Friday, January 9, 2009

LTTE Capital Seized

In a major blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE), the Sri Lankan army has taken control of the northern town of Kilinochchi, which has been the Tigers’ administrative and political headquarters. The army’s victory came after a phase of intense fighting that lasted several weeks. The capital of the LTTE has been under the control of the Tigers for over a decade.
The Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his address to the nation on State television, described the action as a major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism. He reiterated the resolve of his Government to continue the fight till the LTTE was fully and finally defeated, and asserted it was the final message to the LTTE, to lay down their arms and surrender
The military, on its part, claimed that with the fall of Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s countdown to extinction had begun. Troops of 57 Division entered the highly defended stronghold from the southern and southwestern boundaries while Task Force 1 troops marched in from the north and the northwest.The army had taken the Jafna-Kandy A-9 highway on the Oman-thai-Paranthan stretch.
Symbolic Importance
In fact, the fall of Kilinochchi is of great symbolic importance as for many years the LTTE has maintained that Government troops would never gain control of the area. From this place the Tigers ran their own administration with LTTE police, a judicial system and also operated their peace secretariat.
The LTTE took control of Kilinochchi in 1990 when the Sri Lanka Army(SLA) withdrew its garrisons after the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force(IPKF). The SLA gained control of the town following operations Sathjaya 1,2 and 3 way back in September 1996. The town again fell into LTTE’s hands in September 1998, and ever since it has been designated as the LTTE’s “administrative and political headquarters”. The Tigers, numbered between 1,700 and 1,900, have retreated into the last remaining area that they control, the thick jungles of Mullaithivu. In 2001, a ceasefire between the and the LTTE had offered the first serious notion of peace between the two sides. Under its Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE announced for the first time that they were climbing down from their earlier demand of a separate State and would settle for a form of regional autonomy. By 2003, the first signs that the peace was crumbling came with the withdrawal of the LTTE from the peace talks. Six rounds into the talks in the middle of a Norway-monitored ceasefire, the LTTE supremo, Prabhakaran announced that he, for all purposes, did not like the chit-chat going on in the talks. With military confrontations in 2006 and 2007,the ceasefire had become a sham and the Sri Lankan Government rightly realised that it was dealing with an entity that it could not trust.
Militarily, the LTTE has taken a continuous battering over the past two years. President Rajapaksa did give it a window of opportunity to return to the peace talks. But after the success of the Mavil Aru operation—provoked by the Tigers’ foolish act of blocking the sluice gates--there was no stopping the Sri Lankan armed forces. In 2007, they rapidly evicted the LTTE, which had been fractured and weakened by the Karuna revolt, from the province. More surprisingly, over the past year the Sri Lankan army, backed effectively by the air force and navy, has made dramatic inroads into LTTE-held territory in the Northern Province. The capture of Kilinochchi, in fact, was delayed owing to the presence of a large number of civilians, torrential rains, and the Government’s determination to avert collateral damage.
Concern for Tamil Civilians
The Sri Lankan Government reckons that there are about 100,000 civilians trapped behind the LTTE lines but as per some other estimates, the number is considerably higher. Whatever be the actual number, the basic needs and safety of the Tamil civilians in the Mullaithivu war zone must be paramount concern. Rajapaksa, who instructed the armed forces to follow a “Zero Civilian Casulty Policy”, has pledged that his Government would accept responsibility to ensure civilian “safety and freedom” now and in the future. The military victories need to be consolidated, more or less simultaneously, by addressing the legitimate grievances of the Tamils and generating a concensus for an enduring political solution to the ethnic conflict.
Pressure on LTTE
The success in the military operations against the LTTE has certainly emboldened the Sri Lankan Government to keep up the pressure on the LTTE. It should, however, not overlook the importance of a political settlement with the Tamil community. Not all Tamils are terrorists. Redressing their grievances will help Sri Lanka deal with the LTTE better and find a lasting solution of the Tamil question. But Sri Lanka should also use the opportunity to engage with longstanding Tamil grievances.
The earlier Sri Lanka finds it the better it will be for the country, which needs unity as well as peace. After all, it has remained badly caught in continued violence and disruption for the last more than 25 years.

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