Killinochchi – the town that is quiet again

Killinochchi was just another obscure dot in the map in the eighties. It was a sleepy town which had no importance of any sort to anyone except to the farmer, peasants and the government servants who administered the area. Perhaps, the most important place was the railway station which the people used either to get in or get out of the train that ran from Colombo to Jaffna.

Back in the eighties Killinochci was a quiet farming area with a lot of cattle roaming idly on open lands. Farmers in Kilinochchi were
considered to be rich not only in the Jaffna district but in the whole country. It was a centre for collection of milk and often lorry loads of cattle were sent to Colombo to be sold as beef.

After I passed out from Peradeniya University as a veterinarian in the eighties I was postedat Medawachchiya to service the farming community by the government . Everyweek I would ride weekly from Medavachchiya along A9 road to my home in Jaffna on my motor bike. The road was almost empty except for the roaming cattle and the odd deer and other wild life. My memories of Killinochchi are filled with nostalgia. Life was easy going and people led quiet lives despite the shortcomings of living in the dry zone. The turbulent politics of the nation had not disturbed this isolated place.

But all this changed after October 30, 1995. The Tamil exodus from
Jaffna herded out by the LTTE flooded Killinochchi changing it forever. With the rush of nearly 300,000 Jaffna Tamils the landscape of Killinochchi changed beyond recognition. Besides, the LTTE which was forced to retreat from Jaffna decided to make it their capital.
Overnight the sleepy town of Killinochchi hit the world headlines. It
became the military and the political headquarters.

After their retreat from Jaffna it became their promised land. But the promised land had nothing to offer except misery to the Tamil people. They did not even have a roof over their heads. No food. No medicine. The best they had was plastic covers to keep their heads dry. The money collected by the Tamil expatriates never reached them. They were pocketed by the collecting agents partly to maintain their lavish lifestyle, partly to hold extravagant weddings for their children and partly to buy arms in the underworld to fight a futile war that took the Tamils nowhere.

The importance of Killinochchi grew as the LTTE could not even reclaim Jaffna – their heartland — and as it got stuck in this town until they were forced to retreat by the advancing armies of the Sri Lankan government. They ran from Killinochchi and never stopped until they sank in Nandikadal on May 18, 2009.

Killinochchi also gave hope to the Tamil expatriates who believed that they had established their capital of Eelam in the heart of Vanni. They flocked to this town in thousands. They met the LTTE leadership in this town. It gave them the illusion of the LTTE holding power forever. They were impressed by the Western diplomats queuing up at the gates of Killinochchi, They described Kilinochchi as the paradise on earth under LTTE. Something like Poompokar in South India in Sangam literature.

I was a sceptic all along knowing the violent politics of Veluppillai
Prabakaran and LTTE intimately in their days in south India. Lions never eat grass and leopards never change their spots.

When I was riding up and down A9 road in the eighties I never dreamt
that this dusty, quiet town would one day become the centre of
international diplomacy. Nor did I dream that it would be the last hell hole of the Tamils. At the height of their power I did hear that they had a training college for diplomats in Killinochchi from which
Nediyavan graduated. I was also told that they had law colleges where
their advocates were trained but I was not told by their supporters
where Gandhi and Madhavan master established their torture chamber or
where the burial ground for traitors was located.

More than Jaffna Killinochchi represented the peak point of LTTE power when Prabhakaran was ruling the roost. But all that went down Nandikadal thanks to the folly of our Tamil leadership.

Now Killinochchi is quiet again. Traffic, heavier than in my time, flows without much fuss. I returned to spend sometime in KIlinochchi around November 26 and 27 — the most important days of LTTE calendar. There were no portraits of Prabhakaran and the expatriates were subdued. I was there to coordinate with my friends a sponsorship program called “Rainbow for War Widows” which I started six months ago. Under this program Rs. 2000 are sent to these families for month and also to provide some livelihood for the next 3 years. We have five families in Killinochchi and I was visiting them along with my friend who lives in Killinochchi.

I spent some time with each of the family. One woman’s husband died as LTTE cadre. All of them have decent houses, most of them permanent house except one make-do house. The Government had given 300000 rupees to repair their houses. The NGOs were also linked to this programme. Thanks to the educational system the girls were educated and this was reflected in their family values.

