Is there an illegal settlement and mosque inside Wilpattu National Park?

Wilpattu Muslim houses

The question is simple and direct. The problem is, no one is giving a correct answer. Scores of articles, press conferences, statements have been issued none of which have given the public the confidence that they are being told the truth. The importance of Wilpattu is far more than its historical, archeological or environmental value. Wilpattu is a strategic security value center for Sri Lanka and it is on this ground that authorities should realize they need to get their act together.


Its name derives from its meaning land of lakes. It has 60 lakes and tanks spread across 131, 693 hectares in the Northwest coast lowland dry zone. In 1905 the area was designated a sanctuary and in 1938 it was upgraded to the National Park status.’ 31 species of mammals have been identified within Wilpattu national park.

The media has highlighted Wilpattu National Park with varying versions to the story. Let us first look at some of the articles and thereafter pose some questions. The contents of the arguments made by BBS certainly deserves attention.

25 March 2014 –

  • Rishad Bathiudeen sending letter of demand to the  Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) seeking $ 3.8 Mn (Rs 500 Mn) in compensation over defamatory statements made by them.
  • Rishad Bathiudeen accuses BBS of wrongly accusing him of destroying the Wilpattu National Park and creating an exclusive Muslim Zone from Wilpattu to Mannar and an  Arab colony in Sri Lanka in the Mannar – Wilpattu area.

1 April 2014 – BBS flays Govt. on Wilpattu housing project

  • “A project of this nature has to be carried out with the involvement of several ministers such as those of the Environment and Renewable Energy Ministry and the Wildlife Resources Conservation Ministry because this project is located within a National Park. The National Heritage Ministry should be responsible because of valuable artefacts that might be destroyed because of the construction work. Ministries of Finance and Planning and External Affairs and even the security forces should not keep silent on important matters such as this,” BBS General Secretary the Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera told a news conference
  • According to the BBS, the minister who is backing the project has received funds from an NGO.  “Even the Regional office of the Central Environmental Authority has said this project would destroy the forest. If the authorities are resettling people it should be carried out in a proper manner and in a proper place, not illegally in the heartland of a valuable forest reserve,” the Thera said.

1 April 2014 – BBS decries Wilpattu destruction

  • BBS demanded GOSL take action and stop a range of illegal activities that is currently taking place inside the Wilpattu Wildlife Park.
  • BBS accused the GOSL of silence while a group of persons backed by a powerful regional politician continues to plunder the Park .
  • BBS claimed the illegal activities included logging, sand mining, chena cultivations, the construction of houses and a mosque.

11 April 2014 – Ceylon Today ‘Who built a village inside Wilpattu National Park’

  • These Muslims, whom I am resettling and have resettled in the Wilpattu National Park after clearing the jungle and also in the Northern Province, are partly my voter base. There is nothing illegal in building houses and places as I have acquired permission in a correct manner from the relevant line ministries and this is sanctioned by the government,Bathiudeen said.
  • This is taking place in the Musali area and in the Northern areas of the Wilpattu National Park, the encroaching families come from Mannar, Thalaimannar, Maruchchikatti, Karadikkuli and Palikkuli.

11 April 2014 by Zacki Jabbar –

  • A petition signed by 12 Muslim Organizations :  All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Muslim Lawyers Association, All Ceylon YMMA Conference, Muslim Womens Research and Action Forum, All Ceylon Union of Muslim Youth League Front, National Shoora Council, Secretariat for Muslims, Muslim Media Forum, Sri Lanka Jamath-e-Islami, United Muslim Ummah, Majlisul Shoora claims
  • BBS is wrongfully claiming that a new resettlement colony called Jassim City is being constructed with donor funds inside the Wilpattu National Park.
  • No illegal resettlement nor damage had been caused to the Wilpattu National Park or the environment.
  • Hundred families whose lands are currently occupied by the Navy have squatted in temporary shelters in about two acres of land belonging to the buffer zone near the Wilpattu National Park.

