Eight years on

Today marks 8 years since the official declaration of the end to the 30 year Eelam war, with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attending the main commemorative event opposite the War Heroes’ monument at the parliament grounds. Significantly, the day, while giving pride of place to the war heroes, has also been declared as one commemorating all those who died as a result of the war, removing from the event the vestiges of triumphalism of the earlier years. However, the day, no doubt, would be fittingly dedicated to the members of the armed forces, both living and dead, who valiantly fought to preserve unity and territorial integrity of the country. To them will go the tribute of a grateful nation.

Over 100,000 persons, both combatants and civilians, died in the brutal civil war that not only ravaged the country physically but also destroyed its vital economic resources and infrastructure. As a result, the country's development and progress was pushed back several decades, forcing it to start again from the ashes of war. Had the war continued with the same intensity there is no knowing what the future of the country would have been or if there would have been a country at all left for us Sri Lankans. In that context the credit for presiding over the defeat of terrorism should ungrudgingly go to Mahinda Rajapaksa, a sentiment that was expressed by even Prime Minister Wickremesinghe upon being sworn into office in January 2015.

There is no doubt that MR gave the political leadership that brought the war to successful conclusion, but this is not to detract from the role played by the military leadership which successfully marshaled the forces on the battlefield that eventually annihilated the enemy. In that context the contribution made by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, the wartime commander of the military, cannot be overemphasized, nor that of the other service commanders. This is not to ignore the contribution made by all past service chiefs and men on the battlefield, during the height of the war years, leading to the eventual victory. A standout among them no doubt is the gallant warrior Denzil Kobbekaduwa who paid the supreme price in harness. It was the cumulative contribution of military leaders of his ilk in the early war years that paved the way for the gradual decimation of the LTTE, leaving the rest to add the finishing touches.

There was also the political leadership that made a not inconsiderable contribution towards the final victory, such as the roles played by Ranjan Wijeratne and General Anurudhdha Ratwatte. Many would agree, though, that it was Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's masterstroke of indirectly engineering the defection of Karuna Amman, the LTTE leader of the eastern theatre of war, when he was Premier from 2001- 2004, that made the war victory that much easier for the leaders that followed.

For all that, the golden opportunity for forging lasting peace that presented itself soon after the end to the war was squandered by the Rajapaksa regime which went on a frenzy of triumphalism. The Tamil community were made to feel a conquered race by the utterances of the former President and his cohorts. This rather than uniting the communities led to further estrangement.

Be that as it may, eight years down the road there is still a lot to be done to erase the scars of war. The fallout of the conflict has been as difficult to handle as it was during the war years, with trenchant positions adopted by both sides of the divide. The formulation of a new constitution to address the impasse too is proving difficult with radical elements on both sides putting the spoke in the wheel. The causes that gave rise to the conflict is still very much there and although satisfactory advances have been made in the reconciliation process things appear deadlocked. The appointment of a northern political leader as the Leader of the Opposition too has not brought the desired results. There is no doubt that the Yahapalanaya regime is under pressure to reach a compromise leading towards a durable peace. It has taken several positive steps in this direction such as the setting up of a Missing Persons Commission and other reparation mechanisms. The government is also launched on a gradual demilitarization of the North, with the army vacating from civilians land enabling the original owners to resettle in their habitats. The President himself has undertaken several visits to the North and closely interacted with the people.

The war had taken a heavy toll of lives and resources, but with the dawn of peace, new opportunities have presented themselves to heal the wounds and for co-existence in a spirit of compromise. The leaders of the Tamil political parties should act with circumspection giving a thought to the sentiments of the majority community and desist from making unreasonable demands that would place the government in an awkward position. They should not play into the hands of the extremist elements, in the South. 


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