Presidential Address at the Thoppigala Victory Celebration
Given below is the text of the address of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the official celebration called Naegenahira Navodaya (Dawn of The East). This title, together with President's talk of bringing "liberation to the people of the East" is a misnomer. Much of the Eastern Province have never been held by the LTTE and the area occupied by them, even in their heyday, was relatively small. While they may have been cleared out of these enclaves, with Thoppigala being described as the last of them, they will continue to be present not only in the East but even in Colombo until they are completely removed from their heartland in the Vanni. In fact the day after the liberation of Thoppigala a leading Government official in Trincomalee was assassinated. The position of the other Tamil terrorist group (the TVMP) has been strengthened and these terrorists have been doing very much the same thing that the LTTE has been doing in the Vanni. Certainly security to the people of the East is far from realized despite the celebration in far away Colombo. The East cannot be liberated until the whole of Sri Lanka is liberated.
The President's address reminds one of another famous claim of victory. This is the address given by President George Bush aboard a US aircraft carrier shortly after the invasion of Iraq announcing victory in Iraq. This claim now sounds hollow with the US bogged down in a war without sight of end and the number of US dead climbing steadily towards 5000. One would have thought that the premature claim of Bush may warn others not to make similar claims before the fighting is really over. But this does not appear to be the case in Sri Lanka.
The capture of Thoppigala is no doubt a credit to the armed forces though on a much lesser level than the recovery of the East in 1992 and the re-taking of the Jaffna peninsula during the regime of Chandrika Kumaratunga . Nonetheless it is indeed a credit to the armed forces who accomplished it. What is questionable is the attempt to convert it into a political tamasha. This accounts for the superlatives in the President's address at a time when the major part of the military campaign against the LTTE is still to be fought.
While we do not want to belittle in any way the credit that has to be given to the soldiers who actually accomplished the task of liberating Thoppigala we feel that some claims in the speech which seem to be of a political nature, and which appear somewhat ironical and questionable should be highlighted. After all this tamasha is a political exercise not a military action aimed at the terrorists. There have been claims that better use could have been made of the spent on this tamasha. It is in this spirit that the following comments are made on certain aspects of the speech. We shall follow the order in which these matters are raised in the speech, even though they do not seem to appear in a particularly logical order.
Most Ven. Members of the Maha Sangha,
Honoured Members of the Clergy,
Hon. Prime Minister, Hon. Speaker, Ministers and Members of Parliament
The Hon. Chief Justice and Members of the Judiciary,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Service Commanders and the Inspector General of Police,
Honoured Members of the Ranaviru (War Hero) Families,
Mothers, Fathers, Friends,
My Dear Children.
I am greatly honoured at being given the opportunity of meeting with you on this proud occasion. I accept this honour with all humility, expressing the gratitude of the Sri Lankan State to the great heroes of war who have brought hope and glory to the entire country.
The glorious chapter that begins with the communication presented to me as the custodian of the State by the Service Commanders will be etched in gold in the annals of our history. Never before have we had the opportunity to make the proud and satisfying declaration as it is announced today that the demonic forces of terror who for several decades had robbed the freedom of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people, who lived in the fertile lands of the East of our motherland, have been completely driven away.
This blessed land will forever cherish, protect and value the fruits of the brave and courageous operation conducted by the Sri Lankan Security Forces to bring liberation to the people of the East, who for more than two decades were held hostage by the forces of vicious and violent terrorism. For many centuries the memory of this feat will inspire generations to come.
That this operation against terrorism was concluded with minimum harm to the people and least harm to the Security Forces stands out as an example of such action to all armies of the world that battle terrorism.
I observed some criticism of this victory. It said this was the majority race trampling on the minority race. Majority - minority? I do not like this interpretation. We are the Sri Lankan Nation. It is the Tamil and Muslim people and the clergy in the East that paved the way for the National Flag to be hoisted at Thoppigala.
I do not wish to describe the defeat inflicted on the LTTE as a purely military victory. There is in this victory something more, which is of larger national and international significance.
There is no country other than Sri Lanka, where the criminal act of conceding a legal area of control to terrorists has been implemented through an agreement. It is the debunking of the myth of such an area of control, and the shattering into smithereens of the crowning terrorist fantasy of Eelam, that our brave soldiers who captured Thoppigala have announced loud and clear to the entire world.
That is not all. The East was considered the least developed region of our country. By being subject to the forces of terror, the fertile lands of the East and its enterprising people were handicapped both economically and socially. They were disadvantaged politically and culturally, too. Our children who covered their heads with hijab or placed a "pottu" on their forehead as well as Sinhala children were deprived of their right to education.
Can you imagine your children of 12 or 14 years carrying weapons of war? Certainly you cannot? Yet, the reality in the North and East is that. What these children received in place of their books and crayons were the guns, ammunition, bombs and the cyanide capsules of the LTTE. Now, let us all join hands to build the future world of these children.
