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Kilinochchi has fallen: The consequences

by Kumar Rupesinghe

(January 07, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The victory over Kilinochchi by the Sri Lankan armed forces is a decisive victory. There is no question about this. The President proudly announced the fall of Kilinochchi and General Fonseka went into great detail to exemplify the battlefield strategies of the armed forces and crowds in several cities lit crackers to celebrate the victory. We have now been assured that 2009 will be the year when the battles will be over and we can all regain our lost Paradise. Will the war be over, that is the question? There have been numerous battle field victories in the past but winning a battle is not winning the war.

The fall of Jaffna

The fall of Kilinochchi is reminiscent of the fall of Jaffna, during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time in 1995. Victories against the LTTE were celebrated with much fanfare and General Anuruddha Ratwatte was seen hoisting the Sri Lankan flag in the Jaffna Kachcheri. On 6th December, the state controlled Daily News reported triumphantly “ Deputy Defence Minister Col. Anuruddha Ratwatte, deputizing for President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, on the invitation of Northern Commander Rohan Daluwatte, hoisted the Lion flag in the re-taken Jaffna town at a simple, but impressive formal ceremony at the auspicious time of 11.52 am on Tuesday (5 December)... Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte inspected a guard of honour at the former Jaffna Fort before hoisting the national flag. Martial music preceded the hoisting of flag. Some historians have already looked upon the liberation of Jaffna, Yapa Patuna of ancient fame, as a historical parallel to its re-taking by Prince Sapumal in the 15th century by vanquishing the forces of rebel chief Arya Chakravarti. Prince Sapumal later ascended the throne as King Buvenekabahu IV.."

The Time magazine commenting on the victory ceremony held on 6th December in Colombo said thus : "... In a function room in the Presidential Secretariat, (broadcast live on national television), Sri Lanka's leader (President Chandrika Kumaratunga) stood gravely before a line of tough-looking military officers. Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, fresh from hoisting the flag in Jaffna town, presented her with a scroll rolled up inside a red velvet container. The scroll was dated "full moon day of the month of Unduwap in the year 2539 in the Buddhist Era." It read, "Your Excellency's rule and authority has been firmly re-established" in the historic city. The territory was not referred to as Jaffna, its official name, but "Yapa Patuna" the term used by conquerors in medieval times. The victory of Jaffna was celebrated in a ghost town where over half a million people had left in a mass exodus and moved to the Wanni. The houses were empty and only stray dogs greeted the invading Sri Lankan army. Similarly Kilinochchi was a ghost town when the armed forces took over an abandoned and derelict town. Kilinochchi which was the capital of the LTTE had been razed to the ground with many thousand tons of bombs from the countless sorties of the Sri Lanka Air Force. Fortunately, the President did not resort to the pseudo-nationalist rhetoric and was careful not to evoke the metaphors of Sinhala Buddhism. He tried to portray the victory as a victory of all the peoples. But these words will ring hollow if the historic grievances of the Tamils which surely were the root causes of terrorism are not addressed.

The battle for Mulaithivu

The rhetoric of the LTTE in the course of the battle for Kilinochchi was strident and Prabhakaran who usually does not give statements or interviews made the statement that Kilinochchi would never be captured and that President Mahinda Rajapakse was day dreaming. His Police Chief Nadesen was later to revise his leader’s proclamation by admitting that Kilinochchi would be conceded but that the LTTE would live to fight another day. Now the battle field will be restricted to 40 square miles of jungle heavily fortified and where the displaced people of the Wanni, over 200,000, live in terrible conditions. The LTTE will seek refuge and cover amongst them and resist the multi pronged thrust of the armed forces.

