Wildlife Dept. refutes BBS, says no squatters in Wilpattu Park

* 44 Northern Muslim families displaced by Navy,built temporary shelters in Sanctuary

by Zacki Jabbar

The Wildlife Department yesterday that no one had built houses within the Wilpattu National Park (WNP), but some Northern Muslims driven out of their homes in 1990 by the LTTE and subsequently displaced by the Navy, had put up temporary shelters within the sanctuary bordering the WNP.

Responding to questions at a press conference called by Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen in Colombo, to refute allegations by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) that some Northern Muslims had encroached on the WNP, Samarakoon pointed out that the Sanctuary could not be considered part of the WNP, but the settlements were illegal.

The Minister agreeing with Samarakoon said that illegal constructions should be cleared. However, it was wrong for the BBS to have falsely linked it with the Jasmine City Housing Project (JCHP) located outside the WNP in Marchchikatti Grama Niladari Division, he noted, adding that the JCHP comprised just 300 houses, which could accommodate only a fraction of the 22,000 families who were driven out of the North by the LTTE in 1990.

"In comparison since the war ended over 20,000 houses had been built in various parts of the North, to accommodate displaced Tamils and Sinhalese. I have personally overseen some of these schemes. Why is the BBS spreading false allegations against me and the Muslims when just 300 houses were constructed with the approval of the authorities. I, too, was one of the IDPs," he pointed out.

The 44 Muslim families who put up temporary shelters within the sanctuary, but outside the border of the WNP, had gone there on their own, after being evicted from their lands by the Navy which has since occupied the area. They are only asking for alternative land to rebuild their lives. "What is wrong in that and why does the BBS have to make baseless allegations and create communal problems when the displaced were only asking for a roof above their heads?" Bathiudeen queried.

The BBS, he said, also falsely alleged that some Northern Muslims had encroached on 22,000 hectares of land in the WNP with his assistance.

The Minister warned that unless the BBS retracted and apologised for the baseless allegations levelled against him, he would go ahead with the Rs.500 million damages suit he had instituted, when court sittings resumed after the New Year holidays.

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