From Rabble-Rousing to Rubble

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Several U.N. agencies have offices in Jaffna, a relic of Tamils' long conflict with the Sri Lankan central government. But the international organization has recently fallen out with Colombo over its intention to conduct an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the army last year, at the end of the war.


A soldier emerges from one of the countless bombed-out buildings in Jaffna's downtown. By some estimates, there are still 40,000 military troops on the Jaffna Peninsula. Local Tamils are pleased with the city's newfound security,  but are discomfited by the presence of the soldiers, who are mostly of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese ethnic majority.


The Jaffna Peninsula has yet to be fully de-mined. Land mines were laid in large numbers by the Tamil Tigers, not only in Jaffna, but throughout the north. Land-mine concerns are one of the reasons cited by the government for the slow pace of resettlement of internally displaced people. They are also one of the reasons the Ministry of Defense offers for why foreigners can only travel to Jaffna by plane. This fenced-off area is along the abandoned train-track bed in Jaffna.


The population on the Jaffna Peninsula has shrunk by nearly half since the war began in 1983 and now stands at around 600,000. But during the day, rain or shine, Jaffna's streets still spring to life with auto rickshaws, trucks, cars, and bikers. Displaced Tamils are also slowly returning to the city.


At intervals during the war, Jaffna was a battle zone where urban guerrilla warfare was being waged. Residential, commercial, and government buildings were all subject to devastation. Here, local journalist Aiyathurai Satchithanandam surveys the damaged waterfront, where a stretch of destroyed houses spans as far as the eye can see.


Men participating in a procession at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple festival to pay homage to Lord Murugan, patron god of the Tamils, carry a replica of a deity past the southern entrance of the temple. The festival had been curtailed during the long conflict. The temple, first built in the 10th century, with several subsequent reconstructions, is currently being refurbished. Its damage is due to normal wear and tear, as the building was mostly spared during the war.


Worshippers pack the grounds of the Thurkkai Amman Temple dedicated to the goddess Durga, protector against evil and misery. The name Durga in Sanskrit literally means "invincible." Some worshippers offer penance called bird kavadi with "kavadi" referring to a physical burden consisting of metal hooks piercing the flesh of the worshipper, as seen with the man hanging on the right.


Many of Jaffna's Hindu temples have brightly ornamented towers, or gopuram, with colorful depictions of Hindu deities, which serve as gateways to the inner sanctum. This shrine is located within the complex of one of Jaffna's most important temples -- the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. Tamils are fortunate that many of their religious shrines were not damaged in the years of fighting.


A biker rides by the quiet Vaitheeswaran Temple in central Jaffna. It is one of hundreds of Hindu temples on the Jaffna Peninsula. They range from sprawling complexes with ornate towers to one-room shrines. Finally, Tamils can worship again in peace.


An auto rickshaw driver tames his windblown hair in preparation for a photo. Sometimes, customers prefer older drivers, who may be less likely than their younger counterparts to arouse the suspicion of soldiers at roadblocks.


Locals swim in the warm, shallow waters of Casuarina, one of Jaffna Peninsula's best-known beaches -- about 45 minutes by bumpy road from downtown. This beach is pegged as a top attraction for the region, and its development is key for future tourism plans in the region. Sri Lankans from the south have already been flocking here since the end of hostilities. Each car must pay the equivalent of 50 cents to enter. On this day, the receipts totaled nearly $300.


Local fishermen walk like wading birds as they cast their nets into the shallow waters along the causeway to the Jaffna Peninsula's outer islands. Tamils are hopeful that they can rebuild their economy, but the attention of the Sri Lankan central government has been flagging.


There are countless ruins along Jaffna's waterfront. In guidebooks, this one is referred to simply as "Headless Statue." The land surrounding it is off limits.


In a span between downtown Jaffna and the waterfront, entire blocks have been reduced to rubble in the years of guerrilla warfare. Reconstruction in most of these areas has yet to begin.

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