Illustration: Zachary Miller
Illustration: Zachary Miller

A people on the run

For a quarter century, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have been displaced, massacred and bombed. Now, a section is cornered in the Vanni.

The capture of Kilinochchi in late December and the Mullaitivu 'command hub' in late January by government forces marks another milestone in the unending saga of Tamil refugees. From mid-2007, the bulk of the LTTE was confined to the Vanni, fighting in the last block of land under its control. By now, this war running 30 years, during which the social fabric of the engaged societies has been shredded, has been shown to be futile. The war had nothing to do with honour or the good of the people.

The Colombo government has been conducting the campaign under a blanket of severe censorship, enforced less by regulation than by physical attacks on journalists, in an attempt to hide the figures of troops dead and maimed. But had the government just put forward a political settlement and assured security for Tamils – both those living under its control and those escaping from the LTTE – the rebels' defeat could have been secured politically, rather than through an excess of blood and repression. In the absence of a political vision to win over the minorities and unite the country, the 'war on terror' has become a licence for state terror against them, and for long-term impunity in general. Already, since early 2006, over 1500 Tamil civilians have been killed by hit squads operating under state intelligence services. Several of these victims had children in the LTTE or gave the rebels food in order to help a young person risking his or her life.

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Himal Southasian