The British royal family undertook its first visit to the Tamil homeland earlier today, as Princess Anne visited the Jaffna Public Library, an iconic centre of Tamil literature that was set ablaze by Sri Lankan security forces and state-sponsored mobs in 1981.
Princess Anne and Sir Tim Laurence flew to Jaffna, after they landed in Colombo yesterday.
The couple toured the library “where they heard of its significance to the community and met with key individuals from the fields of education, arts and culture,” said the British High Commission in Sri Lanka.
The library was one of the largest libraries in Asia and housed over 97,000 unique and irreplaceable Tamil palm leaves (ola), manuscripts, parchments, books, magazines and newspapers, before its destruction in 1981. The burning has since been marked by Eelam Tamils as an act of genocide.
Andrew Patrick, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, called the building “a landmark of great significance”.
“This important moment marks the first visit by a member of the Royal Family to Jaffna,” he added.
The royal family is visiting the island on the request of the UK Foreign Office, as part of a move to mark 75 years of diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka.
They landed in Jaffna on a Sri Lankan military helicopter, where they were welcomed by Tamil schoolchildren and the government appointed Governor of the Northern Province. A heavy security presence was noted across the region.
Jaffna remains under the occupation of the Sri Lankan military, with tens of thousands of troops stationed in the region and the North-East one of the most militarised regions in the world. Recent months have seen several Tamils detained under the much-criticised Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), with human rights activists and journalists still subjected to threats and intimidation.
Read more on the Jaffna library below: