Sri Lanka After the Tigers

Letter from Mannar

A young Tamil boy stands behind a barbed-wire fence in the Menikfam Vanni refugee camp located near the town of Chettekulam in northern Sri Lanka, May 1, 2009. Reuters

The causeway that links northern Sri Lanka’s mainland to Mannar Island is lined with vast military barracks. They have a nicely settled air about them, with painted flowerpots out front and T-shirts drying on clotheslines.

Between the army camps are red-roofed cottages peeping through coconut groves and forests. There are no paved walkways—just dust, mud, and some scraggly vegetable patches. They are part of a housing project that the Indian government funded to rehabilitate those displaced by Sri Lanka’s devastating civil war, which raged between 1983 to 2009 and saw the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) unsuccessfully attempt to forge an independent Tamil nation alongside the Sinhalese majority state.

For many Tamils, the barracks are symbols of the defeat: the mainly Sinhalese military sprawls on land that once belonged to the Tamil community—it had been held by the LTTE for decades—while displaced villagers barely eke out

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