The government has recently been appointing ad hoc bodies to find answers to issues of governance. One of these recently established bodies is the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province. This comprises high level security forces personnel and a few others who will be tasked with dealing with complex issues of history, identity and land use. The task force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province has been mandated to identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province and identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally. However, this presidential task force has no minority representation although the Eastern province has a population that is over 75 percent Tamil and Muslim.
In the aftermath of the thirty year war against Tamil separatism in 2009 and the Easter bombing by suicide bombers from the Muslim community who were influenced by international Islamic ideologies in 2019, the containment of extremist ethnic and religious minority influence has become an important part of state policy. There has been a rise in insecurity amongst the ethnic and religious majority population. However, the lack of minority representation in the new and ad hoc institutions of governance can itself be a cause for disaffection that the government intends to contain. If sections of the people feel that they are not being included in decision making, and that decisions being made exclude them, there can grow an alienation of heart and mind that cannot be stopped by more security measures and more intelligence gathering alone.
It is in this political context that land is being transferred from minority usage to be used to protect ancient archaeological sites. The National Peace Council is concerned about potential flashpoints such as in Pottuvil, in the Ampara district, where the dispute over the Muhudu Maha Vihara temple land could increase in intensity as it has the potential to lead to the displacement of Muslim communities living in the contested areas. We believe that if the presidential task force has been appointed for the purpose of problem solving in the Eastern province, then it needs to have more non-partisan professional Muslim and Tamil representation, and in more than token numbers, if its recommendations are to be seen as based on objective truth and unbiased. Failure to do so will be seen by the affected minority communities that this is another ethnic nationalist agenda thereby creating another flashpoint further damaging inter-ethnic relationships.
National Peace Council of Sri Lanka