Kilinochchi rising from rubble
[TamilNet, Saturday, 08 September 2001, 13:53 GMT]
The Kilinochchi St. Theresa’s Girls’ School will start functioning in its former premises in the northern town after a gap of four years when the third term begins next week, education officials in Vavuniya said. St. Theresa’s is one of the two schools in the town that escaped complete destruction during Sri Lankan security forces operations and bombing five years ago. Kilinochchi was abandoned when the Sri Lanka army captured this once bustling town in August 1996. The Tigers overran the base and recaptured Kilinochchi in September 1998. A program to gradually rebuild and resettle the destroyed town began early this year. A project to remove thousands of anti personnel mines and mine fields left behind by the SLA was launched by the White Dove Movement (WDM) after the garrison fell. More than 50000 APLM’s and explosive booby traps have been recovered by the WDM in the Kilinochchi town and its environs so far, western aid agency sources in the Vanni said.
However, residents of the town’s suburbs such as Jeyanthi Nagar and Thirunagar have been asked to consult with the WDM before resettling. WDM officials say extra precaution is necessary because stray explosive devises and mines of the SLA in this once highly fortified area could still pose a threat to resettlers unless each plot of land is examined and confirmed suitable for habitation.
Residents said that, the SLA had laid APLMs and explosive booby traps near doorstops, inside rooms, toilet entrances and under coconut and mango trees, places which they were most likely to tread upon returning to their homesteads. Temples too were booby-trapped they said. Earlier this year, a mother and son were killed when an explosive device hidden inside the till box of the Uruthirapuram Pilliayar Temple in a suburb of the Kilinochchi town blew up.
Tigers forbade civilians from entering the town and its suburbs until the area could be de-mined completely soon after they overran the SLA garrison there. Nevertheless thirty-two townspeople who went to inspect their homes ignoring the warning lost their legs; eleven were killed and hundreds were wounded by APLMs and booby traps.
Initially, the WDM got assistance for the project from the UNICEF. However, while work was in progress, the UNICEF had pulled out, saying that de-mining was not part of its mandate. Currently the WDM gets assistance from the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO).
The White Dove Movement has removed more than hundred thousand APLMs and booby traps from the other Vanni towns of Kanakarayan Kulam, Oddusuddan and Nedunkerni which were garrisoned by the SLA from 1997 to 1999.
Under the Kilinochchi resettlement and reconstruction plan, the new town centre is coming up in a southern suburb by the A9 highway, close to the area where the bus depot was formerly located. The headquarters of several local co-operative societies, NGOs and administrative centres, including the district secretariat, have moved to the new town centre.
Many local schools, including St. Theresa’s, have reopened in the town as most of the displaced student population is gradually moving back. All the schools in the town functioned in temporary thatched sheds in villages further south after Kilinochchi was garrisoned by the SLA.
The student population in Kilinochchi is as war scarred as the town’s dilapidated structures. Three thousand four hundred and twenty two students have lost either or both parents in the war, mostly in bombing raids by the Sri Lanka Air Force.
The Kilinochchi district hospital stage –1 and stage –2 buildings are also coming up here, officials said. The town’s post office is making arrangements to function from its former premises, they added. However, UN agencies have decided to continue their operations from Mallavi. The ICRC said that the question of shifting its Vanni delegation to Kilinochchi town is under consideration.
Farmers have begun cultivation in lands irrigated by the reservoirs of Iranaimadukkulam, Kanakaambikaikulam, Kanthankulam, Ambaalkulam and Kanakapuramkulam which surround the Kilinochchi town, officials said.