Sri Lanka: Fishermen appeal to Card. Ranjith: stop government project

world | Nov 17, 2010 | By Asia News

Colombo - The Alliance for the Protection of the Negombo Lagoon, located approximately 40 km north of the capital, is appealing to card Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, to "negotiate with the government" to stop the development project in the area , which involves the construction of a base for seaplanes take off and landing. The appeal is contained in a letter delivered to the cardinal designate on November 15 last and made public at a press conference held at the Centre for social and religious activities. The fishermen, most of them Catholic, call for "full attention and the mediation of the Cardinal, after the unfulfilled promises by the government”. In recent days Dayasritha Tissera, Deputy Minister for Civil Aviation, had assured a halt to  of the project which involves Negombo lagoon. However, a few hours after the words of the government representative, excavations in the area resumed.

The Alliance members are in favour of a development in the area, but it must not come at the expense of people's livelihoods or that of the  fishermen, whose lives would be "lost" by creating an area for seaplanes. Protests by the local population and the "assurances" of executive officials have served little purpose.

Herman Kumara, secretary general of the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP) also addressed the issue, speaking of "people who expect an immediate end to excavation." He adds that people "feel cheated by the politicians," expecting "a solution, after the reassuring words spoken by the Deputy-minister." "All parties involved - the WFFP Secretary-General concludes - including the Catholic Church and the political leadership, including President, must interest themselves in the issue and find a solution." On 11 November, Deputy minister Dayasritha Tissera suggested to fishermen that he would find an "alternative" solution in the meantime the government had "disrupted" the project, opening dialogue "between the president and the fishermen" to find a way out that is satisfactory to both parties.

But the executive promises were unfulfilled. Solidarity among Catholic leaders for the workers has not been lacking however. Fr. Patrick Perera, vicar general of North Colombo, confirmed that "the Catholic Church is on the side of the fishermen, the majority of whom are Catholics." At least 18 priests and nuns of the parish area of the lagoon attended the fishermen’s meeting as a sign of solidarity. Subhashini Kamalanathan and Milina Kumari, an activist for women's rights, told AsiaNews that they have every confidence in Archbishop Ranjith that he will know how to mediate with the government and find a solution for the fishermen.

To date there are about 3500 fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the lagoon and the resources it offers. They form 10 thousand households, divided into 35 villages. The Ministry of Civil Aviation said that the Seaplane project will ensure a record growth in tourism. The realisation luxury resorts and equipment to hire will attract at least 2.5 million tourists by 2015 adds the ministry.

Ranjith Fernando, Chairman of the Management Authority of the Negombo lagoon, is one of the staunchest opponents of the excavation of the bay of Mada Bokka, "one of the richest areas for shrimp." He wonders who "ordered the digging" and if, in 2006, there were security reasons for the use of the bay by the Navy, today "there are no threats and there is no need to disturb or destroy" the natural ecosystem of the area. The president launched his own appeal to the Catholic Church to "stop all this." Shirani Fernando, a fisherwoman and leader of the Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women Organization, underlines that the proceeds of Fisheries “provides education to our children” and the destruction of the ecosystem of the lagoon will "destroy our lives ... that's why we are against the project. "



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