The rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, have conceded after 26 years of fighting in Sri Lanka.
“This battle has reached its bitter end,” declared Selvarajah Pathmanathan, the group’s international spokesperson. “We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.”
The civil war consists of Sri Lankan Tamils fighting for autonomy in a Sinhalese controlled state. The rift between the two groups go back to colonial times, as a result of the British “divide and rule” strategy, but once Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, tensions between the two groups intensified with the Sinhalese government denying Tamils citizenship and declaring Sinhala the only official language. Further legislation that alienated Tamils was established over the years, and in the seventies the Tamil Tigers formed and started to demand a separate state. Since then, fighting has plagued the nation, despite two (temporary) ceasefires in 1987 and 2002.
The Tigers’ concession seems to be a good sign, but a number of problems still remain. First, the group’s founder and leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has disappeared. Narayan Swamy, editor of Indo-Asian News Service and author of Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas sign claims that his concession is highly unlikely. “It is possible he may die fighting, it is possible he may commit suicide.” (Al-Jazeera)
In addition, the Sri Lankan government is responsible for the abductions of thousands, most recently Stephen Sunthararaj, Project Manager for the Center for Human Rights and Development. In 2006 and 2007, Sri Lanka had the highest number of new abductions in the world, according to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. While many abductees are Tamils or connected to the Tamil Tigers, others include journalists, clergy, educators and humanitarian aid workers, to serve as a “warning” to others.
Finally, countless civilians have been displaced. In only the past two days over 80,000 have fled the war zone and since January about 7,000 have been killed. Refugee camps’ resources are strained due to so many refugees. UNICEF contends that many are malnourished, particularly women and children, and that some do not have access to clean drinking water. And still an estimated 30,000 to 80,000 civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone. National director for Habitat for Humanity Tony Senewiratne estimates that it could take possibly two years to relocate displaced citizens. With limited resources and an immense displaced population, two years seems like an all too hopeful estimation.
It was announced today (May 18) that Prabhakaran has been killed, along with his son and other senior officials of the Tamil Tigers.