North of Vavuniya the A9 runs through huge areas of eerily deserted land, a few ruins and the odd palm-thatch hut. Most of the villages marked on maps of the country along the A9 en route to Kilinochchi have largely disappeared, although life is now returning – very slowly – to the region.

About 80km north of Vavuniya, the small town of KILINOCHCHI served as the headquarters of the LTTE administration – effectively the Tamil Tiger capital –for many years. The town was finally recaptured by the SLA after an intense three-month battle between government troops and rebel cadres – the fall of Kilinochchi in January 2009 effectively marked the beginning of the end for the Tigers, and was greeted with wild celebrations around much of the island.

The town – which was more or less obliterated in the course of the 2008–09 siege – is now rising energetically from the ashes. A rash of shiny new shops, offices and government buildings have sprung up along the main road and much of the wartime devastation has now been patched up, although a huge water tower, blown up by the LTTE during the final stages of fighting, has been left where it fell next to the road, serving as a powerful reminder of the appalling physical devastation wrought by the war. Slightly further down the road stands a striking war memorial – an enormous grey stone cube, pierced by an artillery shell and with a lotus blooming out of the top.

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