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Sri Lanka president vows to rebuild rail line

[AP, Tuesday, 24 March 2009 08:23 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s president has vowed to rebuild a vital rail link to the north of the island that has been cut for nearly two decades because of civil war.

 

The Colombo to Jaffna "Yal Devi" train has not run since 1990 after being repeatedly bombed by Tamil rebels fighting to create a separate state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

 

In a speech late Monday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said re-establishing the rail link was an important way to show that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been defeated.

 

"It is the undeniable reality that in the past the sound of the Yal Devi was akin to the heartbeat of the nation," he said.

 

The train currently goes to Vavuniya, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital, Colombo. Jaffna is another 55 miles (90 kilometers) further north. Until early January, the area between Vavuniya and Jaffna was controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

 

But a huge government offensive has confined the rebels back to about 11 square miles (28 square kilometers) of jungle and beach on the northeastern coast. Government ministers say they expect to finish off the rebels soon.

 

Rajapaksa did not give a time frame or cost for extending the line to Jaffna, a peninsula in the far north that is the traditional home of Tamil culture. He appealed to India, China and Japan for help in completing the line.

 

Trains are an important form of travel in Sri Lanka because they are a cost-effective way of moving people and goods, while many roads are in poor shape. A highway goes to Jaffna, but it has been mostly closed because of the war.

 

Sri Lanka’s railway system was started in the 1860s when the island was known as Ceylon and was a British colony.

 

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have began fighting since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

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