After Kilinochchi, is Rajapaksa awaiting Kalinga? (Comment)

April 20th, 2009 - 11:07 am ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Even the pictures could not have fully captured the immense joy President Mahinda Rajapaksa may have felt when he victoriously toured Kilinochchi, the once quaint Sri Lankan town the Tamil Tigers had made the hub of a de facto state they thought no one could vanquish. But dreams do sometimes turn into disasters.

That happened in January when Kilinochchi fell to the Sri Lankan military, as dramatically as the Tigers took control of it a grim and bloody decade earlier. Today, its Tamil Eelam project in tatters, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is bogged down in a small coastal strip of Mullaitivu, armed with only three things to its credit: an adamant refusal to surrender; a mass of civilians delaying Colombo’s overwhelming military assault; and a world worried over a possible carnage if the military and the Tigers do have a final showdown.

It is easy for India and others to demand a further temporary ceasefire to let civilians in the area move to safety. But Sri Lanka is unlikely to accede to the request. It knows that while many in the conflict zone may be living under duress, prevented by the LTTE from leaving, a large mass may not really want to exit.

These are people who may have direct or indirect links with the Tigers, and they might fear the worst if they fall into the hands of the state. That could partly explain how a small LTTE force is able to hold a very large civilian population even in these adverse circumstances. To that extent the LTTE may be on target when it asks if the global community has bothered to find out if civilians still with it really want to leave?

Civilians or no civilians, will the LTTE give up? It won’t. Never.

Tiger representatives may advance seemingly sound reasons why Sri Lanka should now go for a negotiated settlement, but Colombo is unlikely to be impressed. Get into the shoes of Rajapaksa, and it is easy to know why. The state he heads is today eagerly waiting to avenge its humiliation of over two decades. Like a frenzied boxer in the ring, it is determined to deliver what it thinks will be knockout blows to the LTTE. It wants to see its long-standing foe go down on its knees.

That may or may not happen. But as long as Colombo’s rulers have this dream, nothing - no pleading or threat from anyone, India or the US - will prevent them from taking on the LTTE, one last time, whatever the civilian casualties. Civilian deaths would be passed off as collateral damage. Colombo would then plant its Lion flag after pulling down the Tiger flag-as it did in Kilinochchi early this year.

The Kilinochchi Rajapaksa visited is quiet today; there has been no fighting for four months. The president may have seen ruins; he may have even shaken hands with those who narrowly missed death. But there were no dead bodies; no wailing men, women and children; nobody with torn and bleeding limbs; no exploding shells and bombs; no one shivering in bunkers; no one undergoing surgery without any anesthesia; and no one desperate to escape hell, not knowing how to.

Rajapaksa will see all that - and more - if he were to have even a mental overview of the LTTE’s last bastion. A physical visit may not be possible now due to security reasons. The LTTE has always maintained that there is no dividing line between it and the Tamil people. Rajapaksa will have to decide if he shares that opinion or thinks that a suffering population should not be inflicted further torture just because it is living under the Tiger umbrella.

Historical parallels may not be accurate. One hopes that there will not be a Kalinga bloodbath before Rajapaksa halts his military pursuit. The Tamil people have already paid a huge price for a war they never unleashed.

(20.04.2009 - M.R. Narayan Swamy is an expert on Sri Lankan affairs)

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