In an act of tremendous political-military significance, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday ceremonially opened a national war memorial at Pudumattalaan, near the site where LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed.
The memorial is located near the mangroves in Nanthikadal lagoon where Prabhakaran fell to the bullets of the Sri Lankan forces in the third week on May. The “Victory Monument” was unveiled before a galaxy of military officers.
The President was accorded a Guard of Honour by the Commando Regiment. Minutes later, the President hoisted the National flag and the Tri-Service Commanders simultaneously hoisted the flags of their respective services.
Adding colour and dignity to the occasion was the raising of the Wanni Security Forces Headquarters flag, and the flags of all Divisional and Task Force flags, representing all war heroes who contributed to the recently-concluded Eelam War IV known in government parlance as a “humanitarian operation”.
“The blue background to the monument depicts the blue ocean and the flowers around it the Sri Lankan nation. Four Lions at the four corners of the memorial immortalize the contribution of the war heroes who came from all four directions to win the final battle. The soldier who carries a weapon symbolizes valour and gallantry.The National flag on it demonstrates the sovereignty, independence and dignity of the nation,” the army said in a release.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing a 5000 strong gathering of army personnel after opening of the monument paid a glowing tribute to their invaluable contribution. .
SIGNIFICANCE OF PUDUMATTALAAN
Pudumattalaan is situated in the Pudukudiyiruppu region , which saw the heaviest battle in Eelan War IV.
The LTTE had fought its hardest in the Puthukudiyiruppu town and the surrounding areas in April, before Prabhakaran and his band migrated to the so-called No Fire Zone in the far east, but only to perish on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May.
The battles fought in this area were so intense in the use of fire power, that not a single building was left standing. The town and its environs were a rubble, with scores of vehicles charred and overurned, when journalists were taken there.
The President visited the Tamil war refugees in a camp at Chettikulam in Vavuniya district, and also prayed at the 300 year old Catholic church of St. Mary at Madu in Mannar district ,which had previously been in the hands of the LTTE.
THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE TO TAMIL SPEECH
At Chettilulam, the President made a speech before the refugees in Tamil, in which he said that he would arrange to send all of them back to their villages in the former war zone in the Wanni by January 31 next year.
He was cheered lustily by the massive Tamil crowd, very pleased with the fact that he spoke in their mother tongue.
The refugees told reporters accompanying the President that though camp life had its shotcomings and trials, they were thankful to the government for what it did for them and that they were looking forward to going back to their villages.
At Madu church, the Catholic priests blessed President Rajapaksa, the first Head of State to visit the church in the last three decades.On reciept of the news that the President was at the church, crowds thronged it. The people thanked the President for liberating them from terrorism that engulfed their lives for 30 long years.
The inauguration of a Sri Lankan national war memorial, that too in an area dominated by the LTTE for three decades, and which had served as its military nerve centre, has great significance for the Presidential election due on January 26 next.
By his act ,Rajapaksa has scored over his main rival, former Army Chief, Gen.Sarath Fonseka, by visiting the war torn north when Fonseka had said that he would not go and canvass in these areas unless he was provided adequate security.
The President had also spoken to the refugees in the camps in Tamil and told them that they would be free by January 31.His visit to the Catholic chuch in Madu, even though he is a Buddhist, is bound to go down well Catholics ,especially Tamil Catholics, who are a significant minority in Sri Lanka.
Minorities like Tamils and Catholics are set to play a key role in the Presidential election given the fact that Sinhalese-Buddhist majority’s vote might be divided 50:50.