The A9 highway connecting the north and south which was closed since June 1990 was opened on Friday to unrestricted travel. Today any vehicle can plythe route unhindered between 6.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. Bus services commenced between Jaffna and other parts of the country with a restriction that passengers obtain travel permits from defence authorities. However the MoD restriction was relaxed at the end of last month. Buses travelled with military escort but only state buses transported passengers. Private vehicles were not allowed on the A9.
|With travel restrictions raised, the first private buses began plying between Jaffna and other parts of the country this morning. Pic. by N. Parameswaran
|In June restricted travel was permitted. CTB buses travelled with military escort . Pic by Sanka Vidanagama
The decision to open the road was welcomed by the people. From today private buses also commenced transport services between Jaffna and Vavuniya,
V. Kanaganayagam a businessman said it is a golden opportunity for Jaffna Tamils. S. Sivanathan a government executive officer said the gates to paradise were now open to the people of Jaffna.
The road had remained closed since 16.6.1990 when Eelam War II began after the LTTE defeated rival Tamil militant organizations and the security forces (after the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force).
The Tigers set up their own administration including a police force and judiciary in these areas. Eight hundred thousand Tamils living in these districts came under direct LTTE control. After the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu came under direct control of the Tamil Tigers, with the closure of the A9 road they were cut off from the other parts of the country.
The civilian population was badly affected by the closure. Having no connection with the other parts of the country prices of essential items skyrocketed and civilians were forced to seek alternative routes to travel outside of their areas. Some attempted to travel via the Kilali lagoon and many are said to have died when they were attacked by the navy while crossing the lagoon.
The price of an ordinary cake of soap cost over hundred times its cost in other parts of the country. Fuel was scarce and a litre of petrol in the peninsula cost Rs. 5,000.
The city of Jaffna was recaptured by government troops in April 1996. Since then the civilian population in the city were able to commute in and out of Jaffna either by air of by sea. However they had no connection with the Tamil districts of Killinochchi or Mullaitivu. Since the closure of the A9 highway the people of Jaffna spent most of their resources on transport and food.
In January this year the A9 road fell to the security forces.
Restrictions at Keerimalai lifted
Keerimalai, a popular pilgrim spot in north was declared a high security zone in June 1990 and civilians banned from entering the area. Last Tuesday Government lifted the ban and permitted public entry. Minister of Social Service and Social Welfare, Douglas Devananda officialy declared the site open.
Keerimalai is a cultural hub for Sri Lankan Hindus. Traditionally Hindus cast the ashes of dead relatives into the sea at Keerimalai. It has also been the custom to observe the 31st day death commemoration at Keerimalai.During the past ninteen years Hindus suffered terrible mental anguish as they were unable to fulfil the rites at Keerimalai.
One of the wonders of Keerimalai is the sacred pond which is connected to the sea. Though connected to the sea the spring water is not brackish. Prior to June 1990 thousands of Hindus bathed at this pond daily.
Keerimalai is also home to an ancient Saivite temple which predates the arrival of King Vijaya. It is also the site of graves of several Sri Lankan Hindu saints. A "samadi" is also situated in the area. According to the Mahavamsa King Vijaya is said to have rebuilt the temple.
Prior to 1983 Keerimalai was a place of religious worship for Hindus as well as a popular tourist attraction to others. Several prominent business persons and intellectuals as Brooker Sellamuthu, Barr Kumarakulasinghe, Prof.Suntharalingam and Shroof Kathiravelu spent their vacation at Keerimalai.
Eleven inns provided rest room facilities to the general public who visit Keerimalai to bathe at its sacred pond. Prior to the war, Indian pilgrims too used to visit Keerimalai.
Since Tuesday the public have been permitted to visit Keerimalai between 7.00 am and 4.00 p.m.
The kurukkal of the temple K. Naguleswar said they left the temple in 1990 after an aerial bombardment. When he returned he found a number of statues of the Gods missing. He said devotees were now allowed into the temple and added it was necessary to resettle the people of the area.