03/05/2009, 00.00
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Colombo-Jaffna highway reopens after 24 years

by Melani Manel Perera
Highway A-9 runs across the entire island, from north to south, through the Vanni area, scene of clashes between rebels and the army. Next Monday 20 lorries will leave Colombo carrying food supplies to Jaffna. Now aid for people displaced by the war can be brought up the road.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The road that links the Jaffna Peninsula to the rest of the country has reopened after 24 years. The A-9 highway crosses the entire island nation from north to south. It goes through the cities of Vavuniya and Kilinochchi, divides the Vanni region, and runs along the border with the Mullaitivu district, scene of bloody clashes between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tigers.

Several times during the war the highway had to be closed because of clashes. In 1993 when Tamil rebels seized Elephant Pass, the Jaffna Peninsula was cut off.

In 2002 when a truce was reached between the two warring sides, the road was reopened—thousands of people took advantage of the situation to travel even if it remained unsafe to do so.

An official reopening ceremony was held on Monday. Military traffic and logistic supplies by army trucks were the first to make the journey.

The government in Colombo announced that as of next Monday the A-9 will be open to the movement of food supplies in favour of people displaced by the war. A fleet of 20 lorries carrying food is expected to leave the Orugodawatta Stores Complex in Colombo for the Kainadi stores in Jaffna.

The announcement of the reopening of the A-9 was enthusiastically welcomed by the population and by public opinion.

Both the Sri Lankan armed forces and civilians will benefit from the renewed opportunity to travel. The former will be able to avoid moving troops and materiel by air and sea, which is more expensive; whilst the latter will be able to travel to hitherto isolated areas.

The country’s economy is also likely to benefit from the reopening of the highway as trade links between the north and the south are renewed and agriculture produce from Jaffna can finally reach Colombo, reducing prices.

Anthony Jesudasan, coordinator of People to People Dialogue, told AsiaNews that he recently visited Jaffna several times to see how locals, Sinhala and Tamil, lived.

He found that farmers were the ones who suffered the most from isolation.

“They could not sell their harvest without a proper market and thus had no income,” he said.

“Now the reopening of the A-9 is a great victory for the people, the north and the south, and will have an impact on our country’s development, but only if the opportunity is properly seized.”

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