Tigers take to the jungle as Jaffna falls

It took the Sri Lankan army 50 days to slog nine miles through swamps and rice paddies, dodging snipers and mines. The government lost over 450 soldiers, and a third of its air force was destroyed. But in the end, the Sri Lankan forces conquered the rebel citadel of Jaffna.

For the first time in five years, the flag of Sri Lanka, a snarling golden lion, was hoisted over a 400-year old Dutch fort. Until yesterday, Jaffna had been the centre of a mini-state set up in northern Sri Lanka by the Tamil Tiger rebels. The autocratic rebels ran their own schools, judged "traitors" in their courts, raised war taxes and drummed up an army of teenagers. For many Tamil militants, the loss of Jaffna town was a devastating blow to their dreams of Eelam, an independent homeland.

While the flag was unfurled in Jaffna, people elsewhere in Sri Lanka celebrated this turning point in the 12-year ethnic war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil minority by shooting off fireworks in the streets. The government feared that Sinhalese mobs, drunk on cheap arrak and the triumph over the Tigers, might attack Tamil communities in the capital, Colombo, and elsewhere on the island. But this did not happen. Martial music played on Sri Lankan radio for most of the day.

"This is not the end of the war. Very soon, we will totally defeat and annihilate the separatist terrorists," said the deputy defence minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte.

He and his generals had flown to the Jaffna ceremony at considerable risk; Tigers have downed at least four military planes with missiles and anti-aircraft guns, in jungle areas and over water which had supposedly been cleared by the army.

The minister was only partly right. Victory in Jaffna, indeed, does not signal the end to this war which has cost over 38,000 lives: vanquishing the Tigers may prove impossible militarily. Even as Sri Lankans rejoiced over the capture of Jaffna yesterday, a Tiger suicide killer drove a lorry piled with explosives into a police camp at Amparai, hundreds of miles away from the Jaffna battle zone. The police got off lightly, only one man being injured.

Without Jaffna, the Tigers are crippled. Thousands of fighters were wounded in the defence of the town and they have had to be carted to underground hospitals hidden deep in the malarial jungle with no electricity and little medicine. But the rebels still control large swaths of the Jaffna peninsula and operate freely in the jungles of north and east Sri Lanka. Knowing that the military massed over 25,000 troops for the assault on Jaffna, the Tigers recently switched their attacks to more exposed targets in the east. Carpeted in dense jungle, the eastern provinces are ideal for guerrilla war.

The Tigers have another weapon: the Tamil civilians they herded out of Jaffna. Film clips released by the military on the conquest of Jaffna yesterday showed empty, blasted buildings with only a few hundred Tamils, old and sick, huddled in a school. The rest of the city had been forced by the Tigers to clear out. Over 400,000 Tamils are now in jungle refugee camps, and the Tigers refuse to let them return to Jaffna, as if to say to the government: you may have won the city, but you've lost the Tamil people.

Much as the Tamils would like to go back to their homes, farms and schools, now under the government control, few will dare to risk being branded by the Tigers as traitors.

Sri Lanka's President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, is trying to coax the Tigers back into peace negotiations. Generous in victory, she has repeated her offer to give the Tamils greater autonomy in the north and east, with the right to administer their own schools, land and police force.

Her next task is to have this package approved by parliament, which may be tricky, with Sinhalese nationalists opposed to it. And the Tigers' chief, Velupillai Prabakharan, says he will not negotiate "at the barrel of a gun".

Suggested Topics
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Technician (2nd Line / Server Support) - Bedford

£24000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: 2nd line IT Support Techn...


£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified science t...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments