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Catholics and fishermen against land expropriation for tourism development

A UN-sponsored international conference on tourism is currently underway in Sri Lanka. Local Catholics, fishermen and activists planned a protest until they were deterred by Sri Lanka’s CID. Critics bemoan the negative impact on the local population, who were not invited to the event. Tourist development “will benefit only big business.”

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s Tourism Ministry is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Parallel to that, a four-day international conference (11-14 July) is currently underway in Pasikudah, Batticaloa District (Eastern Province) under the auspices of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

However, land expropriations for tourist development in Sri Lanka "do not create any kind of development, peace and reconciliation among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese and Tamil,” say critics who spoke to AsiaNews.

Rights activists, fisher people, and Catholics oppose the conference because it is designed mainly "to attract big investors, businesses and corporations that can finance and develop the tourism sector following the civil war."

What big international institutions and President Maithripala Sirisena’s government forget is that people want only one thing: to have their land back.

As the guest of honour, the president himself is scheduled to address the conference tomorrow when it closes.

Various social groups led by the National Solidarity Movement along with the Praja Abhilashi Network and the Peoples' Alliance for Right to Land had organised a number of counter meetings on the margins of the official conference.

“Activists wanted to put the spotlight on the conditions of local communities,” said Francis Raajan, Praja Abhilashi Network coordinator. “However, CID* officials summoned protest leader to the Valachchanai police station and warned them not to demonstrate. The also threatened to stop fishermen from fishing during the conference unless they scrapped their planned protest.”

"After the warning, our fishermen were frightened. We were forced to stop everything,” said P. Nevil Christy Cooray, a Catholic fisher leader.

“It was really painful that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasignhe came to tell us that we should give up our fishing areas to make room for hotels. Although a leader of the people, he did not inquiry about our pain."

The man is not tender with UN agency as well, since the latter supports this type of "tourist expropriation".

Other people are saying that the government plans to set up elephant corridors to attract tourists.

A. Saleema, a Muslim woman living at Kalpitiya, a group of islands, said that that the previous government under Mahinda Rajapaksa seized her land and destroyed her crops.

Activist Ruki Fernando is also upset that the international conference was organised without any local input.

"No one knew anything,” he said. “Neither fish industry operators nor restaurant and hotel owners knew anything. Local war victims will get nothing out of this meeting, which will benefit only big business.”

* CID: Central Investigation Department

Source: Asianews.it 

Report: Melani Manel Perera