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First Head of State ever to visit Kilinochchi

Path breaking leader

While the officers and the soldiers of the armed forces were poised to defeat the LTTE's last battalion hiding behind the civilians to save themselves from inevitable defeat another Sinhala/Hindu New year was dawning. The men at several fronts were tired but hopeful that their humanitarian operations were coming to a conclusion. But their caution and discipline prevented them from making an all out attack on the LTTE positions for fear of killing or wounding the innocent unarmed Tamil civilians who were also waiting to cross over to the government administered areas where the other side of the humanitarian operation, receiving and tending to the battered and starved civilians by the armed forces was organized.

Top secret

Though the New Year had dawned there was another top secret move planned by the Defence Establishment and the Government. Unknown to anyone but the Secretary to the President, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the commanders of the forces President Mahinda Rajapaksa was planning a surprise visit to Kilinochchi the administrative centre of the LTTE that Prabhakaran said could not be captured by the armed forces.

The President inspecting an improvised marine bomb seized from the LTTE.

Brigadier Jagath Alwis head of the President's security division visited Kilinochchi on April 25 to make sure that everything was in order for the visit of the President. Once he had met the area's commanders and checked for himself that things were in order he came back to Colombo.

The task of providing security was entrusted to the 57th division of the army and all officers and men took pains to ensure that all the preventive security tasks were in place but the surprise was still the troops and officers were not given a clue as to who would be visiting Kilinochchi on April 17.

However one by one the helicopters arrived - the first landed early in the morning around 9.00a.m.

The Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Donald Perera, Army Commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Vasantha Karannagoda, Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonethilake and IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne and other senior officials of the defence establishment alighted from the helicopter.

But no one was aware that the President would be coming to Kilinochchi to join the valiant members of the forces who had sacrificed so much to achieve the victory over the so-called invincible terrible terrorist group the LTTE and had converted the human Tigers to paper tigers.

Surprise visit

The next helicopter to land at Kilinochchi brought the President's Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa but it gave no inkling who would be in the next helicopter that was by now in the air towards Kilinochchi. Finally some time later the VIP helicopter also landed and President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in it and was welcomed by Commanding officers of the 57th and 58th Divisions Maj Gen Jagath Dias and Brig Shavendra Silva with other officers.

The President's surprise visit no doubt had enlivened and brought joy to the officers and the men who found their Commander in Chief had not forgotten them during the Sinhala/Hindu New year that was one of the oldest new year celebrations of Asia if not the whole world.

The New year's spirit was to join with children, parents, kinsfolk and family to rejoice the dawn of another year. Our traditions were sacred to a vast majority of our people till in the late 1970s when certain rulers had attempted to commercialise the country and throw tradition to the winds.

However when President Rajapaksa lit the oil lamp to begin the new year celebration with his armed forces he was also creating history and in another sense was repeating history of our ancient rulers who had shared the joyous moments and good food with their subjects and soldiers.

The traditional sweetmeats enjoyed by us during the new year, Kevun, Kokis and such other goodies were shared by the President with the officers and men and he did not forget to talk to most of them, at least a few words.

The surprise the soldiers had for their Chief Commander was that they had used mortar shells as an improvised mould to fry their kokis, demonstrating their creative skill in a place where the traditional cooking could not be done according to ancient tradition.

Short walks

The spirit of the new year was actually felt by the troops and officers who during the past several months had sacrificed so much for the country.

As mentioned earlier by the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa when he met the families of service personnel who had sacrificed their lives in the war the President told the troops how much their sacrifices had helped the country.

He said the people of the country were grateful to them for liberating the country from the ruthless terrorist group so that people, especially the children, could now live free from fear.

The President not only inspected the arms and ammunition captured from the LTTE but also the buildings and infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the terrorist group before they fled Kilinochchi. He also took short walks on the A9 road that was now free of terrorist threat. He looked relaxed and easy when he was taking these walks on the liberated areas of Kilinochchi but the offices and the men were on the alert as the whole area had been converted to a High Security Zone.

Indelible impression

When the President left Kilinochchi he left behind an indelible impression on the members of the armed forces and the men from the most senior area commander to the ranker as this war - Prabhakaran named it Eelam War 5 - going on for 30 years had not seen a single Head of Government visit any town or area liberated by the valiant armed forces.

In visiting the troops he not only created history but added a new dimension to the art of governance - that he was prepared to mingle with the ordinary soldiers - any ordinary citizen of the country - though he proved to be strong in opposing and defeating any person or force that challenged the liberty of the people and the integrity and freedom of the country.

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