I believe with optimism that our international friends would help us in this task. Friends, please come to the East. Similarly, I wish to ask the international community and even some of our own politicians, not to obstruct this New Dawn of the East by raising false slogans, and not engage in globe-trotting to betray the Sri Lankan State.
If there are shortcomings, let us get together and criticize them. It is alright slighting Mahinda Rajapaksa. But do not betray the country. The safeguarding of human rights is our primary responsibility. It is no secret that throughout my life I have stood consistently for human rights. However, one must understand clearly the difference between human rights and terrorist activities. Do not confuse the two.
We also see an attempt to bury the victories of our troops by insulting them or leveling serious charges against them. Today, we see attempts by some who try to hide their own "stripes" by insulting the Maha Sangha.
Is Thoppigala a forest? Or is it a sanctuary? How many tanks did it have? How many houses? How many trees were there to an acre? Such questions are only important to cartographers. Please do not look at this victory with envy or jealousy. This is neither a victory of the State nor my personal victory. This is not a personal victory of the Defence Secretary or the Service Commanders. Some who think so are engaged in insane prattle.
This is a people's victory. I invite the Leader of the Opposition not to be an outsider but to be a stakeholder in this victory. No matter that I am insulted or members of my family are insulted. We will bear it with patience. But do not insult our Security Forces. Do not belittle or underestimate our Security Forces. It is with the sacrifice of life and limb that they have won these victories for our motherland.
The day we leave politics, our conscience will ask us what we have given to our children. Is it a colony or a heavily fractured country? No, friends, we will gift our children with a land they will be proud to live in. Let us bequeath to them a land where Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims can live together and smile as the children of one mother.
What we seek to achieve through the All Party Representative Committee is to bring together the diverse views of political parties to find a political solution to the North East crisis. Please do not delay this any further. I publicly call upon all political parties to kindly present their proposals with speed. Please come together to reach a final solution.
We should formulate a suitable framework to bring the Tamil-speaking people more into the process of political power. We should be sensitive and responsive to the genuine grievances of the people in the North and East. We should not be prejudiced against anyone in our society by the fact of their being Tamil or Muslim.
Similarly, the LTTE should even now accept the reality that it is not possible to bring liberation to the Tamil people through guns, bombs and cyanide capsules. What they destroy is the future of Tamil children. What they demolish is their own culture. However dreadful, I will not be subdued or frightened by the violent growls of the LTTE. I will not be shaken by their threats of assassination. I am bound by conscience to fulfill my duties and obligations by the country.
Now, did the people in the Eastern Province enjoy their basic right to vote? The civic rights of these innocent people were usurped for 15 years. We are returning these usurped rights to the people. We will conduct the Provincial and Local Government Elections in the East by the end of this year. By this time we will give the people of the East their sovereign right to elect their representatives to the Provincial Council and Local Government bodies. Those who engaged in election malpractices throughout history will shout this time too, as if frightened by a nightmare.
Not only the right to vote, we are confident that the day is not far when the Eastern Province would prosper with more electricity, highways, buses, hospitals and new industries. Economic freedom is as important as freeing territory. We expect to launch an all out development war giving priority to agriculture. I expect this economic war to bring back economic prosperity denied to the country.
I have no desire to enter history as a popular politician. It is sufficient for me to be remembered in history as a trustee and protector of this country, its people, all its fauna and flora. I wish that history would remember me as a Sri Lankan who was in politics, not for elections but to serve the country. That will be the highest honour; the greatest satisfaction.
In conclusion, My Dear Friends, I wish to identify the Thoppigala victory as the symbol of the aspirations and determination of the people who truly love our motherland. It is with the warmest of friendship that I recognize and appreciate the strength and courage given in this task by the working people, in silence, and amidst great difficulties.Brothers and Sisters, this is the victory of your patience. The vast majority of the media in our country discharged their responsibility as a vanguard in this battle. Friends, the Government is with you at heart. Whatever problems they have, what our innocent people sought was an undivided country; an honourable peace. Citizens, this is your victory. Similarly, the friendly political parties that unconditionally stand to protect the Government now become stakeholders in this victory.
My Dear Friends who speak the Tamil language, I know that you value peace more than a war waged even on the most reasonable grounds. I know you value peace more than an abundant meal. Therefore, I express my deepest regrets for that tearful history which was thrust upon you. Therefore again, it is with deep emotion that I have accepted the great responsibility for your future and that of your children.
As much as the New Dawn in the East lights up the lives of the innocent people of the East, I am convinced this light would cause the historic brotherhood among the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to sprout fresh shoots and thrive. Hence, make use of this victorious moment as one that changes the recent history of Sri Lanka. I call upon you with deep emotion and responsibility to resolve to live together in unity and fraternity among all races and religions.
May the Triple Gem bless you!
May all deities protect you!