Feature Article

SLN mines infest Talaimannar Mosque

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 09 April 2003, 15:49 GMT]
More than 300 hundred Muslim families are unable to resettle in Talaimannar because their homes are in minefields laid by the Sri Lanka Navy which are yet to be cleared despite 13 months of ceasefire, rehabilitation officials in Mannar said. Many Muslim and Tamil homes in the once bustling bazaar of Talaimannar Pier are still occupied by the Navy or lie within its security boundary. The area surrounding the local Mosque is infested with land mines and booby traps.

About 50 Muslim and 200 Tamil families have resettled in a section of Talaimannar Pier vacated by the Navy following the ceasefire. More than 300 Muslim families who are living as refugees in Kalpitty, on the island’s northwest coast, are quite keen to return to their homes and lands here, their friends and relatives say.

Only the narrow bazaar leading up to the beach by the Pier is now safe from land mines. Areas are marked off on either side with yellow tape and signs in red warning one of dangerous mines.

Only the entrance to the Talaimannar Pier’s Mohideen Jummah Masjeed Mosque is free of mines. A Swiss organisation called FSD is making an effort to de-mine the area, residents said. But progress is very slow, according to them.

Fishing has resumed. The area leading up to and surrounding the light house and pier is still out of bounds for the public. One has to take a detour from the main road to the Talaimannar Pier bazaar and village.

The coast now receives a regular flow of Tamil refugees returning clandestinely from their camps in India. Most returnees from India are people who fled the fighting in Jaffna 13 years ago. Talaimannar is a regular destination because it is closest to the southern tip of Tamil Nadu.

Many Muslim and Tamil families in Talaimannar Pier have kith and kin in villages on the south Indian coast. In 1990 several of them went by boat to seek refuge in Tamil Nadu.

The Navy occupies 100 houses in Talaimannar Pier East and 15 shops and 50 houses in Talaimannar Pier North. The Talaimannar village itself lies about two kilometres south of the Pier.

Before the war started trains went over the long pier right up to the jetty where the ferry to India berthed. Hundreds of travellers thronged the busy Bazaar by the wharf as long as the ferry plied between the coasts of south India and Mannar.

Today the once active railway station is in ruins, overtaken by the ubiquitous Palmyra groves and thorn bushes. A few carriages lie abandoned by the dilapidated platform.

For more than a decade, Talaimannar was virtually cut off from the outside world and was firmly in the draconian grip of the Sri Lanka Navy.

But communication with the outside world is resuming gradually. A bus service from Talaimannar to Colombo was begun recently. But bitter memories of a time when fear ruled the region are a still a heavy burden on the psyche of most residents. That the navy is continues to keep their homes has done little to ease that burden. So the people of Talaimannar are keeping their fingers crossed for now.

 

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