Jaffna: India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna won the hearts of Sri Lankan Tamils during his four-day Sri Lanka visit with the rehabilitation programmes of the Indian government in the battle-weary Northern Province of this scenic island nation.

Hundreds of Tamils, including women and children, cheered Krishna during his day-long visit on Wednesday to the region recovering from the ravages of the three decade-old ethnic strife that ended in May 2009.

As the first visiting overseas political leader to Kilinochchi town, about 60 km from here, Krishna brought a healing touch to thousands of Tamils by gifting advanced medical equipment to a district hospital, unveiling a reconstructed school and handing over houses built for some of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) among the 300,000 civilians who survived the conflict.

The district hospital, several schools and houses suffered extensive damage during the final phase of the battle between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) due to aerial bombing and use of heavy artillery.

Under the Indian government’s rehabilitation programmes, more hospitals will be equipped and schools and houses will be built to restore livelihood, bring back normalcy and revive the local economy that was shattered for over a generation due to the civil war.

The vibrant culture of local Tamils came alive at a series of functions organised at Kilinochchi, Nalavadi and Ariyalai on the outskirts of this port city where Krishna was received with lighted lamps, coconuts and betel leaves to the tunes of flutes and drums (nadaswaram) and folk songs and dances.

When he came to Jaffna during his previous visit to the country in November 2010 to lay the foundation for building 1,000 houses in the pilot project, the Tamils were still in the recovery mode and grappling with the devastation of the war.

A month after the armed conflict ended in mid-2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initiated the relief and rehab programme with a grant of Rs.5 billion (Rs.500 crore) as the welfare and rights of the Tamil-speaking minorities was at stake in the absence of basic infrastructure like houses, schools, hospitals, roads, transport and economic activity.

After completing the pilot project, the Indian government will take up the ambitious housing programme to build 49,000 dwelling units at a cost of $260 million for the IDPs, repair and renovate houses damaged during the prolonged war in the districts of Jaffna, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya across the region.

Committing more financial assistance to the reconstruction and development of the province, Krishna told the local Tamils that the Indian government would build a modern cultural centre at Jaffna.

'A suitable site has been identified by the local government for locating the cultural centre to preserve and perpetuate the rich tradition of the Tamils who have historical and social association with our people, especially in southern India,' Krishna said at a function here where he gifted about 10,000 bicycles to boys, girls and youth.

The restoration works include laying of tracks on the Pallai-Kankesanthurai railway line and setting up of signalling and telecom systems for the Northern Railway line.

Northern Province Governor Maj Gen (retd) G.A. Chandrasiri, Sri Lankan Commerce and Industries Minister Rishad Bathiyutheen and Traditional Industries Minister Douglas Devananda, who hail from the region, acknowledged the contribution of the Indian government in the reconstruction and resettlement of the IDPs and facilitating them to improve livelihood and revive the local economy driven mainly by agriculture, livestock, animal husbandry and fishing.


(Agencies)