Tumultuous welcome in Jaffna for Tigers
[TamilNet, Tuesday, 09 April 2002, 11:58 GMT]
(News Feature) Residents in Jaffna gave the Liberation Tigers who entered the northern town Monday a tumultuous welcome, press reports in the northern peninsula said Tuesday. Over fifty thousand people thronged the Sri Lanka Army held northern side of the Muhamalai crossing point to meet the fifteen cadres from the LTTE’s political section, the Uthayan reported. Violence broke out as troops blocked the crowds from reaching the crossing point, the paper, Jaffna’s largest circulating daily said in a front page report Tuesday.
Thousands of people who marched along the Kandy road in the morning were stopped by the Sri Lanka Army at the Mirusuvil junction, the Uthayan said. The crowds had begun assembling in the area from 6.30 am as news spread that the Tamil Tiger team was preparing to cross into Army-held Jaffna following the opening of the A9, the paper said.
Sri Lankan soldiers who stopped the crowd some distance from the crossing point told them that they would be allowed to proceed towards Muhamalai nearer the time when the Tigers were scheduled to cross over. Initially, the crowd waited patiently in the desolate area, with soldiers handing out water amid the heat.
But the long wait and ever increasing numbers of people led to frustration with soldiers over the block and arguments soon ensued, the Uthayan said. In the first sign of sullen animosity, some of the decorated floats began to move through the crowd towards the army line. The song 'Intha Mun Engalin Sontha Mun' (This land is ours) was playing from the first float when it reached the front.
While some elderly Tamil civilians were attempting to negotiate with the soldiers, sections of the crowd started smashing up barricades and broke through. Taken by surprise, the soldiers fell back and regrouped, forming another roadblock. But the crowds stormed that as well, the paper said.
Another road block was quickly assembled by troops further along the route nearer Muhamalai with the help of bulldozers. More violence was averted when the soldiers dismantled the roadblock after hearing the Tigers had already crossed over to the army-controlled side.
Pandemonium broke out when the vehicle carrying the Tigers approached the waiting crowds. Garlands and sweets were flung at the vehicle as people broke into impromptu songs and dancing, the paper said. The huge crowds then slowly started moving up the highway towards Jaffna city, led by the decorated floats. The vehicle carrying the Tigers, two female and thirteen male cadres, was preceded by a student band.
Red and yellow flags fluttered along the Kandy road from Kodikamam to Jaffna, the Uthayan said. Many householders along the route set up traditional Poorana Kumbam welcomes at their gates, the paper said. Free refreshment stalls had sprung up overnight to cater for the procession while St Johns Ambulance provided first aid cover.
The procession stopped temporarily at the ‘Great Heroes’ Cemetery at Kodikamam where hundreds of people joined the Tiger cadres to offer floral tributes. As the graves themselves had been destroyed by Sri Lanka soldiers who captured the area in 1996, people placed their flowers at the foot of a broken arch emblazoned with the writing 'Brave Salutes,' the paper said.
Even a torrential downpour in Kodikamam failed to dampen the spirits of the crowds as they danced to LTTE songs such as 'Ethirikalalin Paasaraiyai Noeki Pokiroam' (We are going towards the enemy bases) and 'Makkal ellam Pirabakaran Pakkam' (all people are with [LTTE leader] Pirabakaran).
The Tamil Tigers were then taken in a convoy towards Chemmani for Jaffna's official welcome. People seized every available vantage point along the route in Meesalai, Chavakachcheri, Kaithady and Navatrkuli to get a glimpse of the Tigers, the paper said.
The cadres were ceremoniously received into Jaffna at the landmark arch at Chemmani (emblazoned with the slogan 'Jaffna Welcomes You') by yet another waiting crowd numbering several thousands. The team was taken to Jaffna’s famous Nallur Murugan Temple in a procession accompanied by traditional Thavil and Nadaswaram music. A public meeting was then held in the grounds of the temple, with an estimated attendance of 25,000.