V- Day reflections

For 65 years Sri Lankans have been commemorating V-Day, when World War II ended with the capture of Berlin by advancing Russian troops and the death of Adolf Hitler. Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) had its moments of anxiety during that war, however distant the actual fighting may have been, but none like the anguish modern-day Sri Lankans felt in a three decade-long separatist insurgency right here at home.

Next week, the country will celebrate the first anniversary of the liquidation of the war machine of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As Defence Secretary, Colonel (retired) Gotabaya Rajapaksa told publishers and editors this week these celebrations are not for a President, the Armed Forces or any community, but to mark the defeat of terrorism, the restoration of peace throughout the country and also, the liberation of the people of the north and east from the clutches of a terrorist organisation.

He also said that the surge of public donations that flooded in during and in the immediate aftermath of the war for the Government's Api Wenuwen Api programme aimed at supporting the ordinary soldier who offered his life and limb in this bloody insurgency has now reduced to a trickle. That itself is an indicator of the longevity of public sentiment and national fervour in general and gratitude to our Ranaviru (brave soldiers) in particular.

A noteworthy comment made at that briefing was that those who spent in millions at the recent elections could be asked to dig deeper into their pockets and make contributions.

In a special article to this newspaper (opposite page) the Defence Secretary echoes what we have been saying for some time now; that the people of the north desire the speedy normalisation of life - repairing of roads, restoration of rail links, electricity, jobs, trade and the wherewithal for agriculture, better facilities for schools and universities - and not this much vaunted 13th Amendment to the Constitution that devolves political power to the north and east.

There is a need to quickly repair the A-9 trunk road that links the northern peninsula with the rest of the island and the broken railway track, and open up more air and sea routes to make access between the north and south easier, faster and safer.
Jaffna, the northern citadel is now a bustling town, at least by day. There is an underlying sense of gratitude that the fighting is over and that the people can live as normal, but, some understandable inner resentment that they were the vanquished and the victors have now swamped them.

There are mumblings that southern traders have set up stalls in the north; little realising that Colombo and other southern towns have a surfeit of northern traders. There is some concern that the house of the LTTE leader was demolished and the 'war cemetery' of its cadres razed to the ground. They feel that such blows to the northern psyche are not the best antidote to minority complexes and simmering communal resentment; but there is equal concern that such places ought not to be shrines for future generations; that all traces of the LTTE and what it stood for should be 'erased from the face of the earth'.

The security establishment seemed irritated that southerners now flocking to sightsee in Jaffna and even pilgrims were keen to see the LTTE leader's house, just like the foreign dignitaries who would journey to Kilinochchi to meet and be photographed with him so that they could show their grandchildren the family album in which Grandpa met a "terrorist leader". It might have been better for the authorities to have turned his house into a museum with photographs and movies of the LTTE atrocities committed under his leadership. It would also be worth opening up the Mullaitivu area and showing the LTTE leader's other houses - the four storey underground bunkers with thick walls and armour- plated doors, lifts, fresh water wells etc., all built to safeguard him while hundreds of others were sent to their deaths.

Fortunately the Security Forces in the north and east have been ordered to go out of their way to be nice and courteous to the people. We have heard about the Forces thrashing villagers in the pre-war years if they lost a football match with the local team and of how soldiers used to get youth to carry their bicycles on their heads and walk home if they did not have a light at night. It was these little seeds that grew into a full blown insurgency.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in its previous avatar as the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and even before that as the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, often wittingly and sometimes unwittingly encouraged the armed militancy of the 1970s only to be swallowed up by the monster they created. Today they complain that the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) is permitted to carry weapons in an ironic twist to the contemporary politics of the north.

While the Forces are turning this new leaf in the newly liberated areas, the fact that certain groups are permitted to carry arms is disconcerting. It may be true that these ex-guerrillas still need their guns for fear of reprisals from any residual elements of the LTTE, but their use of these weapons for their political agendas is unacceptable. Sooner than later, only the Armed Forces should be permitted to bear arms in the north.

And so, V Day will be celebrated as it should; but unfortunately if this was the Shakespearean drama Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark would be missing. Not that General (retired) Sarath Fonseka was really the Prince of Denmark, for we would rather give that title to the Defence Secretary for his single-minded focus in winning the war and co-ordinating a set of quarrelsome commanders, but certainly the once "best commander in the world" to whom the Government donated state land as a reward for helping win the war should be present at the parade rather than languishing in a 'cell' at nearby Naval Headquarters.

The retired General's incarceration is essentially political even though investigations into his conduct as Army Commander should not be dropped. But it is better they be done through the normal legal process than by extraordinary measures that smack of vindictiveness. One might venture to suggest that his alleged complicity in crimes against journalists also be investigated; but a war hero is always a war hero; and honour those to whom honour is due (poojacha poojaneeyanan) is a virtue enunciated by the Great Teacher.

The soil of the north and east, and elsewhere has been soaked by the blood of officers, soldiers and non-combatants in an insurgency that lasted thirty years.They made the supreme sacrifice or were grievously wounded, so that Sri Lanka remained a united, sovereign nation. We must commemorate their memory and the valour of the living soldier on this momentous occasion -- the triumph over evil.

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