Thursday, December 6, 2007
Sri Lanka: the long road from tragedy to peace
Imagine a conflict that combines the ferocious terrorist attacks seen daily in the Muslim World with the the ethnic cleansing that continues to reciprocate in Africa. In the last eighteen months, tensions have been simmering in Sri Lanka, a tiny island nation off the coast of India. Violent clashes have erupted between goverment forces and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE. Over the last 25 years, the conflict has killed well over 70,000 people. The rebel held north continues to be a hot spot with daily fighting. Just recently, violence flared when the two sides engaged one another. Some forty people are believed dead, although like so many other bloody conflicts, its nearly impossible for independent sources to verify the reports. Separately, a civilian passenger bus traveling through the countryside was hit by an IED believed to have been planted by rebels. Fifteen people died and dozens more injured. So far, all attempts at getting the factions to abide by a 2002 ceasefire have failed. Earlier this year, government forces moved in and recaptured the country's east, a region that had been controlled by the Tamil Tigers for years. Last year, the Tigers succeeded in carrying out their deadliest attack to date when a suicide truck bomber detonated his payload amidst a crowd of sailors and civilians and slaughtered well over 100 people. If the attack had been in Baghdad and resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, there would be no question you would be reading about it on the front page of the newspaper. But because Sri Lanka is nothing more than a third world island nation, its tragedy is largely ignored in the civilized world.
In an op-ed I recently put together, I brought up the Tamil Tigers use of suicide bombing. Why is this phenomanon so significant? Well, the Tigers are not Muslim, nor do they sacrifice themselves for a higher power. The LTTE leaders have a way of convincing their followers that the creation of an ethnic Tamil state is worth dying for. Over the last fifteen years, the LTTE has carried out more than 200 suicide attacks, more than any of the Palestinian groups that routinely attack targets inside of Israel. Believe it or not, the Tigers perfected the explosive belt that many Islamic terrorists use to conceal beneath their clothing. Last month, a female Tiger bomber was caught on camera blowing herself up in the office of a government minister. That attack preceded an even more devastating one. Hours later, a parcel bomb blasted a busy commercial district outside of the capital, Colombo.
In addition to the continuing terrorist attacks, the Tigers and even the government have been accused of ethnic massacres and carrying out attacks on civilians. Over 32,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in the conflict, a long with tens of thousands of government forces and rebels. There have been notable events in which the Tigers capture Sri Lankan security forces and execute them, although the group has at times pledged to abide by the Geneva Convention. They have also attacked minorities, such as Muslims, and even forcibly expelled them from the Jaffna Peninsula, where the LTTE runs its unrecognized Tamil Eelam de facto state. Aid workers have also come under attack in the war-torn country. Last year, seventeen aid workers were hacked to death with machetes and discovered several days later. Because of the increasing danger, humanitarian operations to bring aid to the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire have become increasingly difficult.
The Sri Lankan Civil War is just another example of a tragedy that seems to have no end in sight. Just like the other humanitarian crises throughout the world, it does not help that the vast majority of Americans know little about it or have no idea that a civil war is even taking place in Sri Lanka. The saddest thing is, from what I've seen anyway, is that it looks like a really beautiful country with lush jungles and a rich, blue coastline. If the Sri Lankans could reach a peace deal and work together to rebuild their country, it could probably make a great tourist destination for westerners seeking to relax and experience the nation's culture. Closing the chapter of civil war would be a great thing for the people of Sri Lanka who would love to just live in peaceful lives. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like either of the warring factions want to take any steps down the long road from tragedy to peace.