11/17/2008, 00.00
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Country celebrates victory over Tamil Tigers, but forgets dead and displaced

by Melani Manel Perera
The army has regained a strategic position held for 15 years by Tamil rebels, and is continuing its advance in the north of Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa thanks the "heroic soldiers," and calls upon the LTTE to lay down their weapons. No reference to the thousands of dead caused by the war, or to the situation of the population. Catholics affirm: "it is a true victory when there is permanent peace in the country, not simply when territory is conquered."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The government of Sri Lanka has proclaimed a "Jayagrahee Ranaviru Upahara Sathiya," a week of celebration for the recent victories of the army. On the morning of November 15, forces of the SLA occupied Pooneryn, one of the strongholds of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the country. The military operation permitted the army of Colombo to take back control of the strategic position held by the Tigers for 15 years. On November 16, the areas of Kumalamunai and Mankulam returned to the control of the SLA after years of domination by the LTTE.

In giving the news of the occupation of Pooneryn, President Mahinda Rajapaksa congratulated the "heroic soldiers," and immediately called on the leader of the LTTE, Valupillai Prabhakaran, to lay down the group's weapons and sit at the negotiating table. In the statement on Saturday, November 15, Rajapaksa said: "Now, we can open a land route to the Jaffna Peninsula after many years," referring to the so-called second war of Eelam at the beginning of the 1990's.

In various areas of the country, supporters of the president immediately hailed the news with celebrations. With a press conference convened on the morning of the 17th, the government asked schools, offices, and public buildings, but also private citizens, to display the national flag on buildings, homes, and vehicles, and to celebrate the recent success of the military forces.

But many of the Catholics on the island are asking whether this is a victory to celebrate, while there are still thousands of civilians suffering in the north of the country.

Outside of the Sunday Mass at the church of St. Philip Neri in Colombo, AsiaNews gathered the comments of Sinhalese and Tamil faithful: "The real victory is the day we get permanent peace in the country. Not just capturing lands," said one of those present. A Sinhalese man who had recently visited Jaffna commented that "this victory is meaningless if our military is going to keep the said liberated lands for themselves like they are doing in Jaffna."

Many of the Catholics criticize Rajapaksa for failing to mention in his statement the deaths among the civilian population caused by the war. The father of a soldier killed last year during the battle of Toppogala criticizes the president, who has not dedicated "even one word for those who have sacrificed lives for the unwanted war."

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See also
President Rajapaksa launches campaign against use of child soldiers
Church of Colombo collects food and medicine for refugees from north
Religious personnel under Wanni bombings
Rajapaksa triumphs in provincial elections: a vote against the Tamils?
Columbo army creates safe zone for civilians fleeing war


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