Militarisation of Sri Lanka's North- Marches On


Since the end of the civil war, militarisation continues to be the biggest problem facing the citizens of the north and east of Sri Lanka. Militarisation has led to the polarisation of the Tamils in the North from the rest of the society at large. The North is increasingly becoming more reliant on the military for its everyday needs and the military continues to have an overarching influence over the activities of the civil administration as well.  Even though the government continues to argue that the military presence is necessary for security reasons, one cannot ignore the fact that problems like land grabs, civil administration interference and sexual violence that haunt the North are directly connected to militarisation.

 According to the Oakland Institute’s report “tens of thousands of government troops have continued to occupy the north and east with the army expanding its property developments on private lands belonging to displaced Tamils”. It also states that the recent land grabs fall into an old and familiar pattern that has resulted in the marginalisation of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population through means of violence, pogroms, repressive laws and a government-orchestrated colonisation of the northern and eastern parts of the island.

The Northern Province is home to 16 of the 19 Sri Lankan Army’s divisions and they are all made up of at least 160,000 soldiers, almost entirely Sinhalese. With the Northern Province’s population estimated at just over 1 million in 2012, this yields a ratio of one army member for every six civilians, despite the end of hostilities seven years ago.
“This heavy militarization helped maintain not only a stranglehold over the local population but criminalized all and any form of democratic and political dissent.”
- Chief Minister of the Northern Province. C.V.Wigneswaran

  Sri Lanka’s military continues to dominate the economic activity of the North and in the name of development it also controls the agricultural and private lands that belong to the displaced people. According to a recent research conducted by the Centre of Policy alternatives(CPA) "a total of 12,751.240783478 acres of land (which amounts to 51.60244065818675807 km² including both state and private lands) continues to be occupied in the Northern Province, with lack of clear information in many cases as to whether there is actual acquisition in adherence to the legal framework in Sri Lanka".

The military is comfortably establishing its permanent, occupying presence in the North and its illegal occupation of private lands and its interference in the civil administration continues unabated. The Northern Tamils see this continued military presence is the North as an effort to impose Sinhala and Buddhist culture across the whole of Sri Lanka. Apart from illegally occupying the land the military also continues to actively participate in the construction of Buddhist temples in the North. This had led to a lot of protests in the North including the recent protest in Mullaitheevu, Kokkilaay against the illegal construction of a Buddhist temple in the private land belonging to 3 Tamil families.     


“If human security were the guiding principle, the military would not be taking over people’s lands, cultivating them with the owners having to buy the produce from their own land and building hotels and golf courses when the dwelling homes of the people devastated by the war remain like pock marks in the Northern landscape. 

-Chief Minister of the Northern Province,
In the report Land occupation in the Northern Province, CPA notes "that most people are not officially informed as to why their land has been acquired or occupied by the government and the public purposes for the acquisition, contrary to what is provided within the legal
framework. This is further exacerbated by fears of using land to change ethnic demographics. CPA has documented efforts by previous governments to change demographics in the North, including land settlements schemes that create fears of ‘Sinhalisation’ of areas that were predominantly Tamil. Continued land occupation by the military and police, fuels suspicion of plans to use land to effect demographic change and ultimately, impact electoral representation of the area. Such fears must be addressed if the GOSL is genuine in its commitment to reconciliation. The lack of information and public consultation around land occupation, releases and reparations is a key impediment for reconciliation efforts, further exacerbating mistrust and tensions among affected communities".

On numerous occasions militarisation has deemed the civil administration in the North powerless. The Chief Minister of the North, C.V.Wigneswaran and the Northern Provincial Council has been very outspoken about the adverse effects of militarisation on the Tamil society and continue to insist that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the military is an important stepping stone for the post conflict peace consolidation process. 

The Chief Minister has even warned the SL Government that the "Occupation of land and militarisation will ‘never lead to reconciliation’

Meaningful reconciliation in Sri Lanka will only be possible if the Sirisena government acknowledges the problems related to militarisation and take genuine steps towards demilitarisation of the North. Until then the civil society in the North will continue to see the military as an occupational army. 

The author can be reached at [email protected]