sri lanka war, sri lanka civil war, sri lanka tamil
Sri Lanka Army/AP
Sri Lankan soldiers carry their national flag, center, along with unit flags, at a site they say
is the last stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Tamil Tigers Plan to Surrender, Ending Sri Lanka's 25-Year War

May 18, 2009 02:30 PM
by Anne Szustek
On Sunday, the Sri Lankan rebel group Tamil Tigers announced that they would "silence our guns." The notice effectively ends Sri Lanka's war of more than 25 years.

Sri Lankan War at "Its Bitter End"

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, a militant group fighting for a homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, have announced plans to end its fight of more than 25 years against the Sri Lankan government, according to statements published on the pro-Tamil news site TamilNet and cited by U.K. paper The Guardian and the Voice of America. "This battle has reached its bitter end," Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the Tamil Tigers' chief of international relations, was quoted as saying.

Sri Lankans were reportedly rejoicing in the streets; and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has planned a news conference to be televised Tuesday, in which it is believed he will proclaim the war to be over.

During the past few days, the violence was particularly intense in the country's north.The Sri Lankan military cornered the remaining LTTE forces into a stretch of beach in the northern end of the country measuring roughly 2,400 sq meters. More than 50,000 people fled the fighting toward the end of last week. Sri Lanka UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told The Guardian, "It is hard to think of a worse place on earth to be right now than on that stretch of beach."

TamilNet wrote on Monday that by 3 a.m. local time, only "around 1,000 wounded cadres, civil officials of the LTTE and civilians remained in the so-called safety zone," and that the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry's Web site said that the dead bodies of several high-ranking Tamil Tiger members had been found. Among them is apparently the corpse of Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. State news preempted broadcasting to announce his death, which still needs to be confirmed by pending DNA tests. As of 10:30 a.m. EDT, the Tamil Tigers had not yet verified the claims, according to TamilNet. The Guardian reported that on Sunday, Sri Lankan military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said, "Suicide cadres are coming in front of troops in the frontline and exploding themselves."

On April 21, the LTTE passed on a Sri Lankan government ultimatum to surrender. International organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations, as well as various nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, had also been calling for a ceasefire to the quarter-century of fighting that has rendered much of the South Asian island nation a humanitarian disaster.

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Background: Military gains and human rights abuses

Since Rajapaksa was elected in 2005, the government has upped the ante against the Tigers, with the set goal of having them defeated by the end of 2008. In January 2008, he declared an end to the ceasefire, doubled the defense budget to $1.5 billion and added 40,000 recruits to national military forces.

The Sri Lankan forces' campaign had proven a success. They reclaimed the Mannar peninsula in July, Mallavi in early September, the LTTE capital of Kilinochchi in January, and Mullaitivu in February.

Western countries and NGOs have criticized the government for waging an often brutal campaign against the LTTE and the Tamil people, however. The government has done little to protect civilians, and forced out foreign aid organizations, leaving Tamil refugees to fend for themselves in finding basic provisions.

Sril Lanka's government has also been blamed for opening fire on so-called “no-fire” zones home to thousands of civilians. “The Sri Lankan armed forces have indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of war,” declared an April Human Rights Watch release.

The LTTE itself has also served as a source of abuse against the Tamil people, including forcing children and adults into its military forces and civilians to act as human shields, Human Rights Watch also reported.

Historical Context: Civil war in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is an island nation off the southern coast of India with two predominant ethnic groups. The Sinhalese, mainly Buddhists, constitute nearly three-fourths of the country's population and have government control. The Tamils, who are predominantly Hindu, only account for roughly one-fifth of Sri Lanka's people, and live mostly in the east and north of the country.

Sri Lanka was under British control until becoming independent in 1948. The Sinhalese then assumed government control and instituted policies that favored the Sinhalese people culturally and economically. In response to perceived governmental discrimination, many Tamils took up violent resistance against the government during the 1970s.

Borne out of this movement was the Tamil New Tigers, founded by 18-year-old Tamil rebel Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1972. Four years later this would become the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During the 1980s, the “Tamil Tigers” would eradicate more moderate Tamil opposition groups.

The Tamil Tigers began their first major offensive on Sri Lankan military forces in 1983, which led to riots against the Tamil people that saw 600 people dead. Military battles between the two groups continued sporadically during the coming years.

Relief groups believe that war has claimed more than 70,000 lives and forced out hundreds of thousands more. 

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