Gathered from across the North and East, around 250 protesters travelled overnight to Colombo yesterday (February 28) to protest military occupied lands in front of the Presidential Secretariat during a Cabinet meeting.
Police officers initially objected to protesters’ attempts to rally outside the Presidential Secretariat, trying to disperse crowds with warnings that the area was a high-security zone – despite ostensibly being a pavement. However, after some negotiations, they agreed to escort six representatives to a meeting with the President’s staff.
In the hours that followed, Minister for National Dialogue Mano Ganesan and MP Douglas Devananda visited the demonstration, each attempting to allay protester concerns and promising to resolve the issues. Meanwhile, children, women, and men waited for hours in the sun, and then the rain, waiting for a response from the Presidential Secretariat.
In a welcome change from the government’s usual silence, representatives emerged carrying a letter in Sinhala and Tamil, addressed to the Defence Ministry and signed by Presidential Secretariat Senior Assistant Secretary Samanthi Ranasinghe. The letter directs the Defence Ministry to inquire into complaints of military occupied private lands and resolve such complaints within the current legal framework.
While protesters composed a broad coalition, many were from areas like Puthukuduyiruppu and Keppapulavu where protests for the return of military occupied land are ongoing. In the case of Keppapulavu, the Air Force today (March 1) released 42 out of 54 acres of land following a Presidential order in response to 30 days of widespread protests.
Though many grievances remain to be resolved, the positive outcomes of protests like the ones at the Presidential Secretariat and in Keppapulavu, combined with international scrutiny from the ongoing UNHRC sessions, indicate that perhaps the government is finally ready to change its tune.
Featured image: An elderly protester holds up a board reading “good governance?”