7 years on: Remembrance ceremonies for soldiers, civilians in the North and South

Thursday, 19 May 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

DHP_2147-copy DHP_2159-copy DHP_2197-copy Untitled-2

Untitled-1By Dharisha Bastians

The Government marked the seventh anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE on the battlefields of the Wanni by shifting the tone of the annual commemoration to one of solemn remembrance, shunning the traditional military parade for a sunset memorial for fallen soldiers in Battaramulla yesterday.

 President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presided over the somber ceremony at Parliament Grounds at 4PM and paid tribute at the foot of the memorial as dusk fell over the monument. Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya also attended the commemoration ceremony.

Families of fallen soldiers also paid their tributes at the monument that was lit up against the darkening skies.

Underscoring the importance of non-recurrence of conflict, President Sirisena issued a strong call for national unity and reconciliation as a way to honour the sacrifice of the fallen.

“Our Government’s policy is to ensure national reconciliation in order to prevent a return to conflict. This is not an easy task. It is a difficult road that is filled with challenges,” the President said in his Remembrance Day message last evening.

“Reconciliation is not a brick and mortar exercise. It is about the reconnecting of hearts and minds,” he added.

The President said that on 18 May 2009, victory had come at a heavy price. “While there was dancing in the streets and waving the Lion flags, there was some sadness also about the lives that had been lost, thousands of soldiers and thousands of civilians,” President Sirisena said.

Fresh from a visit to disaster struck Aranayake, where a massive landslide claimed 14 lives with over a hundred still missing, President Sirisena issued a reminder in his national address that the country was united in mourning the loss and devastation caused by heavy rain and flash floods.  

For six years, the anniversary of the Tigers’ defeat had been celebrated by the Government with military marches and air shows. This year the Government announced it would do away with the military parade in favour of a solemn ceremony to pay tribute to fallen soldiers.

DHP_2191-copyDefence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi said last week that military parades were a barrier to reconciliation efforts because they deeply hurt the feelings of one community.

“Government forces did not fight another country during the war. They fought Sri Lankans. Not only terrorists, thousands of civilians from all ethnic communities had perished and suffered as a result of the war. There is nothing to celebrate, what is necessary is commemoration,” Hettiarachchi reflected at a press briefing recently.

The Tamil National Alliance welcomed the Government’s gesture, saying the move would boost national reconciliation efforts, since all communities had suffered immensely due to the war.

Meanwhile several commemoration events were held in the Northern Province to remember the civilians killed during the last stages of the war. Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran led the morning ceremony in Mullivaikal, the final theatre of battle in 2009 where the UN estimates tens of thousands of civilians perished in the fighting. TNA MPs Mavai Senathirajah, E. Saravanabhavan and Northern Provincial Council members attended the ceremony.

During the ceremony Chief Minister Wigneswaran made a strong case for international judges in a mechanism to address allegations of war crimes.

“Those who conduct the cases at the domestic courts would never ensure that justice would be administered to our afflicted people,” Wigneswaran said.

The Tamil people could not be asked to barter accountability for war crimes for devolution, Wigneswaran charged during the ceremony.

He also expressed appreciation for the Sirisena administration for not cracking down on commemoration in the North like his predecessor.

At the Jaffna University, a commemoration ceremony featuring red and yellow flags and a Sri Lanka map clearly demarcating the ‘Eelam territory’ the LTTE was fighting to win, was more controversial.

Former Presidnet Mahinda Rajapaksa who was scheduled to conduct his own ‘victory day’ celebration in Kurunegala today, said he had decided to postpone the event due to the prevailing situation in the country. The Kurunegala District MP however issued a press release to mark 18 May, charging that the Government was “hunting” war heroes and holding them in custody without bail. Meanwhile, the separatist groups that had propelled the present Government into power were engaged in attempts to divide the country, the former President charged. 




Pix by Shehan Gunasekara and N. Parameshwaran