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Saturday, December 04, 2021

The rumours and the relief

The LTTE’s gone. But can reconstruction unite Sri Lanka?

Written by Lal Wickrematunge |
May 20, 2009 11:51:49 pm

Sri Lanka under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapakse has eliminated the top leadership of the LTTE after a period of 26 years. The end came swiftly,even as speculation was rife that the LTTE’s leader,Velupillai Prabhakaran,could yet spring a surprise.And then came the announcement,from the military’s spokesman,Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara. “The LTTE top leadership was killed in a final gun battle with the Sri Lankan army yesterday in the early hours of the morning and amongst those was Charles Anthony,the son of the rebel leader.”

Nanayakkara added that Pottu Amman,the intelligence wing chief,and the head of the “Sea Tigers”,Soosai,were also killed. Over two hundred fighting cadres were eliminated in the final battle which followed the LTTE being forced by Friday into a tiny swathe of land,no more than 800 square metres.

On the night of Friday,May 15,rumours began to spread that the top Tiger leaders including Velupillai Piripaharan had blown themselves up when the army tightened the noose around the remaining LTTE cadre. A series of loud explosions were heard amidst rising flames from within the last of the LTTE-controlled area. The army thus began to put out the word that the final few LTTE leaders had blown themselves up. By Saturday morning the army had

begun to move into the balance area to mop up the rest,as civilians came streaming the other way.

President Rajapakse was on an official visit to Jordan and so no announcement was made of army successes till he arrived in the island on Sunday to a welcome fit for a

returning hero. The entire cabinet was at the airport to greet him. He was scheduled to address the nation in Parliament on Tuesday the 19th; and as I write this was announcing that terrorism in the island is “eradicated” and the need of the hour is to rebuild ethnic harmony and a Sri Lankan identity — in an address that incorporates phrases in both Tamil and Sinhala. That linked into the question that many were asking: while the end of the struggle by the armed wing of the LTTE was being celebrated by the people of this nation: whether the majority Sinhala Buddhist community would welcome and

accept the minority communities as equals and not as a section of people now defeated.

The LTTE under Velupillai Prabhakaran is no more. Its former procurement leader,now appointed as head of its International Wing,Kumaran Pathmanathan is expected to keep the issue of Tamil rights alive through the dispersed Tamil diaspora. It is expected that the struggle will now take a different thrust,sans an armed approach,and would be confined to pressure through Western countries.

The succession is thus broken. In the end,Prabhakaran,though long tagged as the most ruthless and successful rebel leader worldwide has shown that he was politically naïve — partly due to his inherently suspicious nature,and partly due to the hype created around him by those the diaspora who were funding him. Recall that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called a ceasefire brokered through the Norwegians to seek a political solution to the Tamils’ problems,leading to a federal form of government; an

approach which Prabhakaran spurned after two years,leading to the fall of the then UNP government. This was followed by a Presidential election which Mahinda Rajapakse won narrowly,helped,ironically,by the LTTE leader who ordered the Tamils in the north to boycott the polls. Soon Prabhakaran was to say that president Rajapakse was a “pragmatic leader”; but he nevertheless broke off from the talks held in Geneva soon after. The rest is now,ironically enough for the rebel leader and his LTTE,history.

Rajapakse has attempted to say the right things,calling on Sri Lanka’s people to unite and welcoming all citizens as equal partners in the rehabilitation efforts that must follow. He also called on the international community to help in this effort — but,again struck a note of warning in suggesting they “refrain from advising on political fronts” as he was “aware of the needs of his people”.

Though this country now breathes easy expecting the carnage from both sides to stop,the real costs socially and economically have yet to be assessed. Politics take strange twists and turns in this island and President Rajapakse has his work cut out to unite a fractured nation in the coming years. We can but hope he will be equal to the task: his second term looks more than assured,now. Reconstruction as unity hasn’t always worked here; the tsunami that struck Sri Lanka may not have discriminated between ethnicities but the reconstruction effort did not unite the nation. One hopes Sri Lanka will not go down that road again. It cannot afford it.

The writer is managing editor of ‘The Sunday Leader’. The paper was founded by his brother Lasantha ,who was shot and killed in Colombo last January

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