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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 5.30 GMT

SL Army Joins people in rebuilding North


Amid reports that an internal document, made public on November 14 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has triggered soul-searching in the world organization on its failure to protect non-combatants in Sri Lanka's war, a visit to the country shows that the army and the people in the Northern Province are busy rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed by 30 years of conflict, IDN-InDepthNews said in an article titled ‘Sri Lanka Army joins people in rebuilding activity’.

During a recent visit to Jaffna, the IDN writer noticed a marked improvement in the relationship between the army – which was once seen as the “enemy” by the Tamils – and the local population. Even one Tamil fisherman referred to the Sri Lankan Navy as “our Navy” which is trying to help them to drive away the Tamil Nadu fisherman poaching on Sri Lankan waters.

The desire to reconcile is apparent on both sides. Increasingly finding common ground, the people of the north and the south are now beginning to interact. There is increased tourism from the south of the country to Jaffna, especially Sinhalese Buddhist pilgrims who visit the sacred Nagadvipa shrine in Nainativu Island off Jaffna. This shrine was closed to Buddhist pilgrims for almost 30 years and it has been newly renovated with the help of army personnel, the article added.

At the army checkpoint before entering the northern zone at Kilinochchi every Sinhalese traveller is given a one-page sheet of paper in Sinhalese signed by Northern Division Police chief Gamini de Silva. In it he points out that in the Jaffna area there are a number of sacred Hindu temples and asks the people to dress properly in its vicinity, not to be intoxicated, respect their culture and treat all Tamil people during their visit with utmost courtesy and friendship.

“Tamils themselves seem to be returning this courtesy as I found out during my 3-day stay in Jaffna. Since I don’t speak Tamil and if they don’t speak English, they tried to communicate with me in Sinhalese, something unimaginable a few years ago, the writer stated”.

“Damage done in 30 years can’t be cured in 3 years.” argues Ishwara Sarma, a 82 year old Hindu philosopher and teacher who has lived in Jaffna throughout the conflict. “We need to forget the past and build a future together. This country is too small to be divided.”

Travelling on the road between Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu is reflective of what many people in the Indian Ocean Island hopes is the building of a new Sri Lanka. This is the route where fierce battles took place in the early parts of 2009 between the government forces and the LTTE leading to the annihilation of the LTTE on banks of the Mullaitivu lagoon in May 2009.

These are the battles the BBC and some other western news agencies prefer to harp on as “war crimes”. But, the people there seem to want to forget the past and build a new future of peace and co-existence, the article further said.

On either side of the road you still see the bullet-hole ridden walls of houses without roofs and unoccupied, even burned out mangled wreckages of buses, jeeps, vans and cars belonging to both the LTTE and the army. Yet, the roads are being built at a hectic pace with new asphalt carpeting with the predominantly Sinhalese army personnel mostly in civilian clothes working with the local Tamil people.

According to the Jaffna District Government Agent’s office, over USD 230 million has been spent up to May 2012 on road construction projects in the north through funds allocated from the Ministry of Economic Development, Governments of China and Sweden, and the Asian Development Bank.

The A9 highway which was heavily mined during the war and closed for over two-decades is now open with newly-laid asphalt coating that makes travel to Jaffna as smooth as never before.

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Last modified: November 21, 2012.

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