The Moment

Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP / Getty Images

Sri Lankan Police Special Task Force (STF) commandos march during a passing out parade in Katukurunda, Colombo

Fifteen years ago, Tamil rebels overran a marshy strip along Sri Lanka's northwest coast. Pooneryn became a headache for Colombo: a strategic redoubt, shored up with artillery, that shielded the base of operations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.), one of the world's most dogged insurgent groups. But on Nov. 15, government forces seized Pooneryn, giving Colombo full control over its western seaboard for the first time in over a decade. The government called for a week of celebrations.

Sri Lanka's bitter, 25-year-old civil war — Asia's longest-running conflict —...

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