VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka's tourism authorities would like the world to think of their country as an idyllic retreat, or as the writer Anton Chekhov described it during his 1890 visit, a "Paradise on Earth -- an exotic fairy tale setting." That's why the ever-present military checkpoints and machine-gun-toting soldiers that dot the capital never make it into the television commercials urging Europeans to visit this beautiful Indian Ocean island. The advertisements also steer clear of the island's northern region and this town, Vavuniya. It is the gateway to the area formerly controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the terrorist group that kept this country from realizing its Edenic aspirations for nearly three decades.
Last year, the Sri Lankan government achieved what much of the rest of the world, with great certainty, had warned could not be done: It defeated the LTTE, bringing an end to more than a quarter-century of civil war.
The security presence remains highly visible in Sri Lanka, especially in the north and east, where the LTTE were strongest. But the fighting, the bombings and the overt violence have all ended. The victory came at an appalling cost to the civilian Tamil population, but despite the impression left by the ubiquitous military presence, Sri Lanka today is no longer at war.