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One Year of Peace in Sri Lanka

May 21, 2010

One Year of Peace in Sri Lanka

May 2010

Few people other than those who are Sri Lankan or married to Sri Lankans (like myself) have any affiliation with that nation. Few people who read the news reports and the carefully worded editorials and hard hitting analysis by prominent academics could be expected to decipher the truth from fiction or worse hardcore propaganda. Instead they may be wondering why they should care about a war that was finished just over a year ago. I for one am tempted to agree with this insular view of a small distant nation, and leave the grandstanding to those who wallow in a world of constant controversy. However by accident of matrimony and inheritance I not free from the turmoils that had shaken the very soul of Sri Lanka for more than 25 years. Late night phone calls travel, friends and relatives in Sri Lanka have created a link that cannot be broken. The fragility of human life has been driven home to me over the last twenty or so years.

What does the end of the civil war mean to me? It is a personal question that asks more than the esoteric value of human life but asks whose funeral has been avoided. In the last 25 years over 70,000 people have been killed in a civil war that seemed to have no end. 25 years of negotiation and war had left no winner and no loser. Every year there would a growth of in fighting and every year there would be talk of peace. There was no gain without a loss and no end in sight for this perpetual war. All that seemed to matter for the people was how long they could go before their luck would run out.

In 2006 the LTTE were seen as an unstoppable force whose claim for separatism was immovable. The experts on the world stage were telling Sri Lanka that if it wanted peace, it had to give up part of its nation to form a new nation called Tamil Eelam. Yet it a was dream that only the LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran held. Anything that supported this dream was deemed, by Prabhakaran, as permissible. As a result we saw the shameless recruitment of child soldiers and the emergence of the suicide bomber. To date no other terrorist organization has used as many suicide bombers as the LTTE. Not only did they use this tactic indiscriminately but they also exported their invention of the suicide vest to the Middle East where it would wreak further disaster.

By May 2009 the true face of the LTTE was displayed for the world to see. 300,000 civilians were being dragged around to act as a human shield as the LTTE tried to delay their inevitable demise. The leader Prabhakaran was hiding in the centre of civilians as his officer placed 130mm artillery amongst them in the hope of creating a humanitarian disaster. Anyone who tried to escape was beaten, tortured or shot. The throngs of people were starving as Prabhakaran was still enjoying 3 meals a day. Children as young as ten were being sent out to the battle field to retrieve weapons from dead cadres. Conscripts were given less than a day’s training; handed a weapon and told to defend a front line. Meanwhile Prabhakaran and his officers escaped the direct fighting.

On the last days of the war huge bunds of earth stretching kilometres were constructed to prevent the civilians from escaping. Hundreds of thousands were trapped in this prison where every Tamil civilian was being used by Prabhakaran as hostage to save his dream of separate nation. Yet in one operation the Sri Lankan armed forces blew a 3 kilometre breach in the wall of the earth bund and mounted the largest rescue of civilians in history. Ten of thousands of people poured out of this prison and marched directly toward the safety of the Sri Lankan Government forces.

Over the next few days the LTTE lost the greater part of their hostages as their living space constricted and constricted until nothing was left. In a bold attempt to escape Prabhakaran made his dash for freedom only to be killed himself. The war was over. The Sun God was dead. In same instant 300,000 Internally Displaced People(IDP) had suddenly arrived in desperate need of help.

12 months has passed from the day that the war over and much has happened in those twelve months. A new utopia has not been delivered as a result but the heavy burden of the last 25 years has been lifted. It is hard to feel any sympathy for Prabhakaran and his officers after seeing the amount of suffering a misery that they had caused for an impossible utopian dream called Eelam. It is not hard to imagine his last days trapped and frightened as he received word of each of his commanders being killed and perhaps even hearing that his own family had been killed in the fighting. Every part of his dream was being torn apart as his empire crumbled. Nothing was left when he made that last effort to save his own cowardly skin.

As the few noisy commentators still demand the delivery of a Utopian dream based upon separatism, a vision dreamed up by a ruthless terrorist organization, the rest of Sri Lanka is able to hold its head high and enjoy something that had been lost for nearly 3 decades: Peace.

Those that would look for the path back to war should pay heed to the terrible cost that so many people have paid with their lives and suffering. There is a difference between war and peace. Today we should be thankful that there is Peace.

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