Every day, rebel-controlled territory shrinks. The space for diplomacy is even smaller.
After 26 years of vicious civil war on the island of Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon in the British colonial era), the Sri Lankan government has decided to do what it once sought to avoid: destroy the fanatical Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) uprising in a relentless offensive. If the result is an ethnic and sectarian bloodbath, so be it. After all, "suicide attacks" are a Liberation Tiger trademark.
In 1983, Liberation Tiger fanatics began a separatist insurgency against the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government. The LTTE's leaders demanded a separate state for Sri Lanka's Tamil ethnic minority. Religious divisions exacerbated the ethnic cleavage -- most Sinhalese are Buddhist, while the Tamils are Hindu.
United Nations officials believe that the Sri Lankan military has trapped some 50,000 ethnic Tamils on a sandy peninsula in northern Sri Lanka. The LTTE says 130,000 are there. Whatever the figure, the refugees are crammed in a slum of tents. With people packed so densely, one errant government bomb or artillery barrage, and the death toll instantly escalates.
Tamil political leaders who are not part of the LTTE call the situation "genocidal." Last week, Suresh Premachandran, of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), told the Voice of America that the Sri Lankan military had killed 10,000 Tamil civilians and wounded 20,000 since it began its "final offensive" against the LTTE. Leaders like Premachandran are attempting to look past the war to the political aftermath. Premachandran told the VOA that he believes the LTTE has fought for a "just cause," but "have committed excesses." While the government's offensive may destroy the LTTE as a guerrilla army, Premachandran argues the brutality has bred an embittering distrust among Tamils that damages prospects for a lasting peace.
As a description of the LTTE's legacy, "excesses" is gross understatement. Sinhalese domination of the Tamils is not a subject for dispute -- the Tamils have legitimate political, economic and social demands. However, the LTTE's history of fanatic and exotic violence has not led to liberation. The LTTE began employing "urban suicide terror bomb attacks" and suicide assassins against its enemies foreign as well as domestic before the Palestinians began use of similar homicide tactics in their intifada.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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