Sri Lankan Civil War Open Thread


by Shariq
9th October, 2008 at 11:09 am    

I was watching Al-Jazeera English this morning and it appears that the Sri Lankan government is stepping up its attacks against the Tamil Tigers in an effort to finally ‘defeat’ them (Reuters story). On the other hand, it seems the Tigers aren’t giving in and also continuing with suicide attacks.

As someone whose main contact with Sri Lanka is through watching their cricket team, my mind still boggles that a seemingly idyllic island is home to such a brutal and long-running war. My impression on the politics is that the Sri Lankan foreign minister’s argument, that the Sri Lankan Army is trying to liberate the Tamils from the LTTE is nonsense and that there needs to be a political solution.

However, I’d be interested in hearing more about this from people who know more than I do. Also, if anyone wants to publish a longer guest post on this please e-mail us.


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Filed in: Current affairs,Sri Lanka






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  1. Kismet Hardy — on 9th October, 2008 at 12:55 pm  

    I like Sri Lankans. Not only do they sell me foil for me gear at 3am, help my memory and spelling skills with their very long names, they also have strong women who defy the theory that all suicide bombers are bearded muslim men. And the flag is wicked. And they also make great coffee. I’m going to drink a skinny LTTE and sing MIA songs in thy honour.

  2. Chris E — on 9th October, 2008 at 2:32 pm  

    The LTTE used to be a mainstay of a minority of extremists.

    Sadly, due to pograms against the Tamil population by Buddhist nationalist organisations during the 70s and 80s support for the LTTE exploded outwards. The governments of the time tended to turn a blind eye to the initial riots and then mop them up when they became bad for business.

    Since then the brutal tactics used by both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government have alienated much of the Tamil population (the LTTE’s tactic of imposing a ‘tax’ of child soldiers on certain families virtually guarentees fear rather than respect) who are caught between a rock and a hard place. The attitudes of the Sinhalese population has gradually shifted towards the hardline right as the war has progressed.

    They may or may not finally crush the LTTE – whose overseas support base is slowly dying out – but they are probably a long way away from correcting the attitudes that led to an escalation of the struggle in the first place.

  3. Roger — on 9th October, 2008 at 2:49 pm  

    It’s noteworthy that General Perera who was one of the most successful- and ruthless- military commanders against the Tamil Tigers joined a party advocating negotiations with Tamils when he entered politics.

  4. platinum786 — on 9th October, 2008 at 3:04 pm  

    All great military leaders won war, through the use of divide and conquer tactics. Be it sweeping the flanks of the enemy on a battle field or politically dividing the fighters and the politics they fight for.

    Talks are required with the Tamil community and it’s representatives, if they have grievances they should be addressed, but when winning a war, you don’t back off the military effort. Israel has a very definitive victory from a standard military perspective against the Palestinians, it still can’t stop suicide attacks entirely. Suicide bombing cannot be considered a part of a military strike, unless they target the military.

    If the tamils pushed back the Sri Lankan military by use of suicide bombings, you could consider, the Sri Lankan militaries comments as mixed messages, but that is clearly not the case.

  5. halima — on 9th October, 2008 at 8:10 pm  

    I don’t like to pass judgement on conflicts I don’t understand very well, but I do wonder … Sri Lanka is almost a middle income country and doesn’t have the same difficulties as a Rwanda or a Zimbabwe and yet the civil war continues unabated.

    I did some work in Sri Lanka around 2005 – and visited some shelters and camps after the tsunami. It turned out that most of the funds coming into the country – both tsunami related and more generally tended to focus on the conflicting parties – the Singalese and the Tamil Tigers. Neither of which are the poorest sections of Sri Lankan society. There are significant Muslim communities who are very disadvantged and possibly others groups, but the dominant conflict between the S and Ts make it impossible to look at wider issues in Sri Lanka.

  6. Golam Murtaza — on 10th October, 2008 at 6:47 am  

    A couple of decent books on the conflict:
    ‘Only Man is Vile’ by William McGowan. A bit out of date now but overall a fair account in which extremists on both sides get a well-deserved kicking. McGowan was present in Jaffna when the Indian army stormed it and made a bit of a pig’s ear of the attack.

    ‘Tigers of Lanka: from boys to Guerrillas’, by M.R. Narayan Swamy. As the title suggests, focuses on the evolution of the Tamil resistance and shows how the LTTE slowly overpowered all other Tamil militant organisations. This is also good at describing India’s tortuous role in the conflict.

  7. Flesh Everywhere — on 11th October, 2008 at 6:14 pm  

    For background, Sumantra Bose’s Contested Lands (2007) has an overview of the Sri Lankan conflict – interestingly it’s one chapter among others on Cyprus, Kashmir, Israel and Palestine, and Bosnia.

    I know comment is cheap but conflict resolution is one area it’s really easy to get wrong even if you’re an expert in one of the ingredients for it – let alone if you aren’t. That’s why I’m keeping shtum.

  8. halima — on 11th October, 2008 at 7:28 pm  

    I was very very pleased to see the 2008 Nobel peace prize go to Martti Ahtisaari for many years of conflict resolution.. announced yesterday.

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2008/announcement.html

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