Colombo: Sri Lanka`s new President Maithripala Sirisena Monday launched a program to hand over military-occupied land in the country`s battle-scarred north back to its original Tamil owners, the government said.
Security forces had occupied some 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna even after the end of a separatist war in May 2009, according to officials.
President Sirisena marked the first stage of the program by giving deeds to owners of 425 acres at a ceremony in the Jaffna peninsula on Monday, the defence ministry said in a statement.
"The government has given high priority to resolve land issues of the people in the (Tamil-dominated) north and east," the statement quoted the president as saying in Jaffna, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Colombo.
Officials said the military was due to release a total of 1,000 acres in the first stage and other plots would be given back in stages, although no time frame has been announced.
Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne announced the return of private land soon after Sirisena came to power in January by defeating strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, who crushed Tamil guerrillas in a major offensive that ended in May 2009.
Despite the end of the conflict and international calls for its demilitarisation, Jaffna remains largely under the control of the security forces.
Senaratne said the military had been using occupied private land to set up farms, hotels, restaurants and other businesses, adding there was no justification for their actions.
President Sirisena, whose victory was backed by Tamils, the country`s largest minority group, has vowed ethnic reconciliation and accountability for alleged war crimes while defeating Tamil separatists.
The UN estimates that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by security forces under the command of former president Rajapakse, who had insisted that not a single civilian was killed by his troops.