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Ghosts Of War Give Way to Development in Sri Lanka

This bullet-pocked building, located in the Pallai area some 35 km south of Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna town, stands in contrast to the newly paved road, freshly laid rail tracks and modern buildings cropping up around it. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Jun 26 2015 (IPS) - It is an oasis from the scorching heat outside. The three-storey, centrally air-conditioned Cargills Square, a major mall in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna town, is the latest hangout spot in the former warzone, where everyone from teenagers to families to off-duty military officers converge.

Once a garrison town with army checkpoints at every street corner, nervous soldiers armed to the teeth would patrol the streets around the clock tower. Claymore mine explosions were not unusual occurrences, and streets were deserted by dusk.

That was during Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, which dragged on for nearly 30 years until the army declared victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.

The country’s northern and eastern provinces, marked out by the LTTE as the site of an independent state for the country’s minority Tamil population, bore the brunt of the conflict. Whole towns and villages here suffered terrible losses, both in human life and in damages to lands, homes and infrastructure.

Both during the war years and immediately following, anyone traveling to this region could not but notice stark disparities between the war zone and the country’s southern provinces.

As you venture deeper into the north or further into the east, cars give way to bicycles and large buildings taper down into more modest dwellings.

Even six years after the fighting stopped, signs of devastation are everywhere: bus stops riddled with bullet holes and the remains of armored vehicles littering roadsides are not uncommon.

Internally displaced people and civilians and former combatants maimed during the conflict make up bulk of the population here, and post-war reconstruction is an unfinished task.

But in Jaffna, the cultural and political nerve centre for a majority of the island’s Tamil people, is slowly shedding its wartime scars.

Young people, once prime targets for recruitment by Sri Lanka’s separatist group or at risk of being detained by government forces, revel in their newfound freedom, sometimes to the chagrin of anxious parents. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Young people, once prime targets for recruitment by Sri Lanka’s separatist group or at risk of being detained by government forces, revel in their newfound freedom, sometimes to the chagrin of anxious parents. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man fishes in the Elephant Pass lagoon, the narrow waterway that connects the Jaffna Peninsula with the rest of Sri Lanka and the site of many bloody battles during the civil conflict. Much of the population here still relies on farming and fisheries for survival. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man fishes in the Elephant Pass lagoon, the narrow waterway that connects the Jaffna Peninsula with the rest of Sri Lanka and the site of many bloody battles during the civil conflict. Much of the population here still relies on farming and fisheries for survival. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A former member of the LTTE, injured during the war, now runs a clothes shop in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in Sri Lanka’s northern province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A former member of the LTTE, injured during the war, now runs a clothes shop in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in Sri Lanka’s northern province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Cargills Square, a 3.7-million-dollar investment by Cargills (Ceylon) PLC – which operates the largest supermarket chain in Sri Lanka – opened in late 2013 and today, business is booming.

Its location, on a main road once infamous for skirmishes, assassinations and grenade attacks, now represents prime commercial real estate: the establishment is surrounded on all sides by clothing stores boasting the best of both eastern and western dress.

The smiling eyes and girlish laughter of young women trying on new dresses in street-side shops have replaced the sharp stares of soldiers, once visible through small windows in concrete bunkers surrounded by sandbags.

“Finally the city is thriving on its own potential, there is lot of talent and confidence here,” says Cargills Square Manager Samuel Nesakumar, referring to the district’s 600,000 residents.

Indeed the city, capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, has not looked this vibrant in decades. While poverty rates in other parts of the former war zone are thrice and sometimes close to five times greater than the national average of average 6.7 percent, Jaffna is slowly closing this gap, and is even outperforming some districts in the south.

While many developmental challenges remain, external investments, including in infrastructure and from the banking and telecom sectors, combined with increased trade and internal tourism, means that this former war-torn territory is gradually pulling itself out of decades of despondency and getting back on its feet.

It is a success story in the making, but wide wealth gaps in various other districts in the north and east, as well as gaping developmental holes throughout areas once controlled by the LTTE, point to the need for even growth and equal distribution of resources throughout this country of 20 million people.

