LTTE-Lanka battle for Catholic support
The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are now battling to secure the support of the Catholics, who are a large and influential community in the strategically important district of Mannar in North-West Sri Lanka facing the Palk Strait.
For the LTTE, having Mannar under its control is critical because of its strategic location. It is a bridgehead to Tamil Nadu, from where the LTTE may have to get vital supplies in case other resource bases are cut off.
Mannar could also provide the Sri Lankan armed forces an invasion route to Central and Eastern Wanni, which are presently under the control of the LTTE and where the rebel chieftain Velupillai Prabhakaran is based.
For the government, capturing and keeping Mannar is necessary to deny the LTTE vital supplies from South India. And in case Central and Eastern Wanni is to be taken back, a troop movement from Mannar would help forces moving north from Vavuniya.
To achieve these objectives, it is important (for the government as well as the LTTE), to have control over the famous St Mary's Church in Madu and the Bishop of Mannar, the unquestioned leader of the Catholics.
The Madu shrine attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka during the annual festival.
A government military campaign is already on to take Madu from the clutches of the LTTE. And the LTTE is resisting it with all its might.
In the coming week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be visiting the Vatican and meeting Pope Benedict in an apparent bid to secure Catholic support.
And in an apparent bid to counter this, LTTE chief Prabhakaran on Sunday honoured a Mannar Catholic poet, Maruseelan Soosainayagam alias Naavannan, with the highest title of the LTTE, namely, Maamanithar (Great Man).
Interestingly, only last year, Prabhakaran had honoured Naavannan with the title "Naattu Pattraalar" (Lover of the Country) when he died.
The decision to honour him again on the first anniversary of his death, has made political pundits here wonder if the LTTE is trying to woo the Catholics at a time when President Rajapaksa is set to tap the Vatican at the highest level.
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