back. Meanwhile , PA and NAFSO have begun to work with Paanama community and strengthened the Paanama Pattu Protection organization. SDF (Social Development Foundation), an Oxfam CBO partner.  SDF first worked with the Land Forum, a national level network working on land issues initiated by Oxfam. With support from the Oxfam GROW campaign in Sri Lanka (Need clarification on highlighting text in grey color),
2012                             PA coordinator Raajan and PPPO secretary P.Somasiri were questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department at the Forth floor in Colombo. Therefore, the Organizations met and discussed to build a wider network to face the issue of land grabbing in Sri Lanka. Therefore, “People’s Alliance for Right to Land” (PARL) was built in order to seek support for communities affected by land acquisitions.
The Navy constructed three jetties on the lagoon.
2013                                 On March 28, 2013, case against landgrabbing in Panama and the destruction of livelihoods had been heard in the Magistrate Court.
On 04 April 2013, the Chief Incumbent of the Bodhirukkarama Temple of Panama, led a group of Buddhist monks representing 08 Buddhist temples in Panama along with another 25 men and women, all villagers of Panama and met with Divisional Secretary of Lahugala Divisional Secretariat office.
2015                                         Subsequent to presidential elections, approximately 340 acres were announced to be released and handed back over to the people.
The Cabinet decided on the 11th of February 2015 to release 340 acres of land out of 365 acres to the community. (with the exclusion of 25 acres as there’s construction in place).
On the 11th of June 2015 PARL informed relevant District Secretaries of Lahugala and Ampara, Land commissioner general and commander in chief of Sri Lanka Navy on the cabinet decision dated 11th February 2015.
On the 15th of June 2015 PARL informed the Prime Minister, the land commissioner general, District Secretaries and, responsible officials in armed forces. In response they claimed that the process of releasing land is underway.
On the 20th of June 2015 the President was informed by PARL on the issue of releasing lands.
A court case bearing No. 8455/PC/09 filed against some villagers of Panama by the Police for trespassing state owned land by force. As court hearings and inquiries progressed it was made clear that the land was not owned by the state. Court decided the matter on the 6th of May 2015 and accordingly the Magistrate had acquitted and discharged the Respondents.

15th July 2015, PPPO tried to enter into their village forcibly. Thus, the police stopped the people under the election violation regulations. 
National Fisheries solidarity Movement [NAFSO], a partner of PARL, went before the HRCSL on July 27, 2015 to lodge a complaint alleging that the Divisional Secretary of Lahugala used false documents to transfer the ownership of Panama lands to the Presidential Secretariat.

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