Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

After twenty five long horrible years, one of the longest-running civil wars on earth might just have come to an end:

“The ethnic Tamil separatist rebels of Sri Lanka, one of the world’s most feared and enduring guerrilla movements, acknowledged Sunday that their war of more than a quarter-century for a homeland had “reached its bitter end.”

The announcement by their group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, coming as the Sri Lankan military said it was conducting final mop-up operations on a tiny sliver of coast that had been the rebels’ last refuge, paves the way for the conclusion of Asia’s longest-running civil war.

It does not, however, eliminate the possibility of guerrilla strikes. The L.T.T.E., as the rebels are often called, are known for suicide bombings. And the statement by their spokesman, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, posted on the pro-rebel Web site, TamilNet, pointed to the group’s “fearless and unending commitment to this cause.”

“This battle has reached its bitter end,” Mr. Pathmanathan said. “We have decided to silence our guns.” The statement made no mention of surrender and did not concede defeat, but the acknowledgment of finality suggested that the rebels knew the war was over. (…)

As the war’s climax approached, both sides had rebuffed repeated calls from the United Nations and several foreign countries to spare civilians caught in the war zone. The United Nations estimates that at least 7,000 have died since January.

The government has been pressed to stop shelling known civilian sites, including hospitals. The rebels have been accused of holding their own people hostage. No amount of international pressure has worked, not even appeals from Sri Lanka’s powerful neighbor, India, where Tamil refugees have trickled in, via flimsy fishing boats.”

Thank God. The fighting has recently focused on a small area on a little spit of land surrounded on three sides by water. The people who lived there were essentially trapped, and the Tamil Tigers were said to be using them as human shields. There were, reportedly, 50,000 of them as of May 15. Aid has not been able to get through for some days. Here are some photos from a report commissioned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (via the BBC) that give some sense of the recent damage to this area:

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Bear in mind that those photos are of the same area, and that they were taken four days apart. That’s how long it took for most of those houses — which had been set up for displaced persons — to be obliterated by government shelling.

May the peace hold, and may the people who lived in these houses find refuge, the strength to rebuild their lives, and the help they need.