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Sunday, 3 February 2013

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February 4, a landmark for Sri Lanka and Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka celebrates her 65th anniversary of independence tomorrow. It was exactly six-and-a-half decades ago that we gained independence from the British and since then, the nation has faced many challenges.

Almost half of the post-independence era was affected by LTTE terrorism which not only affected the country's economy adversely, but also claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, social, political and religious leaders.

Sri Lanka's independence anniversary also coincides with the birthday of the Sunday Observer, which marks its 85th anniversary tomorrow. The country's English newspaper with the largest circulation was founded 20 years before the country gained independence from British colonial rule on February 4, 1928.

This year's independence day celebrations take on added significance in our nation's history as the country is marching towards new economic horizons.

Most importantly, Trincomalee will be the venue for this year's independence celebrations. There was a time, about a decade ago, when even the Lion flag could not be hoisted in Trincomalee. Since terrorism was eradicated, Trincomalee and the entire Eastern Province have experienced rapid development and the Easterners are now reaping the rich dividends of peace with the province showing a growth rate of around 22 percent.

The 65th independence anniversary will be celebrated on a grand scale under a Government which has given top priority to the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity and the well-being of its people. It was almost four years ago that the country's valiant Security Forces eradicated terrorism, thereby crushing the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.

Thanks to the fearless decisions and political sagacity of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Government, all Sri Lankans could celebrate the 65th independence anniversary in a fitting manner.

When Sri Lanka celebrated its 60th anniversary of independence in 2008, only the East had been liberated. But in a little over 15 months since then, the entire North too was liberated, vanquishing the Tiger leadership due to the military strategies of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Security Forces' supreme sacrifices.

It has been proved in no uncertain terms that as a nation with a proud history, we would not dance the fandango round any extraneous elements. Sri Lanka has a rich culture and heritage that are second to none.

As a nation, we would by no means compromise on matters relating to national security, culture, values or dignity. The right political leadership and the commitment of our brave Security Forces helped create a conducive atmosphere in which one and all could feel proud and stand tall as one nation.

Never before in the recent past have we felt so proud of our nation. The 2009 military success in the battle against terrorism strengthened our resolve. At the same time, we also demonstrated to the world at large that the nation cares for all its citizens, irrespective of ethnic and religious affiliations.

Though various governments in power, from 1977 to 2005, either succumbed to foreign pressure or made a business out of war, President Rajapaksa has no doubt proved himself a true patriot and a true son of our soil. This helped all citizens - Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays to live in peace and harmony.

Since taking office as President on November 18, 2005, President Rajapaksa has always given top priority to national security and has not permitted shady elements to meddle in the country's internal matters. Moreover, the Government never compromised on matters relating to the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. This has been the hallmark of the success and new vision of the Security Forces. This not only boosted the morale of the Security Forces, but also that of the public - to unite in a spirit of camaraderie and peace. The international community had seen for itself the LTTE's ruthless terrorism. Even in the final stages of the battle against terrorism, the LTTE leaders never showed even an iota of interest to hold a peaceful dialogue. On the few occasions they came to the negotiating table, they did so with ulterior motives - to regroup and reinforce its military might.

Regrettably, a few countries and some international organisations are still attempting to speak on the human rights of terrorists killed when confronting the legitimate army of a sovereign state. They also turned a blind eye to the human rights of hapless civilians killed in widespread LTTE bomb explosions targeting the public.

The US-led resolutions at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year and those they hope to bring in this year would only undermine the supreme sacrifices of the Security Forces who did their utmost in the world's largest human rescue operation. It is deplorable that some Western countries had ignored the praiseworthy sacrifices of the Security Forces to liberate over half a million people who had been forcibly held by the Tiger terrorists as a human shield. These civilians, who have now been resettled, received a new lease of life. The mega development projects launched and reconciliation go hand in hand, uniting people in the North and the South with renewed hopes.

As Foreign Secretary Karunatilleke Amunugama has quite rightly pointed out, Sri Lanka has done much more than what was expected from the Government though the resolution at the Human Rights Session last year gave a wrong picture. Hence, we see no reason as to why Sri Lanka cannot convince the international community at the forthcoming UNHRC sessions in Geneva.

The Government allocated more than Rs.1,200 million in the 2013 Budget to implement the LLRC recommendations. In the event Western countries are sincerely interested in the well-being of the people in the North and the East who had suffered untold hardships due to LTTE terror, they must support the Government in further developing the two provinces, rather than trying to intimidate it by pointing an accusing finger on the so-called human rights' violations of terrorists.

Our illustrious leaders had played key roles in Sri Lanka's freedom struggles. They belonged to all communities and made huge sacrifices in liberating our resplendent isle, winning freedom after 443 years of Portuguese, Dutch and British domination.

Apart from the Sinhalese, the Tamil and Muslim leaders too made tangible contributions towards our independence.

The time is now opportune to make it even more meaningful. There was a time when LTTE terrorists enjoyed global sympathy and dominated most parts of the North and the East. This situation changed dramatically and President Rajapaksa played an exemplary role in the nation's battle against terrorism.

Despite direct and indirect moves by many local and international LTTE sympathisers, President Rajapaksa made every endeavour to protect the country's national interests. When President Rajapaksa was first elected to office, it was the wish and prayer of all loyal and patriotic Lankans to see the end of terrorism under his leadership.

In a little over three years, with the Security Forces proving their indomitable courage and will-power, the country achieved this goal successfully. Mother Lanka was liberated prior to the 61st independence celebrations in 2010 and all communities in the North and the East breathed a sigh of relief as they were no more subjected to LTTE misery.

The Sunday Observer, over the years, has gone from strength to strength to be the most sought after English newspaper in Sri Lanka. It has been Sri Lanka's flagship English newspaper, which served many generations. It made a significant contribution to the socio-economic development in the pre-and post-independence eras.

As we get ready to celebrate our 85th anniversary, let's remember with profound gratitude all past editors, journalists, artists and others who had contributed in various ways towards the success of Sri Lanka's No. 1 English newspaper. Their indefatigable efforts made the Sunday Observer the undisputed market leader - be it in circulation, readership, quality or content.

On this historic occasion, we also remember ANCL's founder, the late D.R. Wijewardene, with undying gratitude and appreciate the roles played by him, successive managements, past editors and the employees of Lake House. Our valued readership the world over has contributed to this huge success in no small measure.

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