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Symbols of war commemorated

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By Wilson Gnanadass in Kilinochchi

(Courtesy: Sunday leader-December 01.2002)

 "Sindhiya raththam podumada, oru eelaththaye kattiyeluppa" (The blood that is shed is sufficient to build a Tamil nation) was one of the phrases from a song that continued to echo in the Kilinochchi area right throughout "Heroes' Day" which fell on November 27.

The songs were all composed by local artistes and they were played through the loudspeakers at every junction. "Nengil eriyum nerupputhan, oru eelaththaye uruwakkum" (The fire that burns in our hearts is the force that creates Eelam) was another phrase from a song.

One of the most important events in the calendar of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is the Maveerar Thinam (Heroes' Day). The sacrificial act of every fighter by laying his/her own life during a confrontation for the sake of Tamil Eelam is recognised and remembered by the living comrades. Such an act of devotion is considered to be the supreme act in the 20 year old Eelam war.

No cadre is ever honoured more than a person who has given his/her  life for the cause of achieving self determination and self rule, and therefore Heroes' Day has become a part of the life of the people of the north and east.

Every dead fighter's photo is displayed in public. The people garland the photos and pay their respects with utmost reverence. "Because of them, we are able to live in peace today," they say.

This year's Maveerar Thinam became even more significant because of the ongoing peace process initiated by the United National Front (UNF) government. Amidst their busy schedule, residents of Kilinochchi however did not fail to laud Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who they say could be a force to reckon with, and usher in a new era of peace in the country.

Towns, villages and even the remotest hamlets in the north and east held by both government forces and the LTTE were all gaily decorated with yellow and red flags and cut-outs depicting the Tamil liberation struggle observing the final day of 'Maaveerar Thinam.

Celebrations in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Vavuniya and Mannar were held in a grand scale - much more than it was expected.

"Martyrs' Resting Home"

For the first time since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, unarmed police personnel had been deployed to maintain law and order in this cosmopolitan town of Kilinochchi. Shops were closed. Only the eating houses and tea kiosks were allowed to carry out business to cater to the large number of people who were thronging the war cemetery from all quarters.

Several hundreds of people including students congregated in the war cemetery, which is called the "Martyrs Resting Home" to pay homage to the graves of their sons, brothers, fathers, sisters and their relatives who were buried there. In other places people also flocked to the special rooms that were made with photographs of 'Maveerar' (Heroes) that were on display.

The entire function was colourful and emotional. It was heartbreaking to see relatives of the dead garlanding the monuments and then stretching themselves on top of the graves and crying, remembering their lost ones. Some even fell prostrate to show their highest respect for the dead fighters.

The event at Kilinochchi was quite a colourful one. The area leaders hoisted the Tiger flags that came into being only in 1990. The Sunday Leader was witness to a small ceremony that took place at the office of Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) in the morning of November 27. Deputy Executive Director, TRO, Iniyawan hoisted the Tiger flag. Then a few minutes of silence was observed as a mark of respect for the fallen heroes. Lighting of the oil lamps in the room where the photos of the dead were on display and garlanding their photographs followed. LTTE's Political Wing Leader and a key negotiator in the ongoing peace talks, S.P. Thamilchelvan, and Pulidevan who happened to arrive there, stood motionless when the Tiger anthem was played.

The environment in Kilinochchi was sombre. An eerie feeling prevailed in the area with people going in large numbers to the war cemeteries at Viswamadu in Mullaitivu and Kanagapuram in Kilinochchi.

The songs played through the loudspeakers were sorrowful - all speaking of the commitment of the fallen heroes. Some mothers, fathers, sons and sisters of the Maveerar were seen clad in white. It was a moment of great sadness but it was also coupled with joy. "I am sad my son is no more, but I am glad he gave his life for this cause," a mother from Wattakachchi who was seen sobbing over her son's grave at Viswamadu, observed.

Most of the children of the dead heroes were clad in camouflage. Relatives from Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa travelled to Kilinochchi to pay their respects to the dead. They told The Sunday Leader that this is the first time that they were able to use their liberty to travel from such far destinations in order to pay their respects. "Previously, we could not do this, due to the war situation," they explained.

Smartly clad

The main event at Kilinochchi took place at Kanagapuram war cemetery under Theepan's leadership. The cemetery was adorned with flowers. Tigers were smartly clad in their ceremonial uniforms. More than 30,000 people thronged the cemetery to participate in the main ceremony. At 5.46 p.m. (LTTE time) LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran delivered his speech - dubbed the "throne speech" by the people. Almost all gathered at the cemetery stood to 'attention' until the entire speech was completed. The speech lasted only 20 minutes, which was followed by lighting of the main torch by Col. Theepan, the northern military commander. This was followed by the relatives lighting the torches attached to each monument.

