Signs of war slowly being erased, but not the scars – Al Jazeerah

Al Jazeerah has published an indepth article about the signs of war in Sri Lanka. Here are some excerpts


JAFFNA, Sri Lanka — Along the major roads of northern Sri Lanka, the signs of 26 years of war between the mostly Hindu Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese Buddhist-dominated government are slowly being erased.

Once-bombed-out roads have been resurfaced, and workers are laying down tracks for a train line that was rendered dormant for decades by war. Mine clearers move through the tall grass lining roads, searching for unexploded ordnance. The beaming face of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is plastered everywhere, and banners hanging from destroyed buildings promise, “Never again.”

The plaques at victory monuments erected by the military here and frequent government statements declare that these are signs of reconciliation and progress, but many would disagree.

“Their vision for controlling the north really, sadly, seems to me, is not reconciliation, but it’s occupation,” said Fred Carver, director of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

Five years after the end of the civil war, berms, razor wire, bunkers and newly installed Buddhist shrines mark the ubiquitous army bases in towns large and small throughout the Tamil-majority north.

The soldiers are uniformly Sinhalese, and most do not speak any Tamil. In private, they are often referred to as an occupation force.

From 1983 to 2009, the Sri Lankan government was locked in a civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly referred to as the Tamil Tigers or the LTTE. The Tigers were fighting to establish a separate state for the country’s Tamil minority, a group that makes up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million citizens.
Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka, atrocities, civil war, United Nations
Tamil Tiger rebels armed with AK-47s patrol the eastern town of Batticaloa in 1989. Dexter Cruez/AP

On this Indian Ocean island, the Tamil ethnic group has long been discriminated against, both through government policies and through informal means.

The Tigers’ tactics were ruthless and effective. Over the years, they launched punishing attacks against the Sri Lankan government from land, sea and even air. At their height, they captured a third of the island and administered their territory as if it were a sovereign state. But the group also showed little reluctance to attack civilian targets, placing bombs in buses, markets and train stations. Assassination campaigns claimed the lives of dozens of politicians. The militants also assassinated Tamil rivals and at times forcibly conscripted children and adults to join their fight.

At the end of a war characterized by its chronic stalemates, the Tigers’ end came unexpectedly quickly. In early 2009, the Sri Lankan government launched an offensive that swiftly wrested control of Kilinochchi, the Tigers’ capital. Within months, the Tigers were confined, along with tens of thousands of civilians, to a tiny spit of land on the Bay of Bengal. A final government push ended the war in May 2009.

The offensive was militarily stunning, but the collateral damage was high: In the final stage of the war, the United Nations has said, up to 40,000 civilians were killed.

This month, the United States sponsored a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes and human rights violations carried out by the Sri Lankan government at the end of the war. It has been accused of shelling civilians in areas that it marked as safe no-fire zones and of summarily executing surrendered fighters.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.