Sri Lanka has started releasing private land occupied by the military during the country's 26-year civil war, in a major step at reconciliation with minority ethnic Tamils.

The government said in a statement Wednesday that it intends to release 800 acres (323 hectares) of land in the country's east before the end of April in addition to the 425 acres (172 hectares) in the north already handed over to the owners by President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday.

Continued military occupation of private lands has remained a contentious issue since the end of the civil war in 2009.

After his January election victory over his hard-line predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sirisena has taken a number of steps in an attempt to heal the wounds of the conflict.