February 25, 2009

Sri Lanka: The Last Battle

A week or so ago, a good friend was complaining about the lack of any coverage on the blog of the increasingly successful counterinsurgency campaign waged by the government in Sri Lanka against the LTTE. Guilty as charged. The war in Sri Lanka is not a conflict I know a lot about, and I apologize for not highlighting more good reports. I really enjoyed this article in today's FT, though, about the struggle to balance security concerns with the provision of social services in Sri Lanka's Manik Farm refugee camp.

With the government on the cusp of victory in its 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Manik Farm “welfare camp” is designed to mark the next phase in the conflict – the war for the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, for whom the rebels have for decades claimed to be the sole representatives.

Outlawed in the west and India as a terrorist organisation, the LTTE once occupied most of north and eastern Sri Lanka in its quest for an independent Tamil homeland free from the domination of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority.

But since a ceasefire broke down in 2006, the rebels have gradually been driven into an 87 sq km pocket, in an area known as “the Wanni” in the island’s remote north-east. The cadres have herded with them into the pocket up to 250,000 civilians, according to estimates from aid agencies.

With the Tigers believed to be making their last stand, the fate of these trapped civilians has become a matter of international concern – nowhere more so than in India, the regional power which has its own large population of Tamils.

*The Financial Times is rapidly becomming my favorite newspaper, by the way. Not that you care.