Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Tamil Tigers' Last Stand

It looks as though Sri Lanka's long civil war could be in its final stages. Government troops have captured yet more of what little territory the rebel Tamil Tigers have left, leading to a big exodus of refugees from the area, in the north of the island. Less than three years ago the Tigers, who want their own homeland, controlled more than 15,000 square kilometres. Today that's down to two tiny areas, with what's left of their army now split between them.

The Tigers won't want to surrender - their fighters famously carry cyanide capsules on strings around their necks to take if they're captured - but it seems they may completely collapse within days under huge pressure from the Sri Lankan government forces. Occasionally during the last 25 years of war, the government troops have made major gains against the Tigers, only to back off in favour of negotiations, which rarely led very far and gave the Tigers the opportunity to regroup and rearm.

This time it's different. The Sri Lankan government wants to get rid of the Tigers once and for all, and seems intent on doing whatever it takes. Human rights groups have joined the Tigers in accusing the government troops of killing civilians during their offensive, by firing artillery at buildings including hospitals. But this is a crisis that has failed to capture the attention of politicians or the media in the rest of the world, so the Sri Lankans seem likely to get away with murder. They probably believe that civilian deaths are an inevitable price of the tough tactics necessary to defeat the terrorist Tigers. Governments elsewhere obviously believe that too, because they've given the Sri Lankans a free pass to do whatever they like.

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