by Rodney Martinesz and Bandula Seneviratne, Vavuniya North Group Corr.
The government's peace initiative marked a significant milestone yesterday with the re-opening of the A9 Jaffna-Kandy highway, the main artery linking the Northern heartland with the South.
The event was celebrated on both sides, with the Vanni Rehabilitation Minister Noordeen Masood making a symbolic presence at Omanthai while 250 meters beyond the buffer zone the LTTE reportedly engaged in a ribbon cutting ceremony before dispatching the first civilian convoy out of its territory.
The road will be initially opened upto Killinochchi a distance of 35 miles from Omanthai (45 miles from Vavuniya). All demining on this stretch had been completed by last Friday.
"We are waiting for a signal from the government to clear the rest of the way: S. Puleedevan chief LTTE Co-ordinator told the "Daily News" on the LTTE side of the buffer zone.
However government Minister Milinda Moragoda who was present in Omanthai said the government has to proceed step by step in this exercise.
"We have promised to re-open this road on the 15th of this month and we have done that."
"We are watching the situation and will move gradually," he said.
Puleedevan said their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was appreciative of the government's gesture to alleviate the condition of the people of Vanni.
Asked about the peace process he said the LTTE leader was so far satisfied with the progress made on the peace front.
The re-opening of the A9 highway which was shut off for 12 years will greatly facilitate the movement of relief into the uncleared areas and their access to the beleaguered citizens in the Vanni.
Parallel to this the Uylankulam-Mannar road too was re-opened yesterday in a bid to further ease the movement of people and goods in the uncleared areas.
The LTTE cadres in large numbers including members of the women's brigade moved freely with Journalists and even exchanged telephone and other contact numbers.
Meanwhile Minister of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology, Milinda Moragoda yesterday observed that the final road to peace would depend entirely on the honesty and trust between the parties to the conflict.
Addressing government officials and military personnel at the Omanthai checkpoint, the Minister recalled how previous peace efforts collapsed due to this mistrust and emphasised on the need to proceed on a practical course this time around so that the process would not be jeopardised.
"We are all too aware of how the entire peace effort collapsed and this time too we cannot be complacent.
"All depends on our mutual trust." Both sides should display their genuineness in achieving the final goal of peace."
He said politicians were responsible for creating the present ethnic divisions and it was the fervent desire of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to put an end to all that.
The re-opening of the A9 highway was only one step in this fence mending exercise.
"The road ahead is difficult while going forward we might also encounter reversals.
"But if both parties are genuine we can take this whole thing forward until we reach a final solution," the Minister said.