Counter-Terrorism: The Next Round In Sri Lanka

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March 6, 2010:  Sri Lanka is waiting for Tamil separatists to resume their war for independence. Many in the Tamil minority want to partition the island, handing the north, and the east coast, over to the Tamils, for a separate nation. A year ago, the Tamil separatists were defeated after a long battle for partition. While the LTTE (the main Tamil separatist organization) has been defeated, the organization still exists among Tamils elsewhere. Many of the two million Tamils in Sri Lanka still support the LTTE, as do many Tamils in southern India (the ancient homeland of the Tamils) and overseas. There are about 77 million Tamil speakers worldwide, most (nearly 80 percent) of them living in southern India (Tamil Nadu). Although a part of India, many Tamils believe that part, or all, of Sri Lanka should come under Tamil control. Of particular value for separatist militants are the 1.2 million Tamils living, and prospering, in the West. Many support partition of Sri Lanka, and this is an idea that will not go away. There are still thousands of Tamils, in Sri Lanka, and everywhere, who are still willing to fight and kill for this goal.

Indian Tamils have their own state in India (Tamil Nadu), and continue to pressure the Indian government to support Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. The expatriate Tamil communities are still a source of cash for the LTTE. Most of these expats are in the United States, United Kingdom, throughout the European Union, Canada and Australia. The defeat of the LTTE, and the capture, or death, of many of the LTTE leaders, has left the terrorist organization demoralized and disorganized. The fund raising operations (mainly among the expatriates in the West) has been battered, but not destroyed. The LTTE remains tagged as an international terrorist organization, something Western nations took their time doing, and which played a role in the final defeat of the LTTE army on Sri Lanka.

Total losses for nearly 30 years of violence were about 80,000 dead, three times as many wounded, and over half a million refugees (meaning four percent of 20 million Sri Lankans were hurt or displaced). Twenty-six years after the LTTE began attacking government forces, the war in Sri Lanka finally ended a year ago. But in the 1990s, the LTTE inflicted several major defeats on the army, including driving out an Indian peacekeeping force. LTTE suicide bombers killed a Sri Lankan prime minister, a former Indian prime minister, and many other senior officials in Sri Lanka. By 2002, the LTTE had taken control of 14,000 square kilometers (22 percent of the island nation of Sri Lanka), and signed a ceasefire with the government. Tamils comprised 13 percent of the 20 million people living on the island, and wanted to establish their own nation in the territory the LTTE controlled in the north and along the east coast. Non-Tamils were driven out of that LTTE territory, and victory appeared in sight.

Negotiations with the government failed because hard line LTTE leaders insisted on partition of the island. The government, and many moderate LTTE leaders were willing to allow greater autonomy, but not a separate state. This led, in 2004, to a split in the LTTE, with the east coast faction making a deal with the government. Troops moved into the east coast to put down the few hard line LTTE fighters that remained there. Continued negotiations with the LTTE proved fruitless, as the hardliners still insisted on partition. The war resumed in 2006, and in 34 months of fighting, the army lost 6,200 dead and over 30,000 wounded in what it called the Eelam War IV campaign. The LTTE lost over 20,000 fighters during this period. By the end of 2008, the LTTE had been forced into a small area on the northeast coast. The LTTE called on its Tamil supporters in southern India and overseas to demonstrate and persuade foreign governments to force Sri Lanka to stop the offensive, declare a ceasefire, and allow the LTTE to rebuild itself. This effort failed.

Determining how many Tamil civilians were killed during the last few months of fighting is complicated by the fact that many of the LTTE fighters were wearing civilian clothes, and the LTTE was deliberately urging, or coercing, Tamil civilians to accompany the troops and serve as human shields. The LTTE believed in "total war", where everyone, including women and children, had to be ready to risk their lives for the cause.

The defeat left many Tamils bitter, and Sri Lankan government is torn between trying to accommodate their Tamils, and preparing for a resumption of violence. Considering how popular partition is with Tamils outside of Sri Lanka, another round of violence seems certain.

 

 

 


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