TANDIKULAM CHECKPOINT, Sri Lanka, Oct 25, 2006 (AFP) – A long wooden pole laid across the road up ahead marks the start of Sri Lanka’s “Tigerland”. A colleague of his motioned to the field of vehicles and added: “After the peace talks, hopefully we won’t have to do this.” On this side of the pole lies the town of Vavuniya and the last few kilometers of civilian ground before a no man’s land that divides government-controlled territory from land ruled by the rebel Tamil Tigers.
For the soldiers manning this small checkpoint at an intersection on the A9 highway — Sri Lanka’s most bloodily-contested road — the vast stretch of rice fields and scrubland in no man’s land has produced nothing for years but death.
Day after day, mortars fell suddenly out of the sky, and shots ruptured the night, fired by rebel infiltrators creeping through the undergrowth.
But one recent afternoon, the checkpoint seemed calm and soldiers said they hoped weekend peace talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would stem the violence that has ravaged Sri Lanka’s north.
“The coming peace talks are good,” said one military pol