Prime Minister on historic mission of hope to the
Not guns but goodwill
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, reporting from Jaffna
After more than 25 years of death, devastation and destruction, Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe undertook a historic two day peace mission to launch
the process of healing and rebuilding what some Tamil leaders see as a
For Mr. Wickremesinghe the landmark two day mission was the highest
point of his political career and there was goodwill all round from Tamil
people but there was also some scepticism or concern over the peace initiative.
One of the main requests voiced by the politicians and residents of
Jaffna was the re-opening of the Kandy-Jaffna road or A-9 main supply road.
The Prime Minister assured that under the terms of the MoU the main
supply route would be opened at the earliest after major repairs were attended
" It is important that the people of Jaffna also enjoy the quality of
life enjoyed by the rest of the country. While overnight changes cannot
be introduced, the long neglected area would enjoy better supplies with
the immediate repairing and the subsequent reopening of the road. Our intention
is to keep the entire country well supplied and it is sad that Jaffna has
been denied so much," he said.
The Premier who arrived in Jaffna on Thursday morning, accompanied by
ministers Tilak Marapana, Jayalath Jayawardena, Suranimala Rajapakse and
T. Maheswaran along with Joint Operations chief Rohan Daluwatta and the
three service commanders were received at Palaly by TULF Vice President
V. Anandasangari and A. Vinayagamoorthy of the ACTC.
Speaking to troops at Palaly the Prime Minister expressed the nation's
gratitude for their long years of dedicated service in defending the territorial
integrity. Stressing the need to ensure proper implementation of the ceasefire
he said it was important that service personnel understood the new role
they were expected to play. "With the guns falling silent in the north,
we the politicians will attempt to have a political ceasefire in the South
so that we all may soon enjoy the benefits of a lasting peace," he told
" Even a single violation by the armed forces, committed knowingly or
unknowingly would be to the detriment of the government. If there are violations
on the part of the government troops, it could result in more violations
by the LTTE," he said.
Moving on to the Forward Defence Line (FDL) in Muhamalai, beyond which
point is the area under LTTE control, the Prime Minister said he wished
for a day when there was no more a 'no man's land' but for a country that
was united and the war a thing of the past.
Having shared lunch with troops in Koddadai, Mr. Wickremesinghe arrived
in Jaffna town to hold discussions with local politicians, community workers
and government officials. Recollecting his last visit to Jaffna in 1987,
soon after the signing of the Indo-Lanka peace accord, he said, "the memories
of the devastation are still vivid, and now we should begin a process of
healing and rebuilding."
Calling on Jaffna's Bishop Thomas Soundranayagam at the Bishop House,
Mr. Wickremesinghe said the Church had an important role to play in the
The Prime Minister participated in a series of religious ceremonies
held at the Sri Murugan temple in Nallur, Sri Naga Vihara at Nagadeepa.
Nagadeepa, a sacred place to Buddhists is believed to have been visited
by Lord Buddha to settle a dispute between two Naga clan brothers over
a gem encrusted throne.
People thronged the area when the Prime Minister visited it and wished
him a safe journey.
Mr. Wickremesinghe also visited Hartley College, and urged the students
to evolve into 'open minded young men' so that they may have a future that
was devoid of the ravages of war. "The biggest investment of any government
is in its people. Like in the South, people should have the right to live
under the rule of law with human dignity and with their political rights
also upheld. They should have the right to support or not support political
parties, hold meetings, express political views sans fear of suppression
or reprisal, plough fields, educate children, hold properties and lead
a normal life in every sense of the word," he said.
Although the government has promised to open the A9 highway as soon
as possible, senior military officials feel it might take some time as
it would require the swift relocation of camps that are on either side
of the A9 route.
Many of the officers who spoke to us believed there should be an end
to the senseless fighting and felt there was a greater chance for peace
A senior army officer from the Point Pedro army unit told us that it
was futile to fight one's own countrymen. "These are not foreign invaders,
but Sri Lankans. We should come to some understanding with the LTTE, specially
when the political climate is conducive to the government, as there is
tremendous international pressure on the LTTE with the global commitment
to prevent terrorism ," he said.
Many of the soldiers also expressed optimism and said they were enjoying
the temporary truce and wished it would last.
"We are looking forward to an end to this conflict and going back to
our villages," one of them said.
The residents of Jaffna held different views about peace but appeared
to be afraid to voice them in fear of possible reprisals.
A sense of scepticism expressed by a Jaffna Central College teacher
reflected the general feeling among the people.
With the government expected to shortly undertake a massive programme
to rebuild Jaffna, the destroyed buildings silently bore testimony to the
destruction wreaked by 20 years of militancy.
Summing up the scene of destruction, ACTC's A. Vinayagamoorthy pointing
towards some bombed buildings in Chavakachcheri town told us there was
no need to go to Japan to see Hiroshima. It was there to see in Jaffna.
A little music in their lives
The war ravaged people of Jaffna have little by way of entertainment
to brighten up their lives. Many told us that due to lack of television
towers, they could not watch television and even the radio transmission
"We feel like aliens, cut off from the rest of the country," they lamented.
In response the Prime Minister has instructed to transmit Shakthi TV
in the northern peninsula before April this year.
Unearthing buried dangers
One of the biggest problems plaguing the people of the North and delaying
the process of resettlement is the heavily mined roads.
According to service personnel, one of the biggest drawbacks in the
demining process was the LTTE's method of laying mines.
A senior Army officer attached to the Point Pedro Army Base said that
the Army maintained clear records of where it had laid mines, hence it
posed no problem when demining began. In contrast, the LTTE's mine laying
had no identifiable patterns or methods, which caused difficulties in demining
and increased the rate of casualties.
He said that since signing the treaty banning anti personnel landmines,
the Army had refrained from laying mines in the area of conflict and had
returned the mines to the central armoury in Colombo.
The Sri Lankan Army also launched a demining prgramme in Chavakachcheri
in September 2000 and it is still continuing he said.
Another drawback was the lack of explosive detectors which are expensive
and the heavy dependence on man power which resulted in casualties.
On his two day tour of Jaffna, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe along
with Us Assistant secretary for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca visited
the demining demonstration site at Mawadipurama.
Better facilities for media
The government has called for the immediate establishment of two fully
equipped media centres in Jaffna and Vavuniya, following last week's visit
to Jaffna by media personnel.
A meeting has been called with the relevant authorities tomorrow with
a view to planning the centres that would ensure better facilities for
media personnel touring the North. In addition to this, the communication
network of the armed services is also to be strengthened as it is learned
that the northern information centre is ill equipped and functioning under