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Abandoned town, office stripped bare

world Updated: Jan 05, 2009 16:18 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Infantry officer Major Amunupure was one of the first to enter the LTTE headquarters after a determined Sri Lankan army wrested Kilinochchi on Friday. He could have actually taken his time — the retreating rebels did not even a leave a piece of paper for him and colleagues to seize from the four-storied building. Instead, they loosely shut the main door and left the key hanging even if the visitor was unwelcome.

“There was not a single blank piece of paper in the whole building. They moved with all the computers, communication equipment, papers and everything else they had,” he said. HT was one of the few newspapers to visit the headquarters on Sunday and the LTTE headquarters looked like a building that had been cleaned and swept for a new occupant.

The LTTE peace secretariat, venue of many meetings during the rebel-government ceasefire, and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation office were similarly, and eerily, empty.

Nearly all of Kilinochchi bore the same look. There was not only a single civilian in sight; the town had been stripped to a cluster of empty houses without roofs, doors and window frames. Before moving, the LTTE cadres, evidently with much help from the residents, had taken everything with them. Bulbs, street lights, power connection wires, shop sign boards, asbestos roofs, generators, clothes, books, furniture, vehicles — even churches and temples were without their deities. The only roofs that remained were tiled ones, which could not be carried.

A huge water tank (similar to the ones we in have our cities) had been ripped apart.

The Kilinochchi general hospital was without a single piece of bandage. All the equipment and medicines were gone. The few government facilities in the town were similarly barren.

The state of the town even took the military by surprise. “They have taken the things possibly to use during their stay in the jungles of Mullaitivu. Also, they have tries to ensure that we are not able to use any of the infrastructure,” a senior officer part of the Kilinochchi operation said.

The military also could not explain how a lakh to 1.5 lakh (estimates are hazy because population census was last held here in 1981) people moved out from the town and disappeared into the jungles of Mullaitivu in the east. Clearly, even the LTTE was expecting Kilinochchi to fall and had planned its retreat for several weeks.

The signs of a hard fought war of course were every where in the town. Unexploded grenades, empty boxes of ammunition, bullet-marked houses reminded everyone how fresh the ruins of Kilinochchi, with a 2000 year history, were. Soldiers wearing anti-mine shoes and sensors were seen carefully treading stretches of the streets.

Sounds of heavy artillery fire and firing from gunship helicopters from east echoed over the deserted town throughout the day. Once, they seemed too close for comfort. As I looked at Colonel Aruna Wanniarachchi, deputy general officer-command of the 57 Division for some assurance, his quiet answer was: “this is Kilinochchi.”