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Is capturing Prabha, war mongering?

It is as if the battle lines have been re-drawn in the final phase of the ‘Eelam War,’ and the theatre of conflict has shifted from the jungles and beaches of Mulaitivu to the corridors of power in Colombo.

This is why British and French Foreign Ministers David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner were here. This is also why United Nations Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, was here. Then, this is also why Japanese special envoy Yasushi Akashi was here. Of course, this is also why Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wanted to be here, but couldn’t quite make it. Indeed, the tarmac at the Katunayake airport is experiencing heavy traffic, the lull in tourism notwithstanding!

Then, apart from all these tourists, we have provocative statements emanating from across the Palk Straits, where the Congress Party is fighting to stay in power, and desperately needs the support of the votes in Tamil Nadu.

Colombo also has to deal with the United States of America, which, having got its own taste of what it is like to be a victim of terrorism, after the 9/11 attacks, now wants Sri Lanka to go softly on the Tigers. Or else, they tell us, they would influence the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to delay a US$ 1.9 billion loan to Sri Lanka.

The gist of what all these interested parties are saying seems to be that, they all desire a ceasefire in the final battle with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), at a time, when the terrorists are confined to a strip of a few kilometres, the area of which is shrinking by the day.

At the beginning of this week, there was, in fact, some confusion, as to whether Colombo had caved into the pressure and blinked. That was because of a government announcement that heavy weaponry and combat aircraft would no longer be used in the conflict.

Many in Colombo interpreted this to be, in effect, a ceasefire by another name. The opposition United National Party (UNP) even called for Parliament to be summoned, saying that, the nation should be told whether the war had come to a halt.

This confusion appears to have been cleared now. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that, the decision not to use heavy weaponry and combat aircraft was only to ensure the safety of civilians in the ‘No Fire Zone’. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reportedly told the British and French Foreign Ministers that, the war would end only when the President wishes it to, and that would be when Velupillai Prabhakaran is apprehended and that, there would be no consideration of a ceasefire before that.

That is as it should be. Comparisons have already been drawn to the Sri Lankan crisis and that of America’s battle with Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Would all these do-good dignitaries who are queuing up for the next flight to Colombo, to try and mediate in the conflict, utter a word, if the United States military was able to confine Osama Bin Laden and the last remaining fighters of Al Qaeda to a few kilometre stretch of land? We all know the answer to that one, don’t we?

But of course, Sri Lanka being a developing nation and not having the might and muscle of the United States, must expect to be treated differently. Even so, that is no reason to barter away our national priorities under pressure from the so-called ‘international community’.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa has rightly pointed out that, those who perished due to acts of terrorism fomented by the LTTE were Sri Lankans; therefore, the democratically elected Government of this country has the right to take the measures it sees fit, to deal with these terrorists.

There is no question that the vast majority of the Sri Lankan public supports this stance. If any evidence to justify that claim was needed, it was provided last Saturday, when the ruling party recorded a rollicking majority in the Western Provincial Council election. Reflecting on that victory, President Rajapaksa said that, the poll results should be an eye opener to the rest of the world.

It is certainly true, that more needs to be done. Every possible precaution should be taken to ensure the safety of civilians trapped within the conflict zone. The humanitarian crisis is of immense proportions, and there is room for improvement on that score. Also, there needs to be a dialogue with the moderate forces of the Tamil community of this country, to try and forge a consensus on how autonomy could be best devolved to the minority communities. There should be a sense of urgency too, in pursuing these tasks.

Nevertheless, these responsibilities - or the collective cacophony of the international community - should not distract the President, his government and the armed forces from achieving their primary objective of the moment: comprehensively defeating the LTTE and, if possible, capturing the man who has held the nation to ransom for the past quarter of a century, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

This should not be construed as war mongering or, as venturing on a witch hunt against the minorities. It is, instead, an opportunity to end decades of suffering and ensure peace for generations to come. It is an opportunity that Sri Lankans could only dream of for many years. To let go of that opportunity, because some international do-gooders have been hoodwinked by the LTTE, would be a crime.

This government and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we are certain, would not want to be remembered in that manner.



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