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THE STRUGGLE FOR TAMIL EELAM
Maaveerar Naal -
மாவீரர் நாள் 2002
Tamils Honour Their Fallen Heroes
Ravi Prasad - Radio Netherlands, 21 August 2002
The cemeteries of over 17,000 Tamil Tiger guerrillas killed during two decades of civil war are suddenly drawing a lot of attention in Sri Lanka. The ongoing ceasefire ahead of long-awaited peace talks, has given people from the south of the country the opportunity to travel to the Tamil-dominated north. Many people have now begun arriving in the rebel-controlled Wanni area in search of the graves of family members killed fighting the Sri Lankan armed forces or in the crossfire.
Heavy earthmoving equipment levels a huge piece of land at Kopay on the Jaffna peninsula, where a cemetery to honour fallen Tamil Tiger cadres will be reconstructed. It was destroyed by government troops when they recaptured Jaffna way back in 1995.
In the northern Wanni mainland, there are nearly a dozen such cemeteries that have remained more or less intact under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The biggest cemetery is at Kilinochchi, the political headquarters of the LTTE. It's described as the martyrs' memorial with more than 1,900 tombstones spread over several hectares. Some graves contain the remains of LTTE cadres, while others are just stones with the names of martyrs inscribed on them. Their remains were never found, but the Tamil Tigers decided to honour them by erecting tombstones.
A large number of families visit the cemeteries, some looking for the graves of their loved ones. For those who supported the Tigers' struggle for a Tamil homeland, it has become something of a pilgrimage, says Kaladevi Amblavanar, who came to Kilinochchi with her family.
"We are from Jaffna, but we live in Colombo now. After several years it has become possible for us to travel to Jaffna. On the way we decided to visit this place and pay our respects to the martyrs."
The signing in February of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE and the more recent opening of the highway to Jaffna after more than a decade, have made it possible for Tamil families from other parts of the country to visit these graveyards.
Not only Tamils visit the cemetery. While travelling to Jaffna up the A9 highway, a number of people from the majority Sinhala community also make a brief stop over at the martyrs' memorial. Most of them are surprised to see the huge number of graves in the cemetery. Some of them even bring along flowers and wreaths as a mark of respect for the dead. Alfred Senanayake was on his way to Jaffna and decided to stop here briefly.
"I am going to Jaffna with my family. They have never seen that part of our country. We came here to see how the Tamil Tigers have honoured their dead. I wish the government could have done the same thing for the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in this conflict."
The Tamil Tigers are now trying to rebuild the cemeteries that were destroyed in the war in a project funded by donations collected from all over Sri Lanka. The cemeteries are reminders of the long and bloody ethnic conflict that has raged for nearly 20 years in this island nation. But there are hopes that with the warring sides moving away from the battlefield and towards the negotiating table, the killing is drawing to a close.