The Tamil Tigers have long fought for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, and held a stronghold in the north. Fighting in Sri Lanka has been more deadly than that in Afghanistan.
The United Nations and Red Cross have urged combatants to allow civilians to leave, but there may be from 100,000 to 350,000 civilians in the conflict zone. The government has restricted access for journalists and aid workers.
A Worldfocus contributing blogger at “The East Asia Forum” explains how the conflict originated and what the future holds for Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamil community.
The conflict in Sri Lanka
The ongoing conflict between the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and the Sinhalese-dominated government has kept Sri Lanka in civil war for the last 27 years.
A designated terrorist group, the LTTE are accused of assassinating top political leaders including an Indian Prime Minister, a Sri Lankan President and a Sri Lankan presidential candidate. The LTTE has also assassinated many moderate Tamil leaders, making the conflict more than just ‘ethnic’.
In 2002, when a ceasefire was declared, the LTTE were at their strongest. They ran a de facto state complete with their own taxation system, courts, police and passport control. In addition to commanding ground cadres, the LTTE controlled a naval unit and a small airforce. Further, the Sri Lankan government funded schools and hospitals in LTTE controlled areas.
The political landscape shifted dramatically after the election of President Rajapaksa in November 2005. After the new Government invested large amounts of money in the military, and the LTTE attempted to assassinate both the defence secretary and the army commander, the country was again at war by 2007, even with the peace process still officially in place.
From a military perspective, the gains made by the government security forces have been extraordinary. The LTTE are currently restricted to less than 250 square kilometers of land, after controlling more than 18,000 square kilometers in 2006. In the country’s recent Independence Day celebrations, President Rajapaksa claimed the war would be over within days. Nevertheless, the army commander concedes that the LTTE may revert to guerilla warfare and that pockets of resistance are likely to remain.
Politically speaking, what does these recent developments mean? There is a strong possibility that elections will be called in the near future and if so, the incumbent party is likely to win with a strong mandate. Moreover, the potential end of Asia’s longest war is predicted to trump voter concerns about the economy, accusations of human rights violations by the military, the murder and harassment of journalists and alleged corruption in government institutions.
A major concern will be the plight of the Tamils. If the LTTE are eliminated as a politico-military force, then there is the potential that the government will not adequately address their grievances.
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The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.