Mulaithivu is certainly not Thoppigala and it will take many battles to conquer this well fortified jungle area. Although Kilinochchi has been taken and retaken many times over, Mulaithivu remains a formidable bastion of the LTTE. Whether the LTTE can resist this assault is yet to be seen. The LTTE has been seriously wounded but it still enjoys the support of the Tamil people, particularly in the Diaspora and its leader is still accepted by the organisation. It still has unlimited quantities of weapons, its suicide squads and commandos who can continue to destabilize the country. The LTTE surely has to learn its lessons within the jungles of Mulaithivu. There is no point in dreaming about a foreign power coming to its rescue and whatever happens in South India, the Indian State will not encourage a separate state near its own border. Neither is Sri Lanka a Kosovo; it would be foolish to imagine that NATO or the “international community” will come to its rescue. It will also have to learn the lessons of the use of terror and how it has not only alienated the South, but also its own people who have now experienced continuous displacement and mass exodus. The LTTE will have to learn that politics must be in command and that it has to find ways and means of genuinely fighting for the the freedom of its own people.

The politics of humiliation

The triumphalism which is now portrayed by the mass media is mostly election rhetoric but it does leave a sour feeling amongst the Tamil people. Whilst the LTTE is reprehensible to many Tamils, they do not see any light in the dark tunnel that they have been kept during the last sixty years. The question that arises is whether we as a nation and a people should demonstrate a mood of triumphalism in conquest, when in fact the conquered are our own people or a part of our people. I remember well when Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Deputy Defence Minister hoisted the Sri Lankan flag in the Jaffna town. In an interview I gave to the BBC at that time, I said that it was a day of shame for the Sinhalese people, for we are hoisting our flag in our country amongst our own people. No sooner did the takeover of Kilinochchi take place, many Tamil shops closed in fear and reports indicate that people in the hill country also closed their doors amidst provocations by mobs. Now the bloodletting has started with the gutting of the Sirasa T.V. station where armed men laid siege on the building. Not a day had passed with the take over of Kilinochchi, the inimitable Wimal Weerawansa made a press statement that the APRC has to be scrapped and there should be no concessions to any form of devolution of power. I said at that time that the fate of the Sinhalese and the Tamil people are like two sides of the same coin and that our destinies are intricately linked to each other and that we have to co-exist with dignity. The majority peoples will be measured by the treatment they mete out to the other, to paraphrase a point made by President elect Barack Obama.

The Sinhalese people have to go into deep reflection and at least now ask some profound questions as to the roots of terrorism which found ready soil in Sri Lanka. These questions cannot be wished away. Nor can they be swept under the carpet by the triumphalism and war hysteria which are constant refrains of our mass media. Such triumphalism is but a continuation of the politics of humiliation which has beset this island for the last sixty years. If we are to rid the country of “terrorism” and ensure that it does not raise its ugly head again, the Sinhalese people have to deeply reflect on their contribution to the politics of humiliation. As I have repeatedly argued, ad - infinitum, it is not the battle for territory that will win the war, but winning the hearts of a people. This means that the minorities must feel that they have a stake in the country, that they can live in dignity, that they can share power without carrots being thrown at them at the whim and fancy of our leaders. We have to have statesman similar to Nelson Mandela or the leaders who formed the European Union, who with a single voice cried out loud “Never Again” to war and mayhem in the continent of Europe. They did not practice politics of revenge, but in a spirit of reconciliation which guided these leaders, created legislation and frameworks for reconciliation and equal participation. Today, these nations have risen from the carnage of war to powerful multi ethnic societies.

In the same way our leaders, by this I mean the President, the Leader of the Opposition, and other leaders of our political class must move towards introducing reforms and legislation which rectify this historical harm and damage done to all our peoples. This means first of all, immediate implementation of the 13th Amendment as a first step in implementing the proposals put forward by the APRC, measures to accelerate the implementation of the two languages policy in all public institutions and legislation to be introduced to ensure that no ethnic profiling and discrimination are practised by public institutions. The President has indicated that he would be willing to implement the 13th Amendment as a first step and the APRC report has now been finalized. I hope that the elections in the coming months will be a referendum for the sharing of power and that people will be asked to vote for a Sri Lanka where all peoples will live in dignity.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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