Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran stayed away from a ceremony on Monday in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa re-launched train services to Jaffna.
When contacted, Mr. Wigneswaran told The Hindu : “Our letter to President refers to our keeping away from all functions he is staging in the Northern Province,” referring to an October 10 letter, in which he said the Sri Lankan government had carried out consultations in the North without informing the Provincial Council.
A huge crowd gathered on Monday morning to see the special train that chugged into the reconstructed Jaffna station, nearly 25 years after the island’s civil war destroyed the region’s rail network.
President Rajapaksa flagged off the train at Pallai, about 40 km from Jaffna, and travelled in it along with several Ministers and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
People lined up at different spots along the 40 km-stretch from Pallai to Jaffna and waved, even as some others showed their children the first train to arrive in the town in almost a quarter century.
Indian Railways’ subsidiary IRCON has rebuilt the stretch — damaged during the war — as part of the Indian government’s $800 million line of credit to restore select railway lines in the island, predominantly in its Tamil-majority Northern Province.
The coaches used for the launch were made in China. India has supplied 60 coaches, but Sri Lanka is considering sourcing additional coaches from China to take advantage of the newly-laid tracks capable of facilitating speeds of up to 120 km per hour, it is reliably learnt.
Terming the Northern railway line a “crucial link for people of Sri Lanka”, IRCON Chairman and Managing Director Mohan Tiwari said the company has submitted two proposals to the Sri Lankan government to upgrade tracks in some stretches and lay additional tracks.
Ahead of the President’s visit, Sri Lanka’s military banned foreigners from travelling to the island’s former war zone, officials and diplomatic sources said on Sunday.
Foreigners were turned back at Omanthai, the army-controlled entry point to the Northern Province, an AFP report said. Amid concerns over heavy militarisation of the Northern Province, army officials said the travel ban had been in place since Friday and was in the “national interest”.
Following the launch of the Yal Devi, Mr. Rajapaksa chaired a meeting in Jaffna to review developmental works in the district. On Tuesday, he will proceed to Delft, an island off Jaffna peninsula, to inaugurate new projects. Earlier on Sunday, he addressed a public meeting in Kilinochchi.