Pallai, rising from rubble

[TamilNet, Saturday, 26 October 2002, 03:17 GMT]
Pallai a tranquil town 30km from Jaffna on A9 was caught in the middle of heavy fighting during the capture of elephant pass garrison by the LTTE in April 2000. Later, during the LTTE's march towards Jaffna, Pallai bore the brunt of Sri Lanka army's Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL). The town, reduced to rubble is on its way to recovery.

Bombed out Pallai Railway Station
Sandwiched between Jaffna lagoon on its west and fishing village of Chempianpattu in Vadamaradchy East shores of the Indian Ocean to its east, Pallai was known for its sprawling coconut estates.

Pallai district which covers an area of 168 square miles falls within the jurisdiction of Kilinochchi district, had a population of about 7000 in the 1980s which dropped to 2300 in the year 2000.

The buzzling small town, with a small general hospital, a high school Pallai Maha Vidyalam, also attracted occassional wild duck hunters who frequented large areas south to the lagoon to practise their shooting skills and enjoy their catch.

Thriving fishing industry in nearby Chempianpattu caters mainly to lucrative Colombo market. Less glamorous lagoon fish end up serving local residents palate.

Destroyed Pallai Post Office
The Post office at the Junction of A9, and the road leading to Pulopallai is a familiar landmark west of Pallai market. About 100 yards on Pulopallai road situated the Pallai railway station with its railway crossing. Coal-fired steam engines ply between Pallai, Kodikamam and Chavakachcheri transporting produce to markets.

Soil in Pallai does not lend itself to channel irrigation. Workers tending to coconut plantations create large water holes called "Thuravu" where one can walk down the slopes to fetch water. Large plantations with young coconut palms are watered manually this way.

Unexploded ordnance from a Kfir jet close to A9 between Elephant Pass and Pallai
The town would have hardly anticipated that its southern interior road running parallel to A9 towards Kilali by the Jaffna lagoon would provide a temporary lifeline for the Sri Lanka troops as they tried unsuccessfully to save the Elephant pass garrison from the LTTE.

"Pallai is coming back to life. Market is being rebuilt and shops are springing up again as more and more civilians are moving into areas cleared of mines," said a recent visitor to Pallai.

The following is a detailed timeline of the events that led to the destruction of Pallai:

  1. December 30th, 1999: Fighting errupts between LTTE and SLA north of elephant pass. SLA sends reinforcements to Pallai and Chavakachcheri town

  2. March 12th 2000: LTTE requests residents of Karanthai, a hamlet in Pallai, 8km north to Yakkachchi to vacate the village

  3. March 27th, 2000: LTTE executes seaborne and land assault on army bases in Thalaiyadi, Chempianpattu and Pallai

  4. March 27th 2000: Main Supply Route (MSR) to Elephant Pass and Yakachchi is taken over by LTTE between Pallai and Eluthumattuval. Pallai town deserted.

  5. April 2nd, 2000: Fighting in Ithavil and Iruthayapuram. Several attempts by the SLA to recapture MSR fail

  6. April 3rd, 2000: 100 SLA soldiers killed and another 300 wounded in another attempt by the SLA to recapture MSR.

  7. April 6th, 2000: SLA battles to rest MSR, but LTTE keeps 4 km of MSR between Muhamalai and Aarasakerni. President sends commanders of army, navy and airforce sent to Jaffna to direct operations to evict the LTTE

  8. April 9th, 2000: Fighting continues despite the SLA claims that A9 has been recaptured

  9. April 19th, 2000: Second MSR breach between Pallai and Yakkachchi

  10. April 22nd, 2000: Elephant Pass is overrun and LTTE captures a haul of arms including long range artillery

  11. April 26th, 2000: Tigers advance on Pallai center and LTTE asks civilians to move out

  12. April 30th, 2000: LTTE overruns Palai base, takes control of town and surrounding villages

  13. May 21st, 2000: LTTE captures Chavakachcheri

  14. April 25th, 2001: Several days of pounding by Kfirs, artillery and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) reduce buildings in Pallai to rubble

  15. May 18th 2001: Thampalakamam and Periyapallai sustain artillery barrages from the SLA


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