Charges against Wanniyala-Aetto honey collectors dropped

December 10, 2007

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Charges against four Wanniyala-Aetto men, arrested in Sri Lanka in August for collecting honey on their own land, have been dropped.

The four men were collecting honey for presentation at the Tooth Temple in the town of Kandy during Sri Lanka’s annual Esala Perahera – the country’s major Buddhist festival. Presentation of honey is central to the Wanniyala-Aetto’s participation in the festival, and they believe hunger, disease and other disasters will occur if they do not comply with this yearly ritual.

The Wanniyala-Aetto people, also known as 'Veddah' were moved from their last forest refuge in 1983 when the Sri Lankan government designated it as the Maduru Oya National Park. They were barred from the forest and banned from hunting and gathering. Crowded together on small plots of land outside the park, many find it difficult to feed their families.

Sri Lanka’s environment minister, Champika Ranawaka, is reported in the Sri Lankan Sunday Times as saying that the Wanniyala-Aetto have ‘certain rights’, as the Maduru Oya National Park ‘had been their traditional homeland’.