Glowing tributes were paid to the slain soldiers of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) at a function on Monday where visiting Indian army chief general VK Singh laid a ceremonial wreath at the memorial built to honour them on the outskirts of Colombo.
Singh, on a five-day Sri Lanka visit, was the first Indian army chief to pay his homage at the memorial, constructed by the Sri Lankan navy. The military ceremony became particularly poignant as Singh had served with the IPKF for two years in the late '80s.
Nearly 1200 Indian soldiers lost their lives fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) between 1987 and 1990. By the end of its tenure, the IPKF was reviled in Sri Lanka as an "occupational force" and in their own country, the memory of the soldiers was quietly cast aside.
But with the defeat of the LTTE, the IPKF's reputation seems to be getting a facelift both in Sri Lanka and India. The Indian Navy chief Nirmal Verma visited the memorial in June and on August 15, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha laid a wreath there, a ceremony that will now be held every Independence Day.
In his written homage on Monday, the army chief paid his "gratitude to the Sri Lankan government for the memorial" and remembered the "brave martyrs".
The Sri Lankan army (SLA) too paid its respect to the dead Indian soldiers.
"The supreme sacrifice made by the IPKF in safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Mother Lanka…is ever remembered and honoured by all Sri Lankans," Major General EPD Abeysekera, Adjutant General, said in his speech.
The SLA chief, Jagath Jayasuriya paid floral tributes at the memorial.
The Indian army chief's visit is being seen here as an effort to strengthen existing Indo-Lanka defence ties. Because of political sensitivities India did not supply lethal weapons to the SLA in its fight against the LTTE.
Though the war is now over, India could well be among the first countries, for one, to help the Island nation in strengthening its maritime security.
India is likely to further open up its training facilities for SLA officers as well.