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South Asia Monitor
It May Well Be the End of Agony in Sri Lanka
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Correspondent
It may well be the end of agony in Sri Lanka

This year may well see the end to the 30-year-old ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. To put it mildly, it has been awfully bloody. Thousands of people have been killed, and political leaders, including India's young and charismatic Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated in the war between majority Sinhala speaking Buddhists and minority Tamil speaking largely Christians. The Tamils, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's Vellupillai Prabhakaran, have been demanding a separate home in the northern and eastern territories of the island nation. But this seems like a dream now, a dream gone sour.@

The fall of Kilinochchi, the Tigers' political and administrative headquarters, to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa Government's forces last week is seen as a decisive turn in the battle. Cynics may say this is not the first time that Kilinochchi has fallen. It did earlier, but was recaptured by the Tigers in 1998.@

However, those who pooh-pooh this latest Government victory must realize that the situation on the ground is quite different today than what it was a decade ago. There has been an almost historic change in Colombo's approach to the strife. The Government troops are right on top and fully geared to take on the rebel onslaughts. For the first time, the army, navy and airforce are working in perfect coordination overcoming hostile terrain (that the Tigers have used to their advantage in their guerrilla tactics), severe monsoon and manmade obstacles. Rajapaksa appears driven by the singular motive of finishing the Tigers in a way that they would surrender unconditionally. The Government's previous attempts were largely focussed on forcing Prabhakaran to the discussion table.@

Foolishly, Prabhakaran threw away all those chances arrogantly believing in his own invincibility and by waging a war that was morally and ethically scandalous. He used very young children as soldiers pushing them to the front to face trained Sri Lankan forces, armed with far more sophisticated weapons. He blackmailed thousands of Tamils into total submission, often using them as shields to face the fire and fury of an army desperate after crippling losses of life.@

In fact, the Tigers will most probably use Tamils as human shields once again when they confront the Government troops as they advance towards Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass and open the A9 highway connecting the south with northern Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Tamils that was taken over by Colombo in 1995. For the Tigers, this was a terrible blow, but the takeover of Kilinochchi is the worst possible hit that Prabhakaran could have faced, for the town was not only a political symbol, but the last bastion before the jungles of Mullaitivu. It is there that Prabhakaran and his men are said to be holed up.@

Though Kilinochchi was the Tigers' pride, being their political, police and judicial headquarters, they could have abandoned it as a tactical move to save their best fighters to defend their last strongholds of Mullaitivu. The fight for this could be the bloodiest as yet with the Tigers shedding every drop to hold on to the very last post.@

However, this victory over Kilinochchi should not be viewed as one by the South over the North, as one by the Sinhalese over the Tamils. Rajapaksa himself has warned his countrymen against this and has promised the minority group equal powers and opportunities.@

But there are indications to the contrary: while Colombo was celebrating its triumph, the Tamils in the north and in the east were told to register themselves with the police – the third time in a year! The Tamils may not get the devolution of power that they were assured of — even to the limited extent that was envisaged in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.@

It must be argued here that no military win can ever be meaningful without a political solution to the problem that in the first place may have provoked an armed struggle. Nobody can deny that the Tamils faced prejudice, inequality and humiliation at the hands of the Sinhalas, whose Buddhist indoctrination surprisingly did not stop them from perpetrating cruelty. In fact, some of the monks who wielded political authority were shockingly inhuman in the way they looked at and tackled the ethnic crisis.@

But at the same time, Prabhakaran's sadistic ways cannot be condoned. He cared little for the means, pushing for the end that he thought was just, sacrificing his best men on the field, cold bloodedly murdering dissenters, forcing very young children to bite the bullet, blackmailing innocent Tamils into total submission and taking pride in being the pioneer, along with the Hamas, of suicide bombing. The cyanide pill that so many of the Tigers took to escape torture and incarceration became almost synonymous with Prabhakaran's warped methods.@

Yet, in the final analyses, Rajapaksa must understand that he has to rise above feelings of malice and vengeance, for he presides over Sri Lanka which is the home of the Sinhalas as much as it is that of the Tamils.@

END



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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