We went unannounced and their houses were spotlessly clean and children washed and clothed. The free health system too had helped them. I always believe that we have bad politician but we have world class primary health and primary education system.

I asked many questions about their welfare and asked them whether they had any trouble with law enforcement authorities. All replied
emphatically “NO”. I felt stupid asking that question but with
disinformation campaign conducted by expatriate Tamil media like
Tamilnet I thought that was necessary.

I visited the 57th Brigade Army Commander’s head office and spent one
hour with him He explained situation very professionally and
enthusiastically. He said 133,501 people with 42,430 families were
resettled in Kilinochchi district. I was told that 2185 ex-LTTE cadres who were beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programmes also live in this area. Army also built 3708 shelters for the people. After talking to the Commander, I felt that the Tamil media bombarding the people with negative news were causing distress to the people and I was no exception. I am not saying that what I saw was paradise. I am saying that it is far superior to conditions living under Prabhakaran or the people in the south living in dirty shanty towns.

Like, pre-war expatriate Tamils I also went to Martyrs’ cemetery, LTTE court and other significant places. Only TRO office was intact because it is now the home of 57th Brigade. At least some of the Tamil doctors funded the TRO office, can feel happy that their contribution had not gone waste.

I noted that 26th and 27th of November was like any other day in
Kilinochchi. People were walking away from the nightmares that hunted
them for decades. They felt at ease. At least they were not traumatized. Only TNA politicians and some expatriates are still refusing to accept the new realities of Killinochchi.

By Dr Noel Nadeson

Why ‘Economic Reconciliation’ Needs More Attention, and it’s Not Just About the North & East

Much is often said about the merits and demerits of the government’s current focus on ‘development’ as the panacea for sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. One can argue that development, specifically bridging development disparities across the country, is a necessary but not sufficient CONDITION to achieving a truly ‘reconciled’ Sri Lanka. The importance of finding credible political solutions to address long-standing grievances and fostering relationships and ‘connections’ between communities, cannot be underestimated. But, by the same token, the economic imperatives often get less attention in the ‘reconciliation debate’. This article provides a snapshot to support this argument – that focusing on development and employment creation, not just in the North and East, but across Sri Lanka, and reducing development disparities, is indeed an important ingredient of a sustainable peace.


In the IPS State of the Economy 2011 report , on the theme ‘Post-conflict Growth: Making it Inclusive’, the opening section emphasizes that, “For Sri Lanka, emerging from a costly era of a long drawn conflict, rising socio-economic aspirations must be met to help restore and cement social harmony in its post-conflict development efforts”.

These thoughts must be seen in the context of reconciliation too. The debate on reconciliation needs to be extended to also include issues like ‘greater inclusiveness of economic opportunities for all people of Sri Lanka’. This includes two elements:  1) creating better economic opportunities islandwide and ensuring more inclusive access to them, and 2) strengthening the ability of people islandwide to take advantage of them.

On the former, we need to think about how economic activity in lagging regions can be promoted. It is not just the North and East that are ‘lagging’ but several other regions too. How can we encourage private enterprises in these regions, and provide greater employment, increase incomes, and enhance living standards? Just as an example of the disparity, between 2009 and 2010, the total number of industrial enterprises increased from 2,340 to 2,404 in the Colombo district, but only from 27 to 30 in the Anuradhapura district. In this new post-war phase, we cannot afford to reproduce the same imbalances in growth and development that we saw previously. Innovative Public-Private Partnership Initiatives like the Achchuveli Industrial Zone in Jaffna need to be propagated islandwide.

On the latter point, we need to ensure that all people of Sri Lanka are better equipped to take advantage of the new economic opportunities arising, and not be left out. This means strengthening their health and education. On the education front, we need to ask ourselves – ‘are we gearing our youth towards being able to access, equally and competitively, the new economic opportunities emerging?’. There is a lot of rhetoric on Sri Lanka moving towards a knowledge-based economy. Will this mean just the Western Province becoming a knowledge-based economy? Or can we drive this in an inclusive manner? Right now the gaps are not encouraging. In a previous School Census, it emerged that there was one school with A/L science stream for every 400 km2 in Mullativu and Vavuniya and for every 200 km2 in Mannar, while there was one for every 10 km2 in Colombo, 25 km2 in Gampaha and 45 km2 in Kandy. It also revealed that 80% of schools in Kilinochchi did not have science labs, while only 11% of schools in Colombo and 10% of schools in Gampaha suffered the same problem. Spatial disparities in education will be a key determinant of Sri Lanka’s ability to foster inclusive growth and a sustainable peace in post-war Sri Lanka.

