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Going, going, gone


Kilinochchi was going, going and finally it is gone. The LTTE tried to take the gloss off the military victory minutes after President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally made the announcement that the de facto capital of the rebel-held Vanni had fallen by making a high profile suicide attack on the Sri Lanka Air Force headquarters killing two airmen and a civilian and wounding over 30 people. But that didn’t quite make the waves that the cornered Tiger, ejected from its lair, had hoped it would. According to Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, the army commander, the LTTE is now boxed into a triangular space smaller than Thoppigala in the northeast. Troops are within five kilometers of Mullaitivu and two kilometers of Elephant Pass. Wisely, Fonseka did not commit himself to a timeframe for ending the war although he did say that it would be less than a year.

As the commander himself has said before, while the LTTE’s conventional military capability can be ended in the short term, it will continue to retain its terrorist capability for maybe years to come. Still not short of suicide bombers, the Tigers were able to demonstrate that capability minutes after Rajapaksa and the army commander, in the presence of the cabinet and the other service chiefs, completed their televised address to the nation of Friday. The LTTE struck the entrance to SLAF headquarters in a high security zone in a tightly garrisoned city, demonstrating an ability that the whole country must be constantly aware of. Euphoria that Kilinochchi has been taken and that Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass will follow sooner than later must not lull anybody into any kind of complacency. This is why the president called for ``commitment and patience’’ for a little while longer until the final act of a long drawn terrorist trauma is finally played out.

Friend and foe must concede to the president that ever since Mavil Aru, for the first time in over three decades of war, everything the Lankan State possessed was thrown into finishing for all time the terrorist menace called the LTTE. There was no hold back whatever, no going for peace talks, negotiations or what have you to give the Tigers time to re-arm and re-group; no succumbing to international pressure, be it from the West, from India, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. If Rajapaksa is to be faulted, it is for the failure of both himself and his government of laying on the table a just and fair package for the Tamils of this country. They, we must all remember, are equal citizens of Sri Lanka with the rights and privileges that citizenship confers on all our people. Admittedly, the president has to play a numbers game to ensure his parliamentary majority and some within his fold have an extremist mindset. That certainly inhibited to some extent what he might have otherwise done. The war, of course, had to be unrelentingly fought in the meantime. Gains made at the cost of the lives and limbs of as many as 16,000 servicemen, going by General Fonseka’s figure on Friday, cannot be compromised for whatever reason.

The military, like the majority of the people of this country, are gung ho about the prospect of an early end of the war. But nobody can be happy about the retreating Tigers, reportedly moving at gunpoint civilians in areas they have controlled for over a decade, backwards with them. The human shield has always been an integral part of the LTTE’s war strategy and this is going to be a continuing tactic. In these circumstances there must be a clear understanding among all of us living in relative safety in government controlled areas of the country that our brothers and sisters forced to live in the theatre of war have paid a horrific price and will continue to pay it until the terrorist yoke is finally broken. Those who paid Rs. 12,000 a ticket and drank Black Label Scotch seeing the New Year in last week must also be willing to help pick up the tab to pay not only for the war that enables such lifestyles but also suffer even a small fraction of the hardship that the vast majority of Lankans are compelled to bear in these hard times that will become harder as we begin to feel the full impact of the global economic meltdown. We have no doubt that if our politicians who squander the taxpayer’s money on themselves restrain their profligacy, that the people will be more willing to suffer some hardship. There must also be even a semblance of good governance which we have for too long lacked in this country as demonstrated by Mihinair among other extravagant excesses and most recently by the Golden Key debacle which is a classic example of a regulatory failure. Public hackles, naturally, continue to rise because of cavalier appointments to the country’s overseas missions accommodating least suitable friends, relatives and fellow-travelers at tremendous cost to the public purse. The Citizens Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) soldiers on focusing on these matters but making little impression where it matters.

The very fact that the government, despite its earlier professions of inability, has now reduced fuel prices lower than it did in the first instance, halved the scandalous Rs. 100,000 monthly rent allowance to ministers living in their own homes in and around Colombo and made a few other concessions to public opinion in the face of the upcoming provincial council elections is in fact an admission of original wrongdoing. With several fundamental rights actions coming up before the Supreme Court there are reports of a scramble to pack off as many `instant’ diplomats as possible to their taxpayer paid holidays overseas before the SC, possibly, applies the brakes.

Given that nearly half of those elected on the UNP ticket are in the service of the government, some of them undoubtedly among the more able of the ministers, the time may be right for the president to forge the national unity he often talks about with a truly national government. There have been failures, some of them colossal, in economic management which many impartial people believe was better handled by the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration. The Rajapaksa government, whatever its other weaknesses, has done the country proud in its prosecution of the war. Its successful conclusion must be coupled with good economic management in the face of upcoming challenges. Enlisting the best and the brightest the country can offer for this effort is something that should be seriously considered. This is preferable to more bruising premature elections out of the greed for the winner to take all. It must not be forgotten that a general election will offer the hopefully mortally wounded Tiger space for a final spring.

~ The Island ~


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