Sri Lanka's uneasy peace

Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley on Sri Lanka's future after military defeat of the LTTE.

    The Sri Lankan army says it has killed the top leaders of the LTTE [AFP]

    Al Jazeera correspondent Tony Birtley has covered the Sri Lankan conflict since 1992. As the government declares victory over the Tamil Tigers he takes a look at the prospects for peace in the country.

    In the lair of the Tigers the last bullets, apparently, are being fired in a bloody war that has cost tens of thousands of lives, billions of dollars and deprived one of South Asia’s most beautiful countries of peace for more than 30 years.

    According to the Sri Lankan government, the war is all but over, one of the world's most ruthless and sophisticated rebel organisations has been defeated.

    Peace and reconciliation will follow, it says, and Sri Lanka will pick up the pieces and live in harmony.

    But will it?

    Certainly the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have ceased to exist as the conventional fighting force they evolved into.

    They once numbered 30,000 strong and inflicted heavy defeats on the Sri Lankan military over the years, defeats that hurt the pride and prestige of the armed forces.

    To understand the strength of the Tigers you have to understand the support they commanded from nearly a million Tamil diaspora spread throughout the world.

    They provided the money and the network that gave the LTTE their arms, supplies and channels.

    Continued support

    Political and financial support for the Tamil Tigers remains strong [AFP]

    Although some were forced to donate to the cause, many gave voluntarily and that support remains. If anything it is stronger than ever before.

    The images of wounded, suffering Tamil civilians hurt and cowering in so called safe zones enraged many.

    To critics of the Sri Lankan government it merely reinforces the view that injustice and discrimination against Tamil civilians that led to the start of this conflict still exists.

    They point to the use of army controlled camps for the displaced, the fact that thousands of Tamils have disappeared without anyone being charged, and that few have been allowed to return to their homes.

    The Sri Lankan government has always denied discrimination against Tamils.

    They argue that their mission was to liberate Tamils from Tigers control and refute allegations that the security forces have been involved in either abductions or extra judicial killings of civilians.

    Right or wrong it indicates the level of mistrust that exists between the two sides, mistrust that will take time to break down, mistrust that led to the formation of the Tamil Tigers in the 1970s.

    Everyone said that the Sri Lanka problem could never be solved by military means, only by political means.

    'Political solution'

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    Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, proved everyone wrong, but he had to spend a small fortune on the military to make it happen. He says a political solution will now follow.

    But the question is, with whom? Who is there left to talk to?

    The LTTE leadership has been decimated and many free thinking Tamil leaders have been killed or fled the country.

    Critics say any political solution with the Tamils who remain will be meaningless.

    The Tamil Tigers started as a hit and run guerrilla organization with deadly effect.

    It is not beyond possibility that it could rise from the ashes and go back to doing what it did best.

    In 30 years the Tigers never touched the coastal areas where foreign tourists spend their holidays. That could easily change.

    The Sri Lankan Tourism Industry is already preparing for an end of war campaign to bring holidaymakers back to the Island. A cash strapped government is banking on it.

    But one bomb could so easily shatter those hopes.

    As a government Sri Lanka has lost some friends. It has replaced them with the likes of China and Libya.

    But money cannot buy happiness.

    Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and wounded in pursuit of a united Sri Lanka. That has been achieved geographically, but not yet politically.

    The war has been won but what about the peace?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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