Nov 09 (IRIN) PUTHUKKUDIYIRUPPU- Genzia Mary, 10, is fascinated by the buses arriving in northern Sri Lanka, their jovial travellers singing in a language that, until two years ago, was completely foreign to her.
Mary lives in Kilinochchi District, part of the country's northern former war zone popularly known as "the Vanni". Thousands of southerners, mostly from the majority Sinhala ethnic group, come to visit war attractions as well as a well-known Buddhist temple north of the Vanni.
"There are lots of people in [the buses]. Sometimes there are old ammas [grandmothers] in them, all dressed in white," she said. Many girls her age also visit, especially during school holidays. "But I have never spoken to anyone of them," Mary said, disappointed. "They never talk to us."
For years, the Vanni was cut off from the rest of the country. It was the main battle ground during two and half decades of civil war, as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels fought successive governments, demanding a separate state. The war ended in May 2009 with LTTE's defeat.
In late 2009, parts of the region were opened for unrestricted civilian travel, and thousands of travellers from the south began streaming in. The numbers have dropped from highs of over 100,000 a day, but they still figure in the thousands.
These visits could help bring communities inside and outside the war-scarred region together, but, so far, that has not been the case.
"The two communities still live in two separate cocoons. There is hardly any interaction," said Saroja Sivachandran, head of the Centre for Women and Development, a women's rights group in northern Jaffna. "One example of how far the gulf is: the visitors will sometimes bring their own fire wood. The only interaction with the Vanni population is if they ask for directions," she said.