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