All around were the heavy guns, armour and weaponry purchased by years of military expansionism in Sri Lanka. Helicopters and bombers flew forays over targets so tightly packed that it was impossible to miss. Pictures put out by the Untied Nations at one point showed a landscape pockmarked like the moon.
Then, Tamil Nadu voted on the last day of India's five week election. The green signal came as polls closed in Chennai. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's men unleashed a hellish firestorm into the last scrap of Sri Lankan land beyond government control.
In previous days, the world's conscience had been pricked time and again by the ordeal facing Tamil civilians in the area. India estimates tens of thousands were killed and injured. Sri Lanka says it kept non-combatant casualties to a minimum and blamed the caged Tigers for using "human shields." Tamil groups around the world begged to differ and poured into the streets demanding international action to stop the carnage, to protect, feed and compensate those affected.
The United Nations, Europe, India and the US all called for ceasefires and access for humanitarian workers, but Sri Lanka had its sights set on closure: an end to 30 years of conflict between the state and one of the world's most effective insurgent groups.
This was a war that began when festering ethnic grievances as old as independent Sri Lanka boiled over in the 1980s. A well organised LTTE with training and support from India took over half of an isle many viewed as Serendip itself, a land so stunningly perfect that it must have been a gift of the gods.
A democracy second to none in South Asia (high voter turnouts, literacy rates above 90 per cent, relative equality between men and women) didn't prevent a sickening downward spiral into violence, hatred and dysfunction.
LTTE cadres infamously fought to the death, either from opponent's bayonets and bullets or the cyanide vials they wore around their necks. Suicide bombing then, strapping oneself with dynamite sticks, bags of ball bearings and clicking a hand-held detonator, wasn't much beyond a last crunch of the teeth into a glass ampoule. Except of course for those you take with you.
Sri Lankan leaders, Tamil moderates, Rajiv Gandhi and countless civilians were murdered by fanatical Tiger cadres. Norway's attempt to broker peace in the early years of this century came to naught, ripped apart by insincerity on all sides and by the fanaticism of some young overseas Tamils and their commitment to a cause they didn't have to die for.
At first, the revitalised Tigers looked strong, capable of standing up to Sri Lanka's army but that illusion was rudely dashed as government forces retook much of rebel-held territory. Crucially, key Tiger commanders were peeling away from their boss: by then more of a millennial cult leader than a military commander.
This past month's steady advance, interrupted only by India's request for less blood during election time, made it a matter of time. First the Tigers had been caged, then picked off one-by-one, till only the alpha male remained.
No one expects that the Tigers will give up so utterly as a terrorist force. Tamil grievances remain acute and President Rajapaksa has to live up to promises that he'll be generous in victory, compassionate, ready to make Sri Lanka's largest minority a full part of his plans for the island's future.
In the meantime he'll inevitably face those suicide bombs, perhaps even a spectacular, diaspora-funded, overseas atrocity or two. Human rights groups will find much fault with what he has done, and rightly so in the case of civilians casualties. There will need to be redressal.
At the end of the day though, history will conclude that he has done the right thing by eliminating Velupillai Prabakaran, a monster whose ego and overseas bank accounts were all that benefited from four decades of war in "
South Asia's most 'developed' nation.