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Behind the Screen: Death of the Tiger

(January 21, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian) ABSTRACT: A reporter at large about Sri Lanka’s brutal victory over its Tamil terrorists. When the end came for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in May, 2009, it was overwhelming and unmerciful. In a three-year offensive of increasing sophistication, the Sri Lankan Army outmaneuvered one of the world’s most ruthless insurgent armies. The battlefield defeat ended a vicious conflict that for twenty-six years had divided Sri Lanka along ethnic lines, as the country’s Tamils, a mostly Hindu minority, fought for the creation of a separate state against the ruling majority of Sinhalese Buddhists. The L.T.T.E. was led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had become one of the most successful guerrilla leaders of modern times. The Tigers were persistent suicide bombers, as well as relentless guerrilla fighters, and the war took at least a hundred thousand lives in Sri Lanka. To the extent that a counter-insurgency campaign can be successful, Sri Lanka is a grisly test case for success in modern warfare. The Tigers’ collapse began in January, 2009, when they lost the town of Kilinochchi, their de-facto capital. By May, their remaining fighters retreated into the jungle near the coastal town of Mullaittivu, taking along more than three hundred thousand Tamil civilians who were trapped with them. The Sri Lankan Army designated a series of “no-fire zones” and told civilians to assemble there. It then shelled those zones repeatedly, while issuing denials that it was doing so and forbidding journalists access to the area. Hemmed in by the sea, a lagoon, and a hundred thousand government soldiers, the Tigers were all but helpless. On May 16th, the Army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, declared victory. Two days later, the Army announced that the Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed. After the carnage, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government adopted a posture of triumphalism at home and resentment of the outrage it caused abroad. The important thing, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London said, was that Sri Lanka had ended terrorism, making it the first country in the modern age to have done so. Describes the history of ethnic tensions and the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Until the very end, Velupillai Prabhakaran believed that the international relief community, the U.N., and Western governments would save the Tigers. “The L.T.T.E. continued to read the world as if it was pre-9/11,” Jayampathy Wickramaratne, an adviser to Sri Lanka’s past two Presidents, explained. President Rajapaksa had described his postwar vision as “one nation, one people,” but many Tamils believed that this was simply the first step toward complete Sinhalese domination. In the months after the war’s end, lawyers in the U.S. Justice Department began exploring the possibility of war-crimes prosecutions of the Minister of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, as well as the former Army commander Sarath Fonseka. President Rajapaksa, meanwhile, has signed a number of economic deals with China. Mentions James Clad and Lasantha Wickrematunge. Many of the Tamils the writer encountered felt that the peace was perilously fragile. It should not be forgotten that the more successful counter-insurgencies, like Sri Lanka’s, are ugly in practice.

Courtesy: The New Yorker

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