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Thousands attend Maaveerar Naal commemorations at destroyed Thuyilum Illam in Kilinochchi

Updated 28/11/2017 06:30 GMT

More than 10,000 people gathered at the Kanagapuram Thuyilum Illam this evening to mark Maaveerar Naal and pay respects to those who gave their lives fighting for Tamil liberation.

The public road leading up to the cemetery had to be closed to vehicles, as the number of people attending the remembrance event swelled throughout the day. Thousands arrived with photographs of their loved ones, garlands of flowers and incense sticks to light. Former LTTE cadres who suffered injuries during the armed conflict were sat nearer the front, whilst family members of fallen fighters gathered where the graves once stood.

Locals have spent weeks gathering remaining pieces of gravestones, after the cemetery was destroyed by the Sri Lankan military. Only four gravestones remain at their original sites in the cemetery, known as a Thuyilum Illam in Tamil. Instead, thousands of lamps were lined out where the original graves once stood. The remaining fragments of the tombs were collected and piled into a makeshift monument by the entrance, but fragments of several graves could still be seen littering the field. Those in attendance picked up pieces and added them to the towering monument.

Photograph: Priya Tharmaseelan
Photograph: Priya Tharmaseelan

At 18:05, the crowd collectively lit lamps, as a song played to mark the occasion. Some released lanterns and some sobbed. Others sat in silence with their heads bowed. There were no speeches or addresses. Instead Eelam songs played as crowds mourned their loved ones.