President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday became the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit the northern peninsula of Jaffna since the 26-year-long war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009, began in 1983.
On his maiden visit to Jaffna, considered the centre of Tamil culture, Rajapaksa gave assurances of resettling displaced Tamils in the area but stopped short of announcing the dismantling of the `high security zones’ (HSZ) in the region.
Rajapaksa’s strongest contender for January 26 Presidential poll, Sarath Fonseka, had promised to its citizens last week that he would dismantle the HSZ if brought to power.
Jaffna, though it has been under government control since 1995, is divided into HSZ because of heightened security concerns. It means a heavy military presence in the region and severe restrictions on the freedom of movement for the citizens. Till end of 2009, it also meant night curfew in most parts; the army has since announced lifting of night curfew in Jaffna.
According to Sunday Times, the dismantling of HSZ would mean that more than 80000 displaced Tamils could be resettled in their place of origin.
"The withdrawal of the security zones will enable 80,000 displaced civilians to return to their homes. The HSZs extend to an area of 42 square kilometres in the Jaffna peninsula. Bulldozers and heavy equipment have been kept ready to be used to remove bunds and bunkers in the HSZs," the Sunday Times reported.
The newspaper added: "The Jaffna Divisional Secretariat was yesterday hurriedly processing applications by civilians who wanted to return to their homes in the HSZs. Jaffna’s Additional Government Agent Rubini Varthalingam said there would be no HSZs and only a ‘Defence Front Line’ would be maintained."
During his visit, Rajapaksa addressed civilians, visited Buddhist and Hindu temples and called on the Bishop and pledged that he will never allow "any person to give life to terrorism."