Lest We Forget | Daily News

Lest We Forget

In the midst of the hullabaloo surrounding the violence in the aftermath of the Galle Face incidents, an event that is of monumental significance and historical importance went unnoticed and unmarked which is an indication of the short memories we Sri Lankans are notorious for.

We are referring to the 13th anniversary of the war victory or the Humanitarian Operation which fell on Wednesday (18). Barring a few references on television, no newspaper even mentioned this landmark event, which goes to show the extent to which things have escaped the collective memory of all in this country and the extent to which other events have overtaken this signal achievement of our Security Forces in defeating the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world at the time.

Thirteen years ago, people were dancing on the streets celebrating the defeat of the LTTE and the party went on for several days. Vehicles were stopped and kiri bath was served to the inmates while firecrackers pierced the air in towns and villages with the National Flag fluttering in almost all homes.

A holiday was declared and a special Parliamentary session was summoned to mark the event presided by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa where he extended his hand of friendship to the Tamil community to join him for a new beginning. “From today onwards there will be no more majority or minority, but only one Sri Lankan community,” he declared in Parliament. He also promised a home-grown solution to resolve the National Question and development encompassing the whole country with equal treatment to all.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa gets the credit for eradicating the scourge of terrorism from this country and protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Even upon his defeat at the Presidential Polls in 2015, newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during his swearing in acknowledged this reality.

The then President stood by his convictions that the LTTE could be defeated and did not give in to foreign pressure to halt the military operation that began in earnest after the terrorists blocked the Mavil Aru tank to deny water to the farmers. The President was fortunate that he had as his Defence Secretary his brother, incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a hardened war veteran who oversaw the military operation with dedication and single minded purpose ably backed by then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka (now Field Marshal), other Service Commanders, the Police Chief and the CDS Chief.

With the war victory, the public breathed a huge sigh of relief. The large-scale carnage wrought by the terrorists in the Capital City and other major towns came to an end. Earlier, the people lived on tenterhooks, not knowing when or where a bomb would go off. Trains, buses, shopping malls, bus terminals, railway stations and even the country's main airport were targeted by the terrorists who used suicide bombers to cause mayhem.

One of the darkest episodes of the terrorist war was the attack carried by the LTTE on the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura where hundreds of devotees including Bhikkunis were gunned down and the attack on the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy in the latter years of the war.

The gruesome massacre of a bus load of Samaneras (student monks) in Aranthalawa was also among the dastardly crimes committed by LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. So were the attacks on the Kattankudy and Palliyagodella mosques and the machine gunning of a load of passengers on a lonely road in Kituluotuwa, close to Trincomalee. The bombing of the country’ Central Bank killed over 100 innocent civilians and injured scores of others.

That was a time when parents were on pins until the return of their children from school not knowing what fate awaited them on the streets and wives waited holding their breath until their husbands got home from their workplaces. Life was so uncertain that members of families avoided travelling together in buses, fearing the worst and in which event to ensure somebody in the family was left behind. All their ordeals were brought to an end on that historic day 13 years ago giving them a new lease of life and freedom to move about without fear or trepidation.

From then on to this day any citizen can now travel from Devundara to Point Pedro, the furthest points from the South to the North and engage in any trade or business across the divide. The landscape of the North also witnessed a dramatic change with the debris of the war giving way to spanking new roads and buildings coming up in double quick time under the Uthuru Wasanthaya (Northern Spring) programme.

It is time that all Sri Lankans wherever they may be at present to pause a while to ponder on the possibility of what fate might have awaited this country had victory in the war eluded us, both as a nation and a people. We should indeed be grateful to all those heroes who made the Supreme Sacrifice to ensure a better tomorrow for all Sri Lankans. Their sacrifice will not be in vain if we achieve lasting peace and reconciliation in this resplendent isle.

 


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