Sri Lanka looks to restore war zone property to owners
COLOMBO SRI LANKA is to bring in special property laws to protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the island’s Tamil separatist war, a justice ministry official said on Sunday.
The measure could see absentee owners, or their heirs, looking to reverse decades of possession by other people in both the conflict- wracked north and east of the country and elsewhere.
Under existing Sri Lankan law, a squatter can claim ownership of a property after occupying it for 10 years without legal challenge, but ministry spokesman ARA Hafeez said the cabinet approved new rules to remove the time limit.
“The intention is to help people reclaim property they may have lost during the years of fighting,” he said.
Any person who became ‘displaced’ between May 1983 and 2012 will be eligible to make a claim to repossess their property, whether it is in the conflict area or other parts of Sri Lanka.
An estimated 100,000 people were killed in the fighting in Sri Lanka between 1972 and 2009 and more than a million people displaced, many of whom sought refuge abroad.
The main Tamil exodus from the country was sparked by July 1983 race riots in which at least 400 people, mainly Tamils, were killed, according to official figures.
The separatist war ended in May 2009 and most landowners in the affected areas are Tamils themselves, while government forces occupy much land that was abandoned by its owners during the fighting, or declared a high security zone.
There will be an independent mechanism to settle disputes under the proposed law, said Hafeez.
The legislation is due to go before parliament, where the ruling party has a two thirds majority.
In January the government withdrew a controversial order that gave landowners a tight deadline to re-register their title deeds or risk losing their property in the war-ravaged region.