Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009)

By the time Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war ended in 2009, it had already claimed 100,000 people. Although colonial legacy, as often in such cases, was a favored villain of the conflict, the causes of the conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils were more immediate. In the early 1970s, gradual disenfranchising of minority Tamils began with passing of two laws — the first which limited Tamil enrollment in universities, and the second which declared that Buddhism had ‘foremost place’ in Sri Lanka. As Tamil opposition grew, de facto segregation of two ethnic groups inside the civil service, police and army only intensified.

In 1976, the guerrilla group now known as Tamil Tigers was formed under Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and began its bloody campaign for a Tamil homeland in northern and eastern parts, that claimed 60% of the island’s coastline, and its only major port, the famed Trincomalee. For the next three decades, a spectacularly bloody civil war was fought on land, in water, in air (Tamils even had an air force) and with proxy armies, although the successive Sri Lankan governments dismissed the Tigers as a terrorist group. But what a formidable force it was. Supported by its shady business dealings, and remittances from large Tamil diaspora, the Tigers pioneered the use of suicide vests and claimed, among its countless victims, a Sri Lankan President and an Indian Prime Minister.

The government behaved hardly better. Scorched-earth tactics, and indiscriminate killings of combatants and non-combatants alike were practically achieved through ignoring international concerns and shutting off news media. Even by these brutal standards, the fury it unleashed during the last days of the civil war was staggering; it was effective, and managed to corner Prabhakaran’s movement to a single beach in the northeast of the country by the early 2009.

Under intense international pressure, the military declared a “no-fire zone” — a de facto safe zone for Tamil refuges between the government and the rebel lines — although The Times reported that it continued shelling inside the zone up to the very end of the conflict. The Times also claimed that over 20,000 civilians were killed in the final stages of the civil war, mainly as a result of government shelling, three times the official figure. While no independent observers had access to the remote war zone, The Times took the above photo of the no-fire zone while travelling with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who commented that it was “the most appalling sight” he had seen in his career.

But the UN already knew what was happening there; publicly, it blamed both sides, but its records — obtained from local contracts –showed that the majority of deaths were caused by the government which attacked hospitals, schools and the beach full of refuges. Sri Lanka, one of Asia’s oldest democracies, has refused to allow any independent investigation into the conflict, rejected an damning UN report two days ago, and began cracking down on internal opposition. Sri Lanka is unlikely to be referred to the International Criminal Court because of its powerful allies such as China, but its victory over the Tamils will be go down into the annals of history as a tainted triumph.

(Full Times Article is reproduced here at a Tamil website, with photos. For gorier details, see Al Jazeera’s coverage below.)

10 thoughts on “Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009)

  1. Tamils of Eelam have had enough betrayal from Indians and those of us who have thrown bloody Hinduism and Tamil in the disgust over India’s direct help to Sri Lankan atrocities must clearly stand with Sinhala-Chinese partnership. At least to punish the Indians for their biggest betrayal of a brotherly nation. We should encourage more Tamils of SL to escape that hell hole for a more dignified life abroad and to throw away any culture that has Indian links. We can only wish that Indians get a taste of our experience (including ) from the Chinese!

  2. it is not betrayal by India, the sympathy was lost when and Indian PM was assasinated, one need to understand that this has left a very bad taste with the Indian masses. who are not only tamils but other population also and who them selves have to deal with elements in Kashmir who are fighting similar cause funded by their neighbour without any justification unlike the tamils of lanka who where discrimanted. in the larger political interest the support for the poor suffering tamils of lanka has been overlooked.

    • Dear Mani,
      hope you are an indian.You have not given the correct picture of this issue. We have not experience any discrimination in Sri Lanka and we were and are living peacefully as one Nation. Terrorists are terrorists respective of whether they are Tamils, Sinhalese or Muslims. They should be eradicated and that what exactly did by Sri Lankan Government, with the help of other peace loving countries. It is well known fact that at one time India also supported LTTE terrorist for political reasons.

      If you say that Sri Lankan Tamils have/had reasons to exercise terror in Sri Lanka, you should understand that the Muslims in Kashmir also have more reasons to do the same in India.

      Don’t create more problems. Let us live peacefully. God bless you!

      • Prem,
        I am not an Indian nor Sri lankan , but find your analysis devout of any intelligent thought!
        How can you call the Tamils criminals when your government kills its own citizens for the exclusive benefit of one ethnicity over the other . It is human nature to try and survive and yes my friend they were trying survive some of the worst atrocities committed in the modern era!
        History will judge Sri Lanka!

      • that’s very cold and heartless. consider if you were a civilian there with no terror connections and still being shelled indiscriminately. i hope you live by your words and gladly die for the “greater good.” unfortunately there seems to be plenty of soulless pampered idiots like you living in safe havens around the world callously justifying the deaths of innocents. you are the reason atrocities like this go unanswered. i hope you get a brain soon.

      • Mani, you may be living peacefully in Sri Lanka right now, but I know that it is not the case for many other people living there. People are not living like they were. You are acting like the government did the right thing by killing people, doesn’t matter what race at the end we are all humans and if UN reports clearly say that the Sri Lankan government is the one that is to blame for more deaths than there you go. The Sri Lankan government will never change its ways and it will still be the brainless people that are going to rule the country

        We’re not creating problems. You are.

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