Sunday, May 17, 2009

Civil War Ending in Sir Lanka?

This would be kind of amazing, if true, since the war has lasted 26 years:
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Tamil Tigers admitted defeat Sunday in their fierce quarter-century war for a separate homeland as government forces raced to clear the last pockets of rebel resistance from the war zone in the north.

Far from the battlefield, thousands of Sri Lankans danced in the streets of Colombo, celebrating the stunning collapse of one of the world's most sophisticated insurgencies. But with rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran still at large, the threat of renewed guerrilla warfare remained.

Several rebel fighters committed suicide when they were surrounded, but it wasn't clear whether Prabhakaran or other leaders were among them.

The Tamil Tigers once controlled a shadow state complete with courts, police and a tax system across a wide swath of the north. By Sunday, troops had surrounded the remaining rebels in a 0.4-square-mile (1-square-kilometer) patch of land and were fighting off suicide bombs and other attacks, the military said....

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority after years of marginalization at the hands of the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that after defeating the rebels, his government will begin talks toward power sharing and political reconciliation between the two communities. But many Tamils are skeptical that the victorious government will be willing to make real concessions.

At their height, the rebels controlled 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers), nearly one-fifth of this Indian Ocean island nation.

They had a conventional army complete with artillery batteries, a large navy and even a nascent air force, funded by an estimated $200 million to $300 million a year they made from smuggling, fraud and appeals to Tamil expatriates. They also carried out hundreds of suicide attacks — including the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi — and were listed as a terror group by the U.S., European Union and India.

One of the reasons it has been so hard to achieve peace in this conflict is that both sides feel like embattled minorities. The Sinhalese are the majority in Sir Lanka, but they are vastly outnumbered by the Tamils of India. Indian Tamils funded the Tamil Tigers and supplied them with a safe refuge in exile. Tamil Tiger supporters were so powerful in India that when the government tried to shut down the flow of arms and money to the rebels they assassinated the Prime Minister. I wonder if events in India were somehow behind the change of battlefield fortunes in Sri Lanka. If not, I suppose the rebels must have simply gotten tired and given up.

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