The LTTE has been celebrating the Maveerar Thinam since November 27, 1989. The day November 27 was specifically chosen by the Tigers as the first ever Tiger Lieutenant to be killed in the Eelam war, Shankar Sathiyanathan was killed on this day in the year 1982. He was killed in action on November 27, in 1982, following a confrontation with the Sri Lanka Army in Velvetithurai (VVT). This day became important in the diary of the LTTE because he was the first ever Tiger to lay down his life for the sake of Tamil Eelam.

From that day onwards the LTTE has been remembering the dead with reverence and honour. The dead are considered as 'seeds' that would grow again to give more fruit to achieve their principal cause. This is why every Maveerar is not cremated but buried - contrary to the Hindu tradition of cremating the dead. They are instead laid to rest in the Martyrs' Homes built for them. "We say that the dead heroes are seeds and are sown to grow again. They are neither buried nor cremated," LTTE cadres explained.

The LTTE has taken untiring efforts to remember all 17,651 including 251 Black Tiger cadres who sacrificed their lives in the Eelam war. In addition they build a home for their souls to rest as well.

The Tigers claim that they have led a few successful military operations against the Sri Lankan armed forces. They pride themselves in capturing a large quantity of arms and ammunition and other equipment necessary to fight a war. The first South African built armoured car was snatched from the Sri Lanka Army by the LTTE in 1990 during a confrontation in Kondachchi, Mannar. The LTTE also captured Mullaitivu army camp in 1996 during the "Unceasing Wave 1" operation while taking over Kilinochchi in 1998 in operation "Unceasing Wave II." The LTTE also annexed some other areas that were under the control of the armed forces in the following year.

The LTTE believes that without the support and the commitment of the Tiger cadres who are not living in this world any more, it would not have been possible to achieve this target.

According to statistics provided by the LTTE, the highest number of male cadres killed in the Eelam war was in 1997 during the "Jayasikurui" operation. Approximately 2106 cadres have been killed, while in the same confrontation some 507 female cadres, which is also the highest, were also killed.

Highest tribute

Paying the highest tribute to the dead is a bounden duty of every army. It is deplorable that the government has not set aside a day to remember the dead soldiers. The soldiers too, it must be mentioned have sacrificed their life to safeguard the sovereignty of the country. According to official figures 14, 101 Sri Lankan soldiers have been killed since 1983. In addition some 2542 soldiers are still missing in action. But so far, successful governments have neither earmarked a day to salute the dead soldiers nor have had plans to do so even in the future, though remembering the soldiers who died in the Second World War.

"First Heroes' Day"

The first Heroes' Day celebration took place in 1989, November 27.

Lt. Shankar Sathiyanathan was the first male hero to have been  killed in action on November 27, 1982.

Second Lt. Malathi was the first female heroine to be killed in action on October 10, 1987. She was killed in Koppai during a confron-tation with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

Captain Angayarkanni was the first female black Tiger to lay down her life.

* * * * * *

The commitment...

THE LTTE hierarchy believes it is fitting to give supreme honour to every soldier either before or after death.

Jegan's story is a clear manifestation of a fighter's honest commitment to the cause the Tigers have been fighting for.

Jegan is a 23 year old Tiger. He has participated in several military operations and one difficult fight he remembers is the Elephant Pass attack, where the LTTE over-run the entire camp killing most of the army personnel.

Jegan says along with him some female cadres were also fighting. While the fighting was on, a female cadre was hit and started bleeding profusely. And another colleague senior to Jegan had requested Jegen to carry the wounded female soldier to the makeshift camp for treatment.

"We were fighting a fierce battle. But I could not resist the orders from my senior colleague. So I placed the wounded cadre on my shoulder and walked up to the room where the wounded were being treated. Until I reached the room, the female soldier was alive. But the moment I laid her on the mat, she breathed her last ," he said while sobbing.

Jegan went on to explain the most painful part of this saga. He said only after placing the combatant on the ground did he realise that the war heroine who departed from this world after valiantly fighting was his own younger sister.

"Then I told the officers there that it was my own sister and I asked them to do the final rites according to the military requirement and went back to fighting as there was a lack of combatants to fight the battle. In fact, this incident further encouraged me to fight until the end. And that is the day we over-ran the entire camp," he told The Sunday Leader.

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The toll so far

Year     M            F            Total

1982     01           -            01

1983     05           -            05

1984     36           -            36

1985     123          -         123

1986     258          -          258

1987     437        14         451

1988     352        11         363

1989     371        01         372

1990     889        72         961

1991     1405      208      1613

1992     713        75         788

1993     801        124        925

1994     363         12        375

1995     1217       288      1505

1996     1092       285       1377

1997     1599        507       2106

1998     1150        648       1798

1999     1052         493      1545

2000     1237        743      1980

2001     489          270        759

M - Males,  F - Females