The End of the Tamil Tigers or the End of Tamil Separatism?

It is looking very much as though the Sri Lankan government has defeated the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, militarily and has killed their founder and leader:

Thousands of Sri Lankans are celebrating their government’s military victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa expected to tell the country on national television on Tuesday that the war is over. On the ground, the rebels have admitted that their 25-year struggle for a Tamil homeland has reached “its bitter end”.

If true, this would conclude a 26 year conflict.

Joe Gandelman has an excellent media round-up and commentary.

The LTTE is credited by some, if that is the right word for it, with inventing the tactic of suicide bombing. It has been suggested that the Tamil Tiger remnants may commit mass suicide:

So desperate have the Tamils become that they have threatened a mass suicide. Each fighter carries a cyanide pill for such circumstances. They also have a network of underground cells throughout the government-controlled parts of the country which they threatened to activate if their leadership is wiped out.

Does this mark the end of the insurgency? Doubtful, says the Times of London article cited above:

What appears to be an imminent defeat is unlikely to bring peace to Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers have sleeper cells throughout the country, and are likely to return to suicide bombings and guerrilla hit-and-run tactics that they have used to devastating effect in the past.

Among the many possible ways in which events in Sri Lanka may develop, three seem to me to be the most likely:

  • Despite the military defeat, the insurgency continues. As I’ve suggested before engaging militarily when you have the strength and resorting to suicide bombings and other terrorist tactics when you don’t is the rule rather than the exception with insurgencies.
  • The Sri Lankan government is able to integrate the Tamil minority into the larger Sri Lankan society in a just and equitable manner. The insurgency stays over and peace returns to the country.
  • Fueled by foreign money from the Tamil diaspora and bolstered by real and imagined injuries on the part of the Tamil minority at the hands of the Sinhalese majority, a new, younger generation of leadership re-starts the insurgency, possibly after a brief regrouping.

Human nature being what it is I doubt that we’ve seen the end of mass violence in Sri Lanka. Here’s the question I’d like to throw on the table: what should be the role of Western governments in the resolution? Butt out? Provide humanitarian aid? Human rights violation investigations? Will the latter aggravate an already tenuous situation?

Above Sri Lankans celebrate the victory over the Tamil Tigers in a picture from the Guardian.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Michael says:

    I’d like to throw on the table: what should be the role of Western governments in the resolution?

    I’d say butt out, but investigate war crimes if there are accusations. As an isolated conflict the west has no real justification for intervention, except in the case of crimes against humanity, which by definition, constitute a crime against the west.

  2. steve says:

    It is hard to find good reporting from there, but my concern is the reports of civilian casualties as the army tries to finish off the Tigers “once and for all.” If the reports are true, they seem to be risking a new generation of insurgents.


  3. Eric Florack says:

    The concern for civilians, Steve, is understandable , and quite correct. At the same time it seems logical to raise the question how many of these “civilians” are in fact Tamil, in plain clothes.

  4. MSarC says:

    Now that the Sri Lankans have achieved an overwhelming military victory against an insurgent force, it’s time for all right-thinking Western Nations to lecture Sri Lanka about the deprivations of Tamil human rights and the need for a workable two-state solution.

    Therefore I suggest that Sri Lanka should pull back to their pre-offensive borders to prove their bona-fide desire for peace. This may have the side effect that the Tamils will re-arm, but that’s a small price to