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Monuments Of War

By Raisa Wickrematunge and Abdul H. Azeez

War tourism — the water tower and The War Memorial

Kilinochchi still holds much nostalgia for the would-be patriot. The symbolism attributed to the town for its role in the final conflict is exemplified by the many iconic war memorials, including the famous overturned water tower.
The soldiers that guard them deliver lectures on the artistry and symbolism of these structures when asked by visitors. The post war ‘high’ is far from dampened.

The War Memorial
This concrete structure was constructed after the war to commemorate the victory of the armed forces. It sits in a lush green park which in itself seems like an abomination on the dry, arid landscape of Kilinochchi. It is a massive box-shaped block of concrete pierced by a large brass bullet. Cracks reach out from the bullet hole and a large bronze lotus blossoms from a crack and stretches into the sky. It is quite beautiful. And more so when lit with lights after dark. A polished, paved path leads through the grass to the foot of the monument. The art combines traditional Sri Lankan elements together with modern imagery and styles of expression.
The concrete block is said to signify the LTTE and the bullet the crushing blow that the army dealt upon it, says a soldier who was stationed nearby. The lotus flower signifies peace, and the depiction of it emerging from a crack in the concrete indicates that it took the destruction of the LTTE to achieve this. There is a flag post set into the top of the block from which the Sri Lankan flag flies in the daytime. The block is hollow and we were shown inside it by the helpful soldier who told us that it was to be designed to include the names of those who gave their lives in the conflict. For now, the room is empty and houses a large picture of the President on one wall and an image of the opening ceremony of the monument on the other. The grounds on which the monument was constructed belonged to top Tiger, Thamil Chelvam, which is all very appropriate. But one gets a slightly hollow feeling when one learns that it was also used as a children’s park.

The Water Tower
This World Bank donated water tower was one of the most well known casualties of the last days of the war. In the final stages of war, the LTTE detonated explosives placed on either side of the structure. It was an act of deliberate cruelty, the tank supposedly providing water to the whole of Kilinochchi, a dry area where water is scarce. The massive monolith now lies on its side, with the names of soldiers in graffiti. It is, in essence, an ever-present reminder of the legacy of terror the LTTE left behind them.  Travelers to the North stopped for months afterwards to have a look at it, vegetable sellers and other vendors set up shop in front of it. Now the area is cordoned off and made a display out of. Passers- by can stop for a look. What was once a source of dismay has become, bizarrely, a tourist attraction.

The Captured LTTE Tank
Though not exactly located in Kilinochchi, the captured LTTE tank/bulldozer is one of the most iconic symbols of Army courage. The siege of Elephant Pass, and Army hero Corporal Gamini Kularatne, are firmly cemented into history. On July 10, 1991, over 5000 LTTE cadres surrounded 600 Army personnel at the Elephant Pass Army camp. The battle raged bitterly throughout the day. Suddenly what looked like a large bulldozer approached the troops. Corporal Kularatne watching the killing machine approach, made the ultimate sacrifice. Armed only with two grenades, he climbed the ladder of the tank and tossed them inside, stopping the tank’s advance. Kularatne died soon afterwards, but his brave act was commemorated. Kularatne was posthumously promoted to Corporal. The shell of the bulldozer he destroyed stands on the A9 road on the way to Jaffna, and attracts many tourists.

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