President Rajapaksa visits former LTTE hub Kilinochchi (Third Lead with images)

April 16th, 2009 - 9:28 pm ICT by IANS  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 16 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Thursday became the first national leader to visit the former Tamil Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi in almost half a century, as he addressed troops that had captured the region from the Tamil Tigers in January.

Determined to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the president paid a surprise visit there, interacted with the soldiers and greeted them for their successive victories against the rebels in the battlefield.

“The president visited Kilinochchi and addressed the troops there. He was accompanied by the defence secretary, the service commanders and several officials,” military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS.

The LTTE over the past one decade used Kilinochchi town as its administrative and political capital until the troops captured it after months of fierce fighting.

Troops had captured Kilinochchi, 350 km north of Colombo, at the start of January, marking a decisive turn in the dragging war waged by the LTTE to create an independent Tamil state.

President Rajapaksa, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is the first leader of state to have visited Kilinochchi, after the first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake who had toured the area in early 1950s.

“The president made this goodwill visit during the traditional Sinhala and Hindu New Year period to meet the troops as well as IDPs (internally displaced people) and other civilians,” said the defence ministry.

Flying into the area in a helicopter, he met military commanders and discussed the progress of the ongoing military operations, a state-run television reported.

According to the report, the military commanders told the president that the troops were determined “to free the civilians held hostage by the LTTE in the small strip of land” in the Mullaitivu district.

“The president hailed the achievements by the troops and instructed them to take further steps to free thousands of civilians without causing them any harm”.

He has also visited the former LTTE Peace Secretariat and Political Headquarters in Kilinochchi town, which is some 60 km away from where the fighting is taking place in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district.

The military said that he shared his thoughts with soldiers present at the venue while enjoying the traditional New Year sweetmeats.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa along with his secretary Lalith Weeratunge, defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and military top brass also witnessed “the damage caused by the LTTE to public property such as schools, hospital and water tank before their eviction”.

Kilinochchi once boasted of LTTE-run police, banks and judicial services. It was considered the heart of an independent Tamil Eelam state the Tigers had been fighting to set up over the past quarter century.

The town also played host to meetings between LTTE leaders and diplomats following the Norway-brokered 2002 ceasefire agreement. LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran held his last press conference in Kilinochchi in April 2002.

The military, which claims to have cornered the LTTE into a 14 sq km of coastal strip in Mullaitivu, says it is close to finally vanquishing the once formidable Tamil Tigers.

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