Tuesday, Jul 16, 2002
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By V.S. Sambandan
It was yet another public function, but with a difference. After short speeches, the top Army and LTTE representatives in the east, Sunil Tennakoon and N. Karikalan, strode briskly along the Black Bridge and re-opened it to traffic. A ribbon was cut and pigeons released as the bridge was restored to its intended purpose _ linking people.
The strategically-important bridge, which takes its name from the colour of its girders, runs across a lagoon that separates Government and rebel-held territories and connects the militarily-sensitive east to the south-central marketing hub, Badulla. Civilians were optimistic of economic benefits, from reduced vegetable prices and increased income for their catch of fish.
Inside the LTTE-held territory, armed motorcycle outriders and uniformed guerrillas in open jeeps led the convoy. Travelling together and seated next to each other inside a State transport bus, Maj. Gen. Tennakoon, GOC of the Sri Lanka Army in the east and Mr. Karikalan, LTTE's special political leader in the east, were upbeat. ``We are making all efforts to achieve peace. There is no doubt about that,'' Maj. Gen. Tennakoon said. "This is a positive step to bring in peace. The road, which runs across areas controlled by us, is now open to all. We are creating a situation where anyone travelling through areas under our control do not have to fear anything,'' Mr. Karikalan said. Given the sensitive nature of the ethnically-mixed eastern region, the two were confident that problems could be sorted out through dialogue.
``We have a very close dialogue with the LTTE's political leaders of the east. I am not saying that problems will not come. But with our understanding, I am confident that we can sort them out,'' Maj. Gen. Tennakoon said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Mr. Karikalan said: ``We are in close touch with high-level officers. Whenever there is a problem we talk and work out ways to solve them.''
At the end of the 36-km journey, just near a Sri Lankan police check-point, Mr. Karikalan, when asked what was required to transform the present truce to lasting peace said: "Sinhalese and Tamils should come together during the current ceasefire and emphasise the need for peace. Then there will be permanent peace.''
Though the Black Bridge is now a picture of hope, there is an unstated realisation that all it requires to make it again a bridge that separates, is a single serious incident anywhere in the island.
"We hope this war truly ends,'' says a Sinhalese soldier in fluent Tamil, who took his position at the Black Bridge a year ago.
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