13 April 2014 – Ceylon Today : Squatters invade Wilpattu – Rape of a National Park

  • The issue of systematic deforestation in Wilpattu, for a construction site, was brought to the limelight by environmental organizations from 2012 and early 2013, yet, authorities continued to overlook the matter.
  • Bodu Bala Sena taking the matter into their hand and openly accusing Commerce and Trade Minister Rishard Bathiudeen of Muslim colonization and lashing out at President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the authorities for ignoring the matter for a long time.
  • Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) charged that massive-scale illegal land grabbing is taking place in order to establish Muslim colonies, separate zones and villages, on the pretext of resettling the internally displaced.
  • BBS alleged that Minister Bathiudeen had entered into contracts with Middle Eastern non-governmental organizations ( and, to fund this encroachment.
  • Quoting “These Muslims, whom I am resettling and have resettled in the Wilpattu National Park, after clearing the jungle and also in the Northern Province, are partly my voter base. There is nothing illegal in building houses and places, as I have acquired permission in the correct manner from the relevant line ministries and this is sanctioned by the government,” Bathiudeen said in response to charges.
  • Construction is taking place in the Musali area and in the Northern areas of the Wilpattu National Park. The squatters have come from Mannar, Thalaimannar, Maruchchikatti, Karadikkuli and Palikkuli.
  • BBS also questioned why Minister of Environment and Renewable Energy Susil Premajayantha and Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Wimal Weerawansa were silent
  • BBS argument – “Post-war, the internally displaced should be given housing regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion. This should be done with a proper plan and by following the correct procedure. First of all, the government should find out where they lived previously and relocate them to their original locations. At a time when green forests are being destroyed, allowing the Wilpattu National Park to be cleared to build houses is an environmental catastrophe. It is because there is no proper housing plan to accommodate, relocate and reinstate the internally displaced that a situations like this has arisen. When there is so much land for this purpose elsewhere, doing this in Wilpattu and giving permission for it is a politically motivated act.
  • BBS questions – This building of new Muslim villages is the origin of a future problem. When a government minister signs a contract on behalf of the government, how does the money end up with an NGO?
  • The Divisional Secretary of Musali has said that they have already filed cases against the settlers in the North of the Wilpattu National Park and the wildlife conservation officer of the Wilpattu National Park also corroborated this.
  • Even though, Minister Bathuideen asserted that the land was acquired and constructions were carried out in accordance with other line ministries, a letter sent by R.P.R. Rajapaksha, in his capacity as the Land Commissioner General, has insisted that the Divisional Secretary of Muhudubada Pattu should reveal as to who they are expecting to relocate in the land belonging to the Forest Conservation Department as identification of IDPs to be relocated had almost reached a conclusion.

17 April 2014 – Zacki Jabbar –

Writer claims the following :

  • The Wildlife Department says 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.
  • Wildlife Department says the settlements were illegal
  • Minister Rishard agreed that illegal constructions should be cleared.
  • BBS had wrongfully accused the Jasmine City Housing Project (JCHP) located outside the WNP in Marchchikatti Grama Niladari Division as being inside the WNP
  • 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.

18 April 2014 –

  • Minister Rishad Bathiudeen yesterday said that the Wilpattu squatters at Marichchikattu arrived there due to their great necessity to survive
  • A total of 73 families who were left in the lurch have put up temporary huts on the borders of the Wilpattu National Park out of great necessity to survive.
  • The allegation of BBS is that the JASIM city housing scheme has been constructed as an Arab colony within the boundary of the Wilpattu National Park is clearly a lie and I categorically reject them,” Bathiudeen asserted.
  • Minister stated that the housing scheme is located in the Marichchikattu GN division which is outside the Wilpattu National Park and that this was evident in the DS letter and the Survey Plans and all inhabitants thereof are IDPS.
  • In 2012, as per the terms of the LLRC recommendations, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) appointed a committee to identify lands for the landless. They identified lands in Marichchikattu, Palakuli and Karadikuli, which is explained in the letter of the Divisional Secretary of the Musali Division. It should also be mentioned here that there are about 73 families whose original Marichchikattu area lands have been taken over by the Navy for security purposes and the families are unable to resettle in them as a result of this. Then the officials of the Divisional Secretariat identified alternate lands for these IDPs in the Marichchikatti area. However, this alternate land proposal was objected to by the Army despite the fact that there is no security establishment in proximity to the alternate lands referred to above.”
  • “They are not inside the National Park, but they are in the border area of the park.

18 April 2014 – Daily News ‘Legal action against Wilpattu squatters’

  • A an official of the Wildlife Conservation Department (WCD) told the Daily News that legal action will be taken against the temporary settlements spread around 3 acres in the Wilpattu sanctuary
  • The official says 44 families are living in the temporary settlements.
  • The official also says that a court case has been filed at the Mannar Magistrate’s Court
  • The land that the Muslim families are encroaching upon falls under the Wildlife Conservation Department
  • Rishad Bathiudeen says the houses were constructed on the lands released legally by the Forest Conservation Department to the relevant Divisional Secretariat after following the due process.

20th April 2014 – According to author Latheef Farook Marichchikatti

  • Muslim families were living peacefully for centuries in the Marichchikatti village in the Musali division in the Mannar District.
  • They returned to their village (150 families / 500 people) after being evicted in 1990 and were helped by the government  and divisional secretary
  • An NGO helped them to put up huts
  • Farook claims Marichichikattu village belongs to the Musali division in the Mannar District.
  • These Muslims have also produced deeds and all other relevant documents for their lands. They had also shown evidence of an old mosque there before they were evicted. This mosque is now under Navy control.
  • Minister Bathiudeen has said these houses were built with the knowledge of the government.
  • There is nothing illegal in building these houses as they have acquired permission from the relevant line ministries and this is sanctioned by the government.

