The cost of celebration

On 19 July, the Sri Lankan government put on a massive celebration for what it termed the "final defeat" of the LTTE in the east of the country, with the 11 July eviction of the Tamil rebels from the jungles of Thoppigala. Observers said that the festivities were the largest victory celebrations ever to have taken place during the course of the three-decade war. In keeping with archaic royal tradition, President Mahinda Rajapakse was presented with a scroll by the heads of the Sri Lankan military, informing him of the victory.

The receipt of scrolls, however, is no guarantee of enduring success, or of an end to war, as Sri Lanka's recent history would testify. In 1995, the man in charge of the Sri Lankan military forces, Colonel Anuruddha Ratwatte (subsequently promoted to general), arranged a similar scroll-receiving ceremony for then-President Chandrika Kumaratunga to announce the "liberation" of Jaffna from the LTTE. Irrespective of the pomp, the war inevitably continued well beyond General Ratwatte's term. Moreover, the official rhetoric of the 'grand military victory' that recaptured Jaffna did not go down well with the island's Tamil populace. A similar charge of insensitivity towards Tamil sensibilities could today be levelled against the Rajapakse government. The east now lies devastated, with a large proportion of its population displaced as a result of the military operations. To Tamils, even those who have no truck with the LTTE, this is no time for celebration.

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Himal Southasian