It’s been a long time coming. Wracked by weakness and desertion, the Sri Lankan state has taken decades to get its military act together. Backed to the hilt by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Lankan Army, which finally shed its ceremonial image, has delivered.
In November 2005, Rajapaksa took oath as President. At that time, the Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and the government was on.
Breaching the ceasefire, the LTTE sent in a woman suicide bomber, inside the army headquarters to assassinate army chief, Sarath Fonseka, in 2006. The woman blew herself up but Fonseka survived. He spent months in a Singapore hospital, but returned with a hardened resolve to finish the LTTE.
The first target was LTTE’s eastern stronghold; Tiger commander Karuna Amman’s defection made it easier to push away the LTTE from eastern districts.
Previous attempts to neuter the Tigers had failed. In December 1995, under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Army captured the Jaffna peninsula, only to see the Tigers and their chief, Prabhakaran, shift to the Vanni in the mainland.
It looked as if victory might be at hand, but the LTTE proved to be more than a match for the Lankan Army. They captured the Mullativu garrison in 1996; killing more than 1,200 soldiers in one go.
For India, the policy decision taken in the mid-eighties to train and arm separatist Tamil groups, including the LTTE, proved disastrous. A peace accord signed between India and Sri Lanka in 1987 led to the dispatch of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) at a time when Colombo was battling an insurgency in the southern part of the country led by the hardline Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
Months after the IPKF received a heroes’ welcome in Jaffna, the LTTE began attacking Indian soldiers. The Tigers, who proved to be formidable guerillas, killed as many as 1,200 Indian soldiers.
Flush with victory, the LTTE and Prabhakaran made a grave strategic error. They plotted and executed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Before his murder in May 1991, the devious LTTE sent an emissary, Kasi Anandan to meet Rajiv, who assured the former PM that he had nothing to fear from the Tigers.
Since then, India has largely maintained a hands-off policy towards Lanka, but is known to have covertly supported Colombo’s military efforts against the Tigers.
The demise of the Tigers doesn’t mean an end to Tamil grievances and the battle for their treatment as equal citizens in Sri Lanka. With the LTTE gone, there’s no excuse not to devolve powers to Sri Lanka’s Tamil people.