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Burial of Muslim victims of Covid 19: Iranativu island burial site can be contentious

ECONOMYNEXT – The Sri Lanka government has chosen the troubled island of Iranativu off the Kilinochchi coast in the Gulf of Mannar as a possible burial site for Muslim victims of Covid 19, a decision that will worsen the current tense situation there.

The Cabinet Spokesman, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters today that the government has designated the small island which measures 1km by 1.5 km as a burial site.

The island is currently partly controlled by the Sri Lanka Navy but hundreds of former residents of the island are demanding all their land back and are regularly staging demonstrations around the island.

The Navy wants to keep a Naval post on the island as it is a vantage point to monitor smugglers moving contraband from the nearby Indian coast to Sri Lanka.

If the remains of Muslim victims of the pandemic are buried on what the islanders consider their ancestral lands, there is bound to be anger and further protests, Ananth Palakidnar, a columnist for the Eelanadu newspaper told EconomyNext.

Irantivu has some 400 families claiming ownership and many of them are Roman Catholics.

The Navy recently rebuilt the churches on the island, a new jetty was installed and solar power introduced to the inhabitants.

However, the school and other installations are still not built and although many residents have returned the children continue to live in a settlement called Iranamata Nagar on the mainland.

Muslim leaders told EconomyNext that “several sites have been offered for burials.” Among them according to officials is one in Sainthamaruthu near Kattankudy in the Eastern Province.

Hilmy Ahamed a Vice-President of the Muslim Council told EconomyNext that according to the expert committee headed by Prof Jennifer Perera burials need not have a certain designated site but could take place at any cemetery.

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Rambukwella said that the “decision was taken yesterday and most of the initial processes has been completed to a level where bodies can be taken to the place to bury.”

Minister Rambukwella said details regarding the process will be informed to the relevant authorities and general public by the health officials today.

“The burying will be done according to the health authorities guidelines,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Taskforce for prevention of Covid 19 (NOCPOC) said two places have been
chosen to bury Covid 19 bodies however, no final decision has been taken so far.

“One is in Kattankudi, and the other is the Iranativu Island in Mannar,” a spokesman for the NOCPOC said.

NOCPOC said health guidelines should be published before burials can take place. (Colombo, March 2, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana and Chanka Jayasinghe

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