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In LTTE capital,now a ghost town,the silence of the grave

A maroon shirt still draped over a railing,houses with doors half open,their roofs bombed away...

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Kilinochchi (sri Lanka) |
May 7, 2009 1:38:19 am

A maroon shirt still draped over a railing,houses with doors half open,their roofs bombed away,the walls streaked with bullet marks; cattle left behind by fleeing owners graze in green fields dotted with hidden landmines; empty street after empty street and a lot of silence. This is Kilinochchi today,half an hour from the current Lankan battlefront.

Once a bustling town and the de facto capital of the LTTE empire,since its fall in January this year it’s the symbol of triumph of the Sri Lankan Army’s military campaign against the Tamil Tigers and also the tragic story of the Tamil people,whose lives have been shattered in a never-ending struggle for dignity that eventually turned into a bitter and violent ethnic conflict.

Today,even the sound of the chatter in this Tamil homeland is alien as Sinhalese soldiers patrol the blazing sand of its empty streets. Tattered signboards of shops and schools written in Tamil and crumbling Hindu shrines are the only visible memory of its inhabitants. No one among Kilinochchi’s 195,812 inhabitants is here.

No one knows how many of them have made it to the highly fortified and isolated camps that the government has set up in Vavuniya to cage the Tamils in a bid to “scan and screen remnants of LTTE” among the population.

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No one knows how many are still trapped in the sliver of coastline across the lagoon where the Lankan Army thinks the Tigers’ boss Prabhakaran is holed up with a 500-cadre-strong human shield.

“We didn’t just arrive here. We fought our way in for days,” said General Officer Commanding,57 Division Major General N A J C Dias. “Tigers had emptied the town of its inhabitants and then entrenched themselves for the final battle. They fought very hard but could not stand our advance,” he said.

Pointing towards a tree line,he said that the Army encountered a stiff resistance from Tiger cadres there. “We recovered 419 bodies of the Tigers here. It took us a year and nine months non-stop to reach here,” he said. “The fall of Kilinochchi was a decisive defeat to Tigers. This was the hub of their administration and home to their leadership”. So when President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to visit troops last month,he chose Kilinochchi.

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A 30-minute journey down the deserted A-35 road in Chinese-made armoured vehicles and you reach the battlefront where the steamy waters of the Pudumathalan lagoon divide the Tiger’s last corral and the Lankan Army. On the other side,is the sea where the Lankan Navy keeps a close watch over the beach,waiting to prevent a possible escape by Sea Tigers whose lethal suicide metal-boats used to rule the waters across this coast.

“They have turned thousands of people hostage to save the life of one man,Prabhakaran. We know he is there — hiding,” Gen Dias said,as heavily armed soldiers kept watch over the tall earthen bund built by Tigers to prevent troop advance. “Now we are engaged in a very difficult battle. We advance ahead slowly and avoid heavy weapons. We don’t want civilian causalities,” Dias said. “Tigers are sending children to the front now. They are forcing people to fight us.”

Though Army officers claimed there was “not a single civilian causality,” a document prepared by the United Nations reveals that 6,500 civilians were killed in the Army advance,500 among them children. Dias said that once the Army clears the coastal stretch and eliminates the last LTTE cadres,the population will be resettled here. “But only after a proper scan. We know there are LTTE cadres who have slipped into the camps,” he said. The talk in the Colombo’s power corridors is that the return of the population can well take up to two years.

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What will happen after the military victory? Dias said the capture or killing of Prabhakaran is very important for the future. “They (Tigers) will try to go back to their terror tactics,” he said. “Our task will be to prevent them from re-organising. Then the real defeat of the LTTE will happen when we (the government) reassure the people that they are Sri Lankan and separatism will not be allowed”.

That’s going to be a long haul. For,although the military campaign may have entered its final stretch,there are no signs yet of Colombo extending any olive branch to the Tamil minority. In fact,quite the opposite. The political intransigence in Colombo can be understood by its accusations of spying even against the United Nations,a defiant intolerance of any criticism of the military operations and whipped-up war hysteria.

Critics of the government say that this is the second war — the war to win over the hearts and minds of the Tamil minority — that the Lankan government needs to win before it can declare final victory against the Tigers.

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First published on: 07-05-2009 at 01:38:19 am

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