Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

The End of Sri Lanka's Cataclysmic Civil War

For 26 years, a war between Sri Lankan authorities and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ravaged the island nation, killing more than 70,000 people as the ruling ethnic Sinhalese majority fought the separatist Tamils. In May the fighting came to an end, as Sri Lanka's army trapped a cohort of LTTE stalwarts in a 2 sq. mi. sliver of territory in the nation's northeast and killed Velupillai Prabhakaran, the group's elusive chief. Though the end of the ghastly conflict was cause for celebration, beleaguered Sri Lankans were left to languish in the aftermath of a war in which neither side could claim the moral high ground. To crush the rebels, the Sri Lankan government suppressed dissent, curtailed human rights and green-lighted a final onslaught that killed 7,000 civilians, according to the U.N. For their part, the Tigers — who were considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and U.N. and who at one point controlled a quarter of the country and installed their own system of roads, taxes and courts — pioneered suicide bombing as an insurgent tactic and used civilians as human shields. More than 250,000 Tamil civilians were detained after the fighting petered out; in December, the government moved to accelerate their release.