The Trouble with Tigers
Monday, May 18, 20096 Comments
A protestor holds a flag bearing the emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at a rally in Queen's Park (Photo by Greg Be
The Sri Lankan army, which regained control of much of the Tiger-controlled North since a launching military offensive three months ago, struck another major blow over the weekend, killing the group’s influential leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and several of his top deputies.
"We are happy today to see the end of that ruthless terrorist organization and its heartless leader. We can live in peace after this," Lal Hettige, a businessman celebrating in Colombo's outdoor market, told the Associated Press.
Sadly, that's only half true. I agree the LTTE isn’t a candidate for tearful eulogies. Since its formation in 1975 the Tigers have become synonymous with ruthless tactics of terror and intimidation. Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the LTTE for recruiting child soliders. The Black Tigers wing redefined barbarity when it pioneered the use of suicide bombers against military and civilian targets.
Even in areas under their control, the LTTE behaved like an oppressive dictatorship , conducting forced relocations and ethnic cleansing, refusing to allow elections and assassinating Tamils who spoke out against them. Tamils who fled the fighting have been harassed by LTTE fundraising groups operating in foreign countries, including Canada.
However, I suspect the most difficult battles lie ahead. Now that the Tigers are defeated, the Sri Lankan government will have to confront its own demons if it hopes to turn this military victory in a lasting peace.
At its core, the conflict that left more than 70,000 dead was a battle over ethnic identity and the right of self-determination. The minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the mainly Buddhist Sinhala majority in Sri Lanka, including unequal access to employment, citizenship and education. Following independence from Britain in 1948, the Sri Lankan government was accused of trying to weaken the Tamil’s ethnic identity by settling Sinhalese in Tamil communities and suppressing the Tamil language through legislation.
For the past twenty five years, the warring sides have denied civilians the most basic human rights. While the Tigers placed their goal of a Tamil homeland above the sanctity of human life, the Sri Lankan government stood accused of participating in, or at least failing to prevent, deadly pogroms that indiscriminately targeted Tamil civilians. The most notorious of these is known as Black July , 1983 which marked the start of the civil war and lead to a significant boost in the Tigers’ recruitment. Anti-Tamil mobs, angered by a LTTE ambush of a military convoy, went on a rampage, killing between 400 and 3000 people, destroying thousand of homes and businesses and forcing thousands to flee the country.
The Tigers might have been known for killing prisoners of war, but extra-judicial killings and disappearances of young Tamil men in custody of the police or military, continue unchecked. Both the Tigers and the government have intimidated, imprisoned or killed journalists operating in the country.
To top it all off, the final battle between Sri Lankan forces and the Tigers devolved into a bloodbath that claimed an estimated 7,000 innocent lives. The LTTE used its own people as human shields while pushing for a cease-fire, while evidence mounts that the Sri Lankan army attacked no-fire zones reserved for civilians. Neither group can claim the moral high ground in this conflict
Though the fighting has stopped, this legacy of resentment and suffering will not be erased overnight. The international community has a responsibility to help heal the wounds of war and halt Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife. Countries should push for an investigation of atrocities committed by both sides during the recent conflict and assist Sri Lanka with resettling the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally-displaced persons. If necessary, the UN should employ peacekeeping troops to keep the fractious communities from taking out vendettas each other. Most importantly, the Sri Lankan government should take this opportunity to address the Tamils’ grievances and come up with a political solution to the conflict. That way, the conditions that encouraged the Tigers’ rise to prominence will not be repeated.
The federal Liberals and NDP promised to press the Conservative government to address the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. Now that the war is over, their work really begins.
Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon.ca
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