Sri Lanka’s Stubborn War

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the deceased leader of the Tamil Tigers, once likened himself to a spider in the center of a web, comfortably in control of a sprawling network. But over the past two years, the Sri Lankan military methodically, unflinchingly pulled his web apart, ultimately dismantling one of the most sophisticated insurgencies in the world. On May 19, the government claimed victory in a 30-year-old campaign, one that had cost tens of thousands of lives and seen the unraveling of much of Sri Lankan society.

Though the guns have fallen silent, a state of emergency continues. Checkpoints are manned by young Sri Lankan men, festooned with weapons and ammunition. Hundreds of thousands of people are now displaced, interred in camps as Sri Lankan intelligence scans for scattered remnants of the guerrilla group. Meanwhile, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, with the government banning international relief organizations' access to the internally displaced. The U.N. says that in the last push of the campaign, around 7,000 civilians perished. Some reports put the number at 20,000. The civilians were caught in the crossfire as the Tamil Tigers made their last stand on a small strip of beach on the northeast corner of the island, where they finally lay down their arms.

Prabhakaran is no more. But many thorny problems survive him on this island the size of West Virginia and home to 20 million people. The root causes of the original insurrection, for instance, remain, and in its final campaign, the army may have created a host of new grievances. The seeds of hate that were sewn first by British colonialism and fertilized by nationalism remain. The animosity of the local Tamil population, funded by the echo chamber of the Tamil diaspora, remains. And questions as to whether the current government has the will or the ability to win the current peace remain.

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