20th April 2014 – Official statement by Military Spokesman, Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya

  • Naval deployments in the Wilpattu National Park area have not affected the Muslim families as claimed by media
  • Muslim families who have encroached the sanctuary of Wilpattu National Park were NOT the families displaced due to naval deployments in the area.
  • The naval deployment in Mullikkulam and Marichchikaddu areas have resulted in the displacement of only one Muslim family and that family is not among those seeking resettlement within the sanctuary.
  • The Sri Lanka Navy along with civil authorities had made arrangements to provide alternate land to this family in Marichchikaddu area.
  • No other Muslim family has ever approached the Sri Lanka Navy claiming displacement due to deployments in the area.
  • reports published in the media quoting political sources that the Muslim families who put up temporary shelters within the sanctuary, but outside the border of the Willpattu National Park had gone there on their own after being evicted from their lands by the Navy, which has since occupied the area is false and totally baseless.

21 April 2014 – No legal action against illegal construction at Wilpattu – Environmentalists

  • Environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam said that over 300 illegal dwellings have been constructed in the Northern region of the park.
  • He noted that the bio diversity at the sanctuary has been largely affected by the illegal constructions.
  • Minister of Wildlife and Conservation, Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa, said that in response he had requested the enviromentalists to seek legal redress.

22 April 2014 – Rishad refutes allegations on Wilpaththu encroachments –

The article claims that Rishard Bathiudeen says that

  • 23,000 hectares of Wilpaththu National Park have been cleared during post-war resettlement
  • clearance has occurred only in Marichchikatti on the border of the national park.
  • the people should be given alternative land on which they could settle.

In the meanwhile there are the general mischief makers attempting to divert the core issue and utilize the opportunity to slander. When calls are made to ‘all Sri Lankans to tear up the national flag & dump it’ and Sinhalese Buddhists are being called all sorts of names throughout print and online publications, the Minister of National Language and Social Integration (who has hardly any vote base) sees only one side of the coin and has consistently shown bias. While former {residential advisors uses the opportunity to take one-sided pot shots referring to ‘Sinhala Eelam’, “Eelam Chinthanya” trying all avenues to spread the sponsored concept of interfaith in an obvious bid to curtail and clip the Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka. When Cameron can declare that England with hardly 55% Christians is a Christian state, why shouldn’t Sri Lanka with close to 70% Buddhists refer to Sri Lanka as Buddhist when every area has a Sinhala Buddhist link to its civilizational history?

Questions the public demand answers to:

  • If the Military Spokesman claims that only one family has been displaced due to Naval deployment and that Muslim family had been given alternate land in Marichchikaddu area, why does Latheef Farook refer to 150 families of 500 people?
  • Is there illegal settlements taking place with the knowledge of line ministries and public officials and is this because they have been induced to slumber if they do not exert their authority given that illegal settlements in a strategic area would obviously lead to issues in future?
  • The Commerce Minister is on record stating that “These Muslims, whom I am resettling and have resettled in the Wilpattu National Park after clearing the jungle and also in the Northern Province, are partly my voter base. There is nothing illegal in building houses and places as I have acquired permission in a correct manner from the relevant line ministries and this is sanctioned by the government,” – the seriousness of this statement requires the GOSL to respond. No politician of ethnic minority is voted to Parliament to use tax payers money to build only for that community. If this is a reality it demands that Sri Lanka immediately addresses the present proportional representative voting system and adopt alternative methods for the likelihood of other minority politicians thinking on the same line is likely to be catastrophic in the future.
  • If 12 Muslim organizations claim there is no ‘illegal settlement’ while scores of others claim there is – who is telling the truth and who is lying?
  • If these 12 Muslim organizations have signed to say that the temporary shelters are as a result of Navy occupying their areas, is this not negating what the military spokesman officially said?
  • If there was no illegal settlements why did environmental organizations bring up the issue of deforestation in the Wilpattu as far back as 2012 and why did authorities turn a blind eye?
  • On 13th April 2014 Rishard Bathiudeen says   “These Muslims, whom I am resettling and have resettled in the Wilpattu National Park after clearing the jungle” then on 18th April 2014 he says that these families arrived at the borders of Wilpattu National Park out of great necessity to survive.
  • If there is nothing ‘illegal’ taking place why is the Wildlife Department taking legal action and why does Latheef Farook say ‘There is nothing illegal in building these houses as they have acquired permission from the relevant line ministries and this is sanctioned by the government’?
  • Environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam says there are over 300 illegal illegal dwellings constructed in the Northern region of the park – Is this true or not?

We are left with more questions and NO answers.

The statements and points from articles shown above clearly establish that there is a grievance, there are irregularities and we have to also admit that Government silence or public official involvement to aggravate the situation has led to the current impasse. These are good lessons for Sri Lanka’s politicians who do not seem to think beyond their term of office and ignore the dangers lurking in our midst where foreign elements continue to attempt to fan fires of any kind. It is unfortunate that the Government and public officials are not dousing the flames but adding to the fire and this is why people take the law into their hands.

Politicians should not interfere but allow law enforcements and the country’s laws to prevail. It is when politicians involve themselves into areas that are best left for authorities to handle that trouble takes place and there are enough of elements to make the situation worse.

– by Shenali D Waduge