War and pain

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga´s "war for peace" has gone awry in recent weeks. Stark reality dawned on Colombo only after the 23 April fall of the Elephant Pass army complex on the narrow isthmus of land linking the Jaffna peninsula to the northern mainland. "He who holds Elephant Pass controls Jaffna," has been the conventional military wisdom that the Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is all set to prove, while the government forces are fighting back-to-wall to hold on to Jaffna.

In July 1996, when Mullaitivu, a major facility on the northeastern coast, fell with an estimated 1200 soldiers losing their lives, Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte had nonchalantly explained it away by saying that reverses are inevitable in all wars. Again, when other camps in the war zone, notably Kilinochchi, an important bastion south of Elephant Pass, was taken over in September 1998, there was an inexplicable inability on the part of both the political and military leadership to see that the LTTE was tightening the noose round the military´s jugular. The present Tiger onslaught began in November 1999, when they captured 10 army camps in the northern Wanni mainland in just five days, but the Colombo government, as in the past, was slow on the uptake.

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Himal Southasian