A woman operates a poultry farm in her garden, in the village of Thunukkai in Sri Lanka’s northern Mullaittivu District. Absent a steady supply of jobs in more formal sectors, scores of women run cottage industries as a means of generating income since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman operates a poultry farm in her garden, in the village of Thunukkai in Sri Lanka’s northern Mullaittivu District. Absent a steady supply of jobs in more formal sectors, scores of women run cottage industries as a means of generating income since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite economic gains, poverty is still a major concern in Sri Lanka’s north, with one in every six persons living below the poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite economic gains, poverty is still a major concern in Sri Lanka’s north, with one in every six persons living below the poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A mother and her son wait on the side of the road in Kilinochchi, once the site of heavy battles and now a bustling town on Sri Lanka’s major northern highway. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A mother and her son wait on the side of the road in Kilinochchi, once the site of heavy battles and now a bustling town on Sri Lanka’s major northern highway. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 
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  • Tungsan

    At last some one who sees the positive side of things. Now, if only the CM of the NP gets off his bum and actually starts working at making the north attractive for more investment by locals and foreigners, the northerner will be economically empowered.

  • Kailas Pillai

    This “CM of NP get off his seat” advice is patronizing. The previous regime wanted to keep Northern Provincial Council (NPC) under direct control. The 2013 September NPC election came about purely to avoid Commonwealth backlash at the CHOGM2013. The people spoke but NPC was hindered in every possible way by the military Governor GA Chandrasiri. There was a change in government, Chandrasiri was removed but has the GoSL attitude changed? Look at Sunday Leader of 22 June. The NPC cutting across party lines has requested President Maithripala Sirisena to remove the GA (Government Agent) of Vavuniya District. The GA will most likely get a promotion!

  • puniselva

    The Cargills Square is not an organic growth of the war-damaged region but an implantation from the South – it mainly serves the tourists and the army and not the local population. It produces a lot of undecomposable rubbish which is fast growing to be a problem of the North.
    Reporters from Colombo English dailies report that the train is mainly used by the army occupying the North.
    The army has grabbed a lot of economic activities from the public and there is very high unemployment in the North.
    Most of the former LTTE cadres have been reported to be having a tough time i the North.
    Cultural and political ”shows” are methodically put in place.
    The title doesn’t reflect the true situation.

  • Tungsan

    Mr Pillai the previous regime is no longer,Chandrasiri was removed,What fascinates me about you tamils is that you just will not reach out and take the future into your hands. You are constantly lamenting about whats not right and quite happy doing nothing with your existing situation. It is also quite clear that all this hypocritical baying for justice is just to please the diaspora (which is yourselves) and in the process you do absolutely nothing to help your so called northern brother. In fact i think your immoral caste system does not allow you to help the down trodden.
    My reference to the CM of the NP is justified, let him come out and state his plans to empower the northerner and what he has done or doing to achieve it. C’mon take the challenge.

  • Tungsan

    Absolutely correct, this type of despicable reporting only kills the chances of illegal economic migrants (The Tamils) claiming asylum in the west.

  • srivanamoth

    You are dead right. It is the racist and religious political criminals and mobs who created the Tamil rebels and LTTE. It is these politicians at the national level and their active supporters who need to get off their bums and lead the way via good governance and honest decent politics and not set up racist armies and police to destroy not only minorities but themselves too in the end. SL is a very good example of self destruction! IT is so easy to destroy but a major job to reconstruct and lead decent honest lives! The world is watching.

  • srivanamoth

    Is that why governments are doing their utmost to prevent and or delay the publication of the UN Report on Sri Lanka? And why is the UN also playing politics by giving into such rogue tactics?

  • Kailas Pillai

    I did say in my thread that Chandrasiri was removed – read it again. You find our agony fascinating. You just wish that Tamils must shut up and take everything lying down and that yearning for justice is hypocritical. Unfortunately that is your mindset and perhaps in your DNA as well. Read Sunday Leader of 21 June and find out why NPC has asked for the removal of the Vavuniya GA. The NP Governor Palihakara has not done anything.
    You go on to make the disgusting statement ” …your immoral caste system does not allow you to help the down trodden”. This implies that you are caste-free. Surely you know that the higher rungs of the Buddhist clergy is reserved for a particular Sinhalese caste. Take a look at the matrimonial columns in Sinhalese papers for caste stipulations. Are you suggesting that caste system among Sinhalese is moral?

  • Kailas Pillai

    Here we go again. Overseas Eelam Tamils are economic migrants but Sinhalese are not. Why? The number of overseas Tamils and overseas Sinhalese are roughly the same.

