The Tigers’ Shadow

Bringing a Close to Sri Lanka’s Long War

Tamil Tigers.

Almost three decades of war between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in May, when the Sri Lankan military waged a final battle with the Tamil Tigers and killed the group's leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

The state emerged victorious, but at a great cost: months of intense fighting in the country's north killed up to 7,000 civilians and injured another 13,000, according to UN estimates. As the conflict drew to a close, about 287,000 Tamils were interned in government-controlled refugee camps.

In Colombo, the country's capital, and in southern parts of the island dominated by the majority Sinhalese ethnic group, the military victory was met with an outpouring of relief and celebration. But many in Sri Lanka's Tamil ethnic minority -- 18 percent of the population -- reacted warily, wondering what would happen after the fall of the last resistance to Sinhalese dominance.


As the war ended, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's president, spoke of engaging the Tamil population and fostering national reconciliation. But today, two months after its victory, the state is still detaining large numbers of Tamil civilians and has done little to further the power-sharing arrangements sought by the country's Tamil and Muslim communities. Unless the Sri Lankan government adopts more humane and inclusive policies toward the country's minorities, it will not be able to turn its military victory into a long-term peace.


Today, most of the Tamils detained by the government remain behind barbed wire in "welfare" camps. Although the overwhelming majority of detainees have no connection to the Tamil Tigers -- and, in fact, took substantial risks to flee to the government side -- the state fears there may be LTTE members among them and is releasing them very slowly and only after extensive screening. Such arbitrary detention not only strips these displaced Tamils of their basic democratic rights as citizens but, once again, provides fertile soil for the growth of resentment and hostility.

The state should move quickly to allow Sri Lanka's war-affected population

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