For a Parliament attuned to hearing more bad news than good, the declaration on Tuesday by President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the country was now free from terrorism, was received with loud applause from both government and opposition legislators.
It was a historical opening of a new session of the House by the President who having prorogued Parliament on Sunday night set the stage for the ceremonial opening where he told MPs and the country that the House opened to a country where the laws enacted by this Legislature would henceforth hold sway throughout the 65, 332 sq. km of territory of Sri Lanka.
|President Rajapaksa, accompanied by Shiranthi Rajapaksa, arriving at the parliament complext to make his victory speech. Pic by M. A. Pushpa Kumara
The VIP and public galleries of the House were packed, with the commanders of the three armed forces, diplomats and family members of military personnel and politicians whose loved ones had fallen victim to terrorist attacks, being among those gathered to witness the unfolding events that morning.
The absence of the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe from among their ranks did not dampen the enthusiasm of many of the UNPers who joined in to celebrate the military defeat of the LTTE. It was the UNP that lost some of its most promising politicians to LTTE terrorist attacks including former President Ranasinghe Premadasa and one time Minister Gamini Dissanayake, both of whose sons are now MPs. The President also received a warm applause from members of the JVP and SLMC. It was only the MPs from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who stayed away.
The President reached out to the Tamil community speaking in Tamil at the beginning of his address saying that the defeat of the LTTE did not mean the defeat of the Tamil people.
“Our aim was to liberate our Tamil people from the clutches of the LTTE. Our heroic forces have sacrificed their lives to protect Tamil civilians. Protecting the Tamil-speaking people of this country is my responsibility,” the President said. He also said the government does not accept a military solution as the final solution and a homegrown one ensuring the rights of the Tamil people would be put forward soon.
While thanking the members of the armed forces and police for their sacrifices and dedication in the fight against terrorism, the President also introduced, amidst loud applause, the parents, wife and children of Lt. Colonel Lalith Jayasinghe of the Long Range Reconnaissance Unit who was killed in the line of duty as well as Lance Corporal Bandara, a trooper who was injured twice in the northern humanitarian operation and returned to active duty, and later lost both his legs at Puthukkudiyiruppu.
He also recalled the names of several political leaders who were assassinated by the LTTE such as President Premadasa and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and ministers such as Lakshman Kadirgamar, Gamini Dissanayake, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and A.H.M Ashraff.
With the elimination of terrorism, the President promised rapid development for the north and called on the business community to invest in these areas.
“As much as we defeated deadly terrorism and freed the innocent people held by terror, we are committed to carry out accelerated development in the areas that were under terrorism, within the next three years,” he said.
The President also appealed to Tamil people who have left the country due to terrorist problems to return and contribute towards the development.