  • puniselva

    Why jump to migration without talking about a reasonable political solution to the 67-yr conflict:
    the common candidate camp avoided talking about it just to get Sihalese off Rajapakse’s corruption regime to form a govt of yahapalanaya. Do I have to repeat the despicable behaviour of the parlaimentarians in the last 5/6 months? Even the Ministry of Media did not report the President’s visit to Jaffna(23 March) to hand over a bit of the land under HSZ to the owners living in camps for 20-25yrs while it reported news that happened on 13 March and 25 March? Just visit the Ministry website and see for yourself. Isn’t it ethical to find a political solution ? Isn’t it logical to migrate in its absence ?
    After 1956 Sinhala Act, conscientious Sinhalese emigrated first before victimised Tamils emigrated.

  • puniselva

    They don’t want Tamils to escape their oppression.

  • puniselva

    Many conscientious Sinhalese told LLRC that the Tamils had been oppressed politically and economically from the time of independence. Former President prevented UN entities and ICRC from helping the people who suffered the war. But that happens around the world in other oppressive regimes also.

  • puniselva

    The former Governor of the East didn’t allow the EPC to obtain funds from the diaspora(then NPC wasn’t even there). Presidential Task Force for Northern Development (PTF)was formed on 7 May 2009 (10 days before the war was over) consisting of 18 Sinhalese and 1 Muslim and functioned even after the NPC was formed in September 2013. R.Sampanthan told the parliament on 14 December 2013 that PTF had invited govt dept officials and UN entities to its meeting but not NPC Chief Minister or councillors.
    Chandrasiri built a mansion for himself in the Old Park destroying a part of a national treasure. Three months back when I went there I was allowed to photograph some of the trees that escaped Chandrasiri’s saw but not the name board of the governor’s residence. Perhaps Amantha on his next visit to Jaffna will have somemore news for us.

  • Tungsan

    ” Now, if only the CM of the NP gets off his bum and actually starts working at making the north attractive for more investment by locals and foreigners, the northerner will be economically empowered.” That was my comment.
    The other jargon manifested itself into the conversation. As usual the point made was not argued but “what could have,should have and must be is what is raised. Lets stick to the point, has the NP CM done anything to empower the northerner economically?

  • Tungsan

    It looks to me and now the whole world, either you want to keep them down or they want to remain oppressed. it looks like popular opinion is correct.

  • Tungsan

    “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

  • Kailas Pillai

    “Comment is free, but facts are sacred” – CP Scott

  • Tungsan

    Yes, i am caste free. I am amused about their caste system as well, specially since they originate mainly from kerala. However i know for a fact that whatever the caste, the sinhalese help each other. According to what i hear the so called upper class Tamil (Which is only in their minds) will not offer a lower class individual even a glass of water. Correct? So in my opinion that system is immoral.Further more you still have temples etc: where only certain people are allowed, are you denying this?
    You do not want to help your own people because of this, it is infra dig to you, but you still speak of injustice. injustice to whom?
    Your velupillai prabakaran was against this system thereby his annihilation of the so called upper class of tamils.
    Anyway this is not the point i wish to make, my point is that the CM of the NP can do so much more with the resources he has currently but is not efficient enough to do that or WILL NOT USE HIS RESOURCES TO EMPOWER THE SO CALLED LOWER CASTE WHICH NOW EXISTS IN THE NORTH.
    Which in itself is a crime against humanity.

  • Tungsan

    The SL people will do everything in their power to see that the liberators of this island from the murderous dogs who held it at ransom are protected.Just because you want someone persecuted its not going to happen. The double standards of the west are quite clear to the whole world , take the israeli/palestine issue.
    furthermore what is it the west calls COLLATERAL DAMAGE?

  • Kailas Pillai

    Read srivananmoth’s post. I do not think that he is interested in persecuting anyone – I believe he meant prosecution. This should bring some relief to your tortured mind.
    Yes the Israel/Palestine issue is being dragged on and on because there is no even-handed approach. Can you think of a single GoSL that has approached the Lankan minorities issue even-handedly?
    150,000 Eelam Tamils disappeared/killed is collateral damage indeed.

  • Kailas Pillai

    You are talking like how whites would have discussed about blacks in Apartheid South Africa. The practice of caste system among Eelam Tamils is about the level as practiced among Sinhalese. Caste considerations by Buddhist monks is disgustingly high!
    Yes, among Eelam Tamils caste discrimination was quite noticeable 60 years back. It is on the way out and sociologists will tell you that Eelam Tamil Liberation movements contributed a lot to caste eradication. You will not find a single temple preventing anyone entering the temple based on caste.

