Sri Lanka: an island paradise with the spectre of terror
by David Kriegleder reporting from Colombo & Steve Crilley in Vienna
Sri Lanka: An island-state in the Indian Ocean, just off the southern tip of India. Marco Polo once called it the ?finest island in the entire world?. But for the past few decades however, the country has been haunted by a seemingly endless civil war between government forces and the Tamil Tigers or LTTE. More than 100,000 people have died in the last 25 years making it one of the world?s deadliest ongoing conflicts.
The origins of ethnic hatred
Sri Lanka has always been a place of diversity, where an ethnic majority - the Singhalese Buddhists - lived next to minorities like the Hindu Tamils and Muslims. After Sri Lanka gained its independence from Great Britain in 1948, the Tamil population wanted greater autonomy, which the Singhalese dominated government denied. During the 1970s, both sides radicalized and negotiations turned into violence. This mounting tension eventually led to the infamous Black July of 1983. And since then, the Tamil Tigers have been fighting for independence, trying to establish a separate state called "Tamil Elam". The LTTE started a terror campaign, with suicide blasts all over the country.
Calm brought by the storm?
In 2004, the tsunami catastrophe got the two parties to put down their weapons temporarily. But that was just a ray of hope that extinguished itself quickly. In 2006, military clashes became more regular again. This led to the government?s withdrawal from a ceasefire agreement at the beginning of this year. Starting a full scale military advance, the government thinks it can crush the LTTE for good this time. And victory might actually be at hand for the government. The LTTE forces have been pushed back deep into the north, where they now lie entrenched around their stronghold Kilinochi.
An information blackout
Confirming any hard facts about what's really going on is virtually impossible nowadays. In its nationwide "war against terror" the government controls all news that reaches the general public. Not only is media censorship a problem but the government has made it difficult for international NGOs and aid workers to enter or to stay in the country, let alone access the fighting areas to help the estimated 200,000 displaced civilians. Even the United Nations has had to leave the area around Kilinochi.
Meanwhile the LTTE has been reportedly forcefully recruiting children and using civilians as human shields. Both sides demonize each other and as in every war: truth is the first casualty. After so much tragedy, is it even possible to say which side bears greater responsibility for the ongoing war? And can this circle of violence really come to an end?