Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sri Lanka: Island in the storm

Since 1983, the island nation of Sri Lanka has been the battleground for a conflict between the government and a separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers. The conflict on the island, which is about the size of West Virginia, included suicide bombers, the assassinations of two heads of state, and tens of thousands of other lives lost. Now, it seems, the government has prevailed.
Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa "declared on television that after more than 25 years, his troops had defeated one of the world’s most enduring guerrilla armies on the battlefield," the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
This is welcome news, given the Tigers' past atrocities. They were one of the pioneers of suicide bombings, their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was accused of masterminding the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and a suicide bomber assassinated then-Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. Still, the Times seemed guarded about future prospects for Sri Lanka, based on the measures Rajapaksa's government took to win the war -- "defied international pressure to stanch civilian casualties, squelched dissent, blocked independent reporting" -- and the challenges that await in peacetime.
"Now, some of Sri Lanka's erstwhile allies, including those that had banned the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization, are calling for an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes," the Times reported.
There are other concerns. It sounds like Sri Lanka got the weapons it needed to win the war by playing off two of its fellow South Asian nations, India and Pakistan, and neither of these nuke-possessing nations needs another reason to feel slighted against each other. The government must find a way to provide for fair treatment of the Tamil minority. And the possibility of war crimes isn't the only human-rights issue the island faces; the CIA notes that "for a second consecutive year, Sri Lanka is on the Tier 2 Watch List for failing to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of human trafficking."
Let us hope that Sri Lanka has not emerged from over 25 years of conflict only to face even greater troubles ahead.

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