Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Big Question: Is Sri Lanka once again on the brink of full-scale civil war?

By Aussiegirl

This bloody war isn't much in the news, but it's another source of instability in Asia.

Independent Online Edition > Asia

The Big Question: Is Sri Lanka once again on the brink of full-scale civil war?
By Justin Huggler

Barely recovered from the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka appears to be sliding inexorably back towards civil war. There has been a drastic increase in violence between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels since December, culminating in government air strikes on Tiger positions just outside Trincomalee . The air strikes came after the attempted assassination of the Sri Lankan army chief by a suspected Tiger suicide bomber. More than 100 people have died in the last two weeks alone.

How serious is the threat of war?

Very. At least 64,000 people are believed to have died in the two-decade civil war on Sri Lanka, making it one of the bloodiest in the world. [....]

Why is Sri Lanka seen as strategically significant by India?

One major reason is Trincomalee, one of the best sheltered deep-water naval ports in the world, right on the doorstep of India, an emerging power. Trincomalee is a naval threat to India, which does not want to see it fall into Tiger hands.

Who are the Tigers?

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are considered one of the most effective guerrilla forces in the world. They succeeded in assassinating the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, on Indian soil. At their height they controlled large areas of Sri Lanka. Led by Velupillai Prabhakaran from a secret jungle base, they have a carefully nurtured mystique, from their tiger-stripe camouflage uniforms to the fact that every fighter carries a cyanide capsule to swallow if captured. The LTTE is listed as a "banned terrorist organisation" in the UK and US.

Why did they emerge?

The LTTE emerged from violence between ethnic Tamils and the majority Sinhalese in the Seventies. Tensions already simmered before Ceylon, as the island was known under British rule, gained independence in 1948. Although there had been a long established Tamil minority in the north, the British imported large numbers of Tamils from southern India to work tea plantations. Fearing their culture would be swamped, the post-independence Sinhalese-dominated government promoted the Sinhalese language and culture at the expense of the Tamils.

What do the Tigers want now?

For most of their history, the Tigers' demand has been an independent homeland carved out of the north and east of Sri Lanka. In recent years the political wing has tempered that demand for autonomy in a federal Sri Lanka, although many of the rank-and-file fighters say they would reject that.
Did the Tigers copy the use of suicide bombers from Islamic militants?

No, it was the other way round. Although they did not invent suicide tactics, the Tigers were the first major users of lone suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their bodies - a method they used to devastating effect to penetrate even the tightest security. An elite Tiger unit known as the Black Tigers carries out the suicide bombings.


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