Keeping an Eye on Youth Unemployment

As an article by the IPS highlighted, while general unemployment levels have come down over the last decade, they are still very high amongst youth (20 to 29 year olds). Unemployment is more of a problem outside the Western Province, and it is particularly acute for the more educated. While Sri Lanka’s general unemployment rate (according to latest available data) was a laudable 5.8%, the unemployment rate of those qualified in A/Ls was a staggering 11.2%. “That youth unemployment was one of the major causes of the North-East conflict as well as the several Southern uprisings should never be forgotten”. These were the thoughts shared by Dr. Anura Ekanayake, the former chief of Sri Lanka’s premier business body, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, at its AGM last year.

Bridging Regional Development Disparities

The pattern of GDP in Sri Lanka is changing, but very slowly. The Western Province still dominates the economic landscape, currently accounting for around 45.1% of national GDP (down from 50.8% in 2005) (see more here Other regions have not significantly increased their share of GDP in recent years. Regions outside the Western and North Western Provinces need to be economically empowered, and the ongoing government programmes like Maga Neguma, Divi Neguma, Gemidiriya, etc., will certainly make a significant contribution.

The government programmes over the last several years do seem to have had a significant impact on poverty reduction. Poverty rates in Sri Lanka have declined from 15.2% reported in 2006/07 to 8.9% in 2009/10. Yet, the breakdown of poverty rates according to regions paints a less bright picture. Disparities between regions in terms of the GDP share of the nation as well as the distribution of enterprise activity, would impact the disparities in poverty across the country as well. While the poverty rate in Colombo ranges at 3.6%, the poverty rate of Batticaloa is reported at a high 20.3% (an increase from 10.7% in 2006/07). It is not only that there appears to be a remarkable difference between these two districts, but the fact that the poverty rates in areas like Batticaloa (20.3%) and Moneragala (14.5%) being well above the national rate should be a cause for concern.

‘Economic Reconciliation’?

A paper by K.M. De Silva (1996) identified that the series of socio-political disturbances over the past several decades stemmed from multiple and multi-faceted grievances of both Sinhalese and Tamils[1], and that a key element of this was ‘the unequal distribution of the benefits of economic growth’[2]. For the people of post-war Sri Lanka, whether the access to, and benefits of, economic growth is equitable or not, could be a key determinant of a sustained peace or a key driver of renewed social discord some day.

When I meet and speak with a farmer, a small business owner, or an unemployed youth, from Batticaloa to Badulla, his main concern (and often the only concern, rightly or wrongly), isn’t necessarily ‘what will a durable political solution look like, in post-war Sri Lanka?’ – rather, it is first ‘what will my/my family’s income security and prosperity look like, in post-war Sri Lanka?’. I am not a reconciliation expert, or a political scientist, or an authority on ethnic conflicts. But through my work as an economist, travelling across Sri Lanka and seeing things often from an ‘economics lens’, I firmly believe that ‘economic reconciliation’ needs to become a stronger part of the current reconciliation discourse.

by Anushka Wijesinha

* Anushka Wijesinha is an economist with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Sri Lanka’s apex socio-economic policy think-tank ( Previously, he was Assistant Director – Economic Affairs of the Government Peace Secretariat, and has also worked with the World Bank, Colombo. He is editor of the IPS blog ‘Talking Economics’

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization the author is affiliated to.

[1] De Silva, K.M, 1996, “Sri Lanka: Ethnic Conflict, Management and Resolution”, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

[2] The other identified were ‘post-colonial language legislation prescribing Sinhala as the official language, perceived injustices regarding ethnic representation in public institutions, access to land and water, and devolution of power to regions’