Independence celebrations overshadowed by conflict

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 03 February 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Events in other parts of Sri Lanka have rendered the golden jubilee of national independence, and its celebration tomorrow in Kotte, the country's administrative capital, almost a non-event.

The armoured vehicles and marching columns of troops, earmarked to adorn the ceremonies tomorrow with military pomp, can hardly be spared by the beleaguered Government, which is in need of much muscle to counter the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who are reported to be digging in at Kilinochchi where they have overrun the SLA camp.

Meanwhile, at least three Tamil political parties have decided not to attend both the official ceremony at Kotte in the morning nor the banquet in the evening, protesting that Tamils in Sri Lanka are not free and are still second class citizens.

Regardless of the community they belong to, to many Sri Lankans living in Colombo, the celebrations have become a nightmare. With security beefed up in the city, many roads leading to Kotte have been cordoned off for security reasons.

This created traffic snarls this morning in downtown Colombo. Numerous checkpoints have also come up.

The police and military forces personnel manning them spare no pains to examine vehicles, personal belongings of passengers and pedestrians, and anything that looks even remotely suspicious. This inevitably led to frayed tempers.

Tamils are worse off at these checkpoints than others because they are liable to be arrested on suspicion and locked up till their credentials are verified.

But over one and all, there is the gnawing fear of a bomb exploding, or some other calamity taking place marring the festivities tomorrow. More frightening is that it could take with it innocent lives too. In view of this, it is expected that the roads will be dead quiet tomorrow with Sri Lankans watching the Independence show on TV.

A public exhibition organised by the Government at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH its premier exhibition hall) was cancelled for security reasons.

A civic reception for Prince Charles, the chief guest at tomorrow's ceremonies, by the Colombo Municipal Council, now controlled by United National Party (which is in opposition in Parliament) was also cancelled What is however remarkable is that the strident criticism levelled against the SLG by the Opposition has begun to abate of late.

The mass media too has, by and large, not been too critical of the Government.

They have preferred to toe the line of lukewarm patriotism, rather than appear stridently anti-Government The scaling down of criticism by opposition parties might be due to the humiliation suffered by the SLA in the hands of the LTTE at Kilinochchi.

This feeling was also fuelled by the strike allegedly by the LTTE last week on the Dalada Maligawa, which is a symbol of great reverence and sanctity to Buddhists.

But it is this underlying Sinhala patriotism, that the minorites find difficult to share. This calls to question whether Tamil and Sinhala opinion on the war, might get increasingly polarised as the political solutions offered seem increasingly inadequate to cope with the military balance of forces.

Meanwhile, eight of the 15 bodies of young persons shot dead in cold blood by the police on Sunday in Puthukudiyiruppu village in Trincomalee were released to the parents today.

"Who is worried what happens to 15 Tamils, when attention is riveted on independence day celebrations. It shows how differently the two communities think," said a Tamil intellectual.


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