Be magnanimous in victory

The much awaited entry of the Security Forces into Kilinochchi on Friday augurs well for the Government's prosecution of the war. Much blood has been shed in wresting this town, which was the political headquarters of the LTTE organisation.
The Defence Establishment was keen that the number of casualties be kept from the public on the grounds that it would demoralise the troops, and little debate was tolerated on the military strategies adopted. They made it clear that nothing would deter them from their single-minded focus on winning the war. And to President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Mahinda Rajapaksa's credit, he was able to sustain the political staying power, and go the full distance in ensuring that the job was completed in the face of multifaceted pressures from external and internal forces.

In many ways, there cannot be any looking back now for the Government that has embarked on this journey to crush the LTTE. Since the new offensive against the LTTE, referred to as Eelam War IV, which clearly shows the start-stop-start-stop history of this insurgency, more than 2,500 troops have lost their lives and some 15,000 have been wounded. That is indeed a heavy price to pay. If so many lives of young men had to be lost, and others mortally wounded in re-taking these areas only for more to be lost again in any botched political efforts to ensure a political solution to the cry for separation; then, this Government cannot permit a situation where these hard fought victories can be squandered once again.

These territories have been soaked with too much blood for too long a time. This is not the first time Kilinochchi has been retaken by the Security Forces. In 1996, the town was captured at great cost to life and limb, and in 1998 over 1,000 troops lost their lives when the garrison at Kilinochchi was over-run.

In a sense, the loss of lives in attack somewhat pales into insignificance when considering the number of lives of young servicemen killed in defence. Take the case of Mullaitivu, when more than 1,200 troops were killed in one solitary incident when the sprawling garrison there was over-run by the LTTE. Also, the 600 policemen killed in Batticaloa while peace negotiations were being conducted by the then Government.

As the forces prepare to march into Elephant Pass - the gateway to the Jaffna peninsula from the mainland, one is reminded of the time when Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne marched into the strategic town with the Lion flag. Then, in 2000 we lost the town. Men were lost on both occasions - in attack and in defence. No Government can afford to sacrifice the lives of young Sri Lankans over and again in winning back 'real estate'.

Outnumbered and outflanked, the LTTE waged a losing battle in the defence of Kilinochchi, throwing in cadres and armaments at its disposal because even if the town had little strategic value to them, it knew its importance in the psyche of its dwindling supporters.

The LTTE was egged on to fight by a section of the Tamil Nadu politicians who use the issue as an election 'gundu' to garner votes, and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, many of whom live in safety and educate their children in the comfort of faraway affluent countries all the while funding lambs to the slaughter. Spare a thought for LTTE young men and women, some of them still children, who were thrown into battle and have lost their lives for a utopia in the minds of a few, whose chances of success on the battlefield were as good as that of a snowball in hell.

For those who argue that there is no military solution to the Sri Lankan separatist insurgency, what of the LTTE stance? Will it ever be prepared to lay down arms and meet the Government halfway in negotiation? The Government, will, of course, be unable to resist the temptation of making political capital out of the military successes. But the victory at Kilinochchi is still only a battle won. The war has yet to be won.

The epicentre of the LTTE's military prowess, emaciated as it may be, is still in the dense jungles of Mullaitivu, where their remaining cadres have slipped into. This is their last bastion from which they will now have to fight their final battle. While the Security Forces - and the Government -- are entitled to the fruits of victory, they know that there are miles to go before they can sleep. The cornered LTTE is capable of desperate monstrosities; the attack at Kompannaveediya while street celebrations were in progress on Friday, is just one example. The President has called for the remaining cadres of the LTTE to surrender. This is an unlikely scenario and not an option, at this stage. The Security Forces, by all accounts, will need to relentlessly pursue their offensive to the logical end.

In war, one side will win and another will lose. Guerrilla campaigns can go on forever, but not conventional wars. The vanquished or those about to be vanquished might do well to swallow their pride and cut their losses considering the human cost. Those who have influence with the LTTE will need to re-assess the situation. And to the victor must come, not the spoils of war, but the magnanimity that is required in the circumstances.

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