Sri Lanka: The War Is Sort Of Over

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May 22, 2009: Twenty-six years after the LTTE (the main Tamil separatist organization) began attacking government forces, the war in Sri Lanka is over. 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, and a former Indian prime minister. 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. 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 is believed to have 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, declared 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.

Total losses for nearly 30 years of violence are about 80,000. The UN, and the NGO (non-governmental organization) aid community are calling for war crimes changes to be brought against Sri Lankan leaders. The NGOs claim that the government did not do enough to avoid hitting the Tamil civilians the LTTE were using as human shields. This is a smoke screen, to help protect the UN and other NGOs from charges that they aided the LTTE and helped prolong the war. This is becoming a growing problem, as the NGO workers seek to make their own lives easier by getting cozy with whatever warlord is in control where the NGOs are employed. These relief operations are careers for many of the NGO personnel, and an adventure for the shorter term workers. But the NGO staff don't want to get killed doing good works, so there is a growing trend to make a discreet deal with the devil, in order to get some protection in a war zone.

The Sri Lankan government would like to expel many of the NGOs, but these organizations control much of the foreign aid coming into the country. The NGOs survive by providing reliable (especially compared to corrupt, or nonexistent, governments in disaster areas) distribution of foreign aid and charity. Since World War II, the NGOs have established themselves as a powerful economic and political force, and a career path for thousands of men and women (mostly from the West). But the early idealism has been corrupted, and NGOs often become part of the problem. The LTTE knew how to play the NGOs, and did so expertly to make the NGOs an integral part of the LTTE governmental machine. Now those NGO are trying to escape culpability for that, and accusing the government of war crimes is one part of that plan.

The LTTE is not gone, and the war is not over. The LTTE as a force that controls Sri Lankan territory, and a chunk of the population, is gone. The LTTE are back to where they were in the 1970s and 80s, just a bunch of angry Tamils with some weapons, and a desire to turn part of Sri Lanka into exclusively Tamil territory. 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. This is an idea that will not go away, and there are still thousands of Tamils, in Sri Lanka, and everywhere, who are still willing to fight and kill for this goal.

May 21, 2009: The government is going to try and resettle, within six months,  the 280,000 Tamil refugees of the recent fighting. This will involve identifying everyone, which is already underway, transport people back to their homes, and help rebuild those houses and businesses that  had been damaged. The government has some experience at this, having gone through a lot of this resettlement effort five years ago when the LTTE was defeated along the east coast.

May 20, 2009:  The final battlefield, a one square kilometer area, was found to contain the bodies of about 400 LTTE fighters, lots of weapons, plus documents, computers and much other equipment. Some LTTE fighters did get out, as army patrols up to 20 kilometers away are encountering armed men who appear to have recently escaped from the fallen enclave. The bodies of the wife and two sons of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran were also found near the final enclave, apparently they were shot as they tried to escape army patrols.

May 19, 2009:  The government showed the body of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran's body on television. This was to try and counter the stories, particularly in the Tamil community, that Prabhakaran had escaped the final offensive, to carry on LTTE terrorist operations. Prabhakaran was the main force behind the LTTE in general, and the suicide bomber and assassination tactics in particular. The government says Prabhakaran died early on the 18h, when commandos shot up an ambulance and other vehicles that were trying to leave the battle area, and refused to stop when challenged. Prabhakaran died from the gunfire.

May 18, 2009: Troops have found what they believe to be the body of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the supreme LTTE leader. Pro-government Tamils, who have met Prabhakaran, are being brought in to get a confirmed identification.  Nearly a hundred LTTE members were killed as they tried to escape. The government knows that the LTTE already has "stay behinds" in territory captured over the last three years. In eastern Sri Lanka, a largely Tamil area, there are several armed groups of LTTE operating, still killing and terrorizing people.

May 17, 2009: The LTTE announced that they were beaten, and surrendered. Army troops surrounded a one square kilometer area, which contains burning vehicles and bunkers, along with hundreds of dead bodies, most of them LTTE fighters, but also some civilians. In the last three days, over 70,000 civilians fled the area, escaping involuntary service as human shields for the Tamil rebels. As troops closed in, there were several large explosions, apparently the LTTE blowing up their remaining bunkers and equipment. This included artillery, ammunition and vehicles.

May 16, 2009: The army has captured the entire coast of the remaining LTTE enclave in the northeast. This cuts off the LTTE from any outside assistance, or escape.

 

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