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May 18, 2009


Thanks for highlighting this, hilzoy. this civil war, which has taken 70,0000 lives, has been largely ignored by the Western press. I guess that if you aren't white, your civil wars just don't rate coverage by western media...

Whats unfortunate too is that media coverage has mostly consisted of hand wringing about civilian casualties. Now believe me its a good thing that there has been ANY coverage of what has been a tragedy, but it would be good if there had been some coverage of the CAUSES of the civil war, including the (to my mind) justifiable grievances of the Tamil minority.
To Western minds, the Tamil cause has been tarnished by the fact that is struggle has been spearheaded by Tamil Tigers, one of the most ruthless and effective terrorist movements ever.But their cause was largely just. The Sinhalese majority really did oppress the Tamil minority , and its unclear whether the government is ready to grant equal rights to the Tamils. The government has won the war. Now it has to win the peace, or the Tigers may well return.

I'm not sure how a government could expect to "win the peace" after obliterating everything on a strip of land containing fifty thousand Tamils.

stonetools, I'm interested to know when you began following the war in Sri Lanka, and what spurred you to do so?

I know this is real nit-picky but the article you quoted said:
" paves the way for the conclusion of Asia’s longest-running civil war."

Not quite true Burma's civil war has been running for 60+ years with no real end in sight. Not just pro government/anti government Burman groups but the much larger ethnic independence fighters who all pretty much took up arms during the closing of WWII. I Know I know, semantics, sorry for being that guy. Anyways, this is good news for people who need it. I just hope the government of Sri Lanka lays off these people while they try to rebuild their lives and communities.


I first read about it about ten years ago in an excellent book, "Ethnic Groups in Conflict" , Horowitz

and then read another book (whose name I forget) which focused more on Sri Lankan history. Like you, I'm not very hopeful that the Sri Lankan government will offer the Tamils a fair deal.

The causes of the war go back over 50 years. Basically, at the time of independence the majority Sinhalese were on average less well-educated and poorer than the minority Tamils, inequities that started in colonial times. The government began to tilt more and more Sinhalese, declaring it the country's sole official language in 1956 and soon after dismissing Tamils from well-paid civil service jobs. Nonviolent protests were frequently met with violent reprisals.

What pushed the Tamils over the edge from peaceful demands for regional autonomy into violent demands for independence was the 'standardization' policy of the 1970s. This was a fairly drastic affirmative-action program that cut Tamil university enrollment by over two-thirds, giving their places to less-qualified Sinhalese high school grads. After that, several youth groups began acts of terrorism. The government equated the extremists with the entire civilian population, and clamped down on Tamil regions with martial law and increasingly draconian restrictions on human rights. This of course drove more people into the ranks of the militants.

In 1983, the government decided to teach the militants a lesson by running pogroms. Three thousand Tamils died in the "Black July" riots of 1983. Ever since then, most Tamils have been convinced that the government's goal is to kill them all, and the militant groups expanded into a full-size guerrilla, then conventional army.

The original causes of the war - language, and access to universities and civil service jobs - are now almost forgotten amidst the sea of atrocities both sides have committed. Both sides have frequently have tried to undercut each other by terrorizing the civilian population, often seeking revenge rather than any military objective. Each side focused completely on the speck in the other's eye and ignored the plank in its own.

The government is now likely to treat the Tamil regions much as Israel treats the West Bank, regarding the entire local population as potential terrorists, choking it with endless checkpoints, keeping heavy-handed military rule with arbitrary arrests, and even establishing Sinhalese settlements.

Send Gifts to Srilanka, Flowers to Srilanka, Cakes and Chocolates to Sri Lanka and Colombo.

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