    Your suggestion that NPC CM must empower the lower caste is condescending to say the least.

    What about the inequity inflicted on the lower socio-economic sector by GoSL? There are a million Lankans remitting hard earned money to Colombo. How much of this goes into developments of the villages from which the remitters come from? Any new schools/hospitals? Get off your bum Tungsan and do something!

  • Tungsan

    Lets get back to my point , which you seem to avoid quite smoothly, your CM of the NP?

  • Kailas Pillai

    Impediments are created by GoSL designed to prevent CM of NP from carrying out the election mandate. Have stated this several times earlier.

  • Tungsan

    That is an outright lie and you know it.

  • Tungsan

    thank you Mr pillai, i got off my bum the day the war was over, what about you and the other 1-2 Million tamils living overseas?
    $10 a month to yr CM to get his act together in the North.
    By the way why do u defend him so much? is he related or a friend of yrs?
    Why dont you just admit the fact that the tamil community WILL NOT HELP THE NORTHERNER.

  • Tungsan

    Your reply that the caste system in the north is waning is a load of crap. It is still prevalent very strongly.
    Some temples are only for the elite. Dont deny that.

  • Kailas Pillai

    So you got off your bum on 17 May 2009. Nowadays what do you use it for?
    I am not related to CM. I am not his friend. We know the unnecessary difficulties imposed by the centre. You of course have no idea.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Just because you do not admit the GoSL practice it is not necessarily a lie.

  • Tungsan

    Yes! i spend my weekends educating the naive northerner that he has no chance of elevating himself because of disgusting people like you.
    As to your question regarding my bum it is used for what God intended it to be used for, unlike yours which appears to be tainted by other stuff.
    You don’t know anything about life here, you abandoned your people, and you preach separatism. You are like a maggot clinging onto the very soul of the northern Tamil not allowing him to rise.
    I think this quote is perfect for people like you “you can take a donkey to water but cant make it drink”

  • Kailas Pillai

    After experiencing and witnessing the Black July 1983 pogrom I wondered and still wonder how humans could inflict such brutality on fellow humans. The goons were people with your mind set. Your claim about educating northerners is nonsense. Take time to educate yourself and then take the BBS donkeys to water and make them drink.
    I know in detail the life led in Lanka. Do you know the level of corruption in every strata of Lankan society?

  • Kailas Pillai

    Practice of caste among Lankan minorities is about the same level as among Sinhalese – certainly not more. Sociologists agree that the Eelam liberation movements contributed a lot to the eradication of this despicable evil. You probably listen to BBS. They are not sociologists.
    What do you mean by “Some temples are for the elite”? There is no such thing. Your knowledge about the Lankan minorities is appallingly low.
    Is Dalada Maligawa elitist? Only a certain caste can become the Mahanayake or Dayawadena Nilame.

  • Tungsan

    Again a whole lot of gibberish not to the point.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Your prejudice shows. This is on top of your sub-mediocre intellect.

  • srivanamoth

    Where idiots thrive the voice of reason has been silenced since decades in a badly failed state. Now they (such idiots ) are barking up the wrong tree!

  • Tungsan

    My prejudice???? You have proved beyond doubt that you are Racist,with a separatist agenda and will not help yr own people. Get lost.

  • Kailas Pillai

    You see a racist in anyone showing dissent. There are thousands of Eelam Tamils who were brutalised in July 1983 because they could not speak Sinhala with a Sinhala accent. In June 2014 Muslims received a similar treatment. Do you know any Sinhalese whose properties were grabbed by the Lankan army? You suggestion is that the Diaspora silently remit into Namal Rajapaksa’s Tharunyata Hetak.

    Does the level of corruption worry you at all? I was hurt to find Wettimuny at the ICC as an observer. Why? Because of corruption in Lankan cricket administration – not theplayers.

    You are still sitting on your bum Tungtan.

  • Tungsan

    BS, BS, and more BS

  • Kailas Pillai

    What are the BSs Tungsan? Are the grievances of Lankan minorities BS? You probably accept that there is corruption in Lanka – you just cannot be that thick. Is the corruption unravelling in Lanka BS. Is BSS Buddhism BS?
    You like and your circle are a privileged lot. Your lines of reasoning are Dog Shit.