A Catholic village in northern Sri Lanka celebrated a thanksgiving Mass after the military promised to return church premises and some of the land and property wrested from them during the island nation's civil war. Villagers from Mullikulam in Mannar Diocese had been protesting ever since their homes, agricultural lands and a church were forcibly taken away by the Sri Lankan Navy in 2007 two years before the country's civil war ended in 2009. On April 30, after decades of protest, some of their properties were returned.
Sri Lankan Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne met the villagers, three priests and representatives from the Catholic lawyers association on April 29, over a month after their latest occupy-style protest began on March 23. Father Anton Thavaraja, parish priest of Our Lady of Assumption in Mullikulam, said the military official promised to release the church building and premises, 27 houses and some farmland. The navy official asked for six months to evacuate them Father Thavaraja told UCANEWS. "So, with that promise, our people decided to give up their 38-day protest, take their belongings and came to the Our Lady of Assumption church in Mullikulam," said Father Thavaraja. "However, a lot of paddy land and two ponds remain under navy control."
All of Mullikulam villagers are Tamil Catholic parishioners of the Church of our Lady of Assumption, built in 1786. They began their protest on March 23 in front of their former village and continued through Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Mullikulam village and fishing area of 500 hectares, originally home to about 500 families, was entirely confiscated in 2007 to transform it into the headquarters of the Sri Lankan navy’s North-Western Command.
Sri Lanka’s civil war between the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that began in 1983 ended with a crushing defeat for the rebels in 2009. Mullikulam village was hit hard by years of war as government and rebels snatched lands from each other. According to the United Nations over 40,000 civilians died during the last stages of the war. The Mullikulam villagers had the understanding that their land, which they have permanent title to, would be given back at the end of the war but they were disillusioned.
As part of the protests, Bishop Joseph Kingsley Swamipillai of Mannar along with 40 priests, 300 parishioners from St. Sebastian Church in Mannar marched to Mullikulam where he handed over a petition to regain the navy occupied village to the Government Agent of Mannar for the Sri Lankan president.
The villagers, who had been camped outside the entrance to their occupied village, packed up and stayed the night of April 29 in the church. The following day, Sunday, April 30, May 4, they celebrated their victory with relatives from neighboring villages and activists who supported their struggle with a thanksgiving Mass in their Church of our Lady of Assumption. A fellowship lunch followed the Mass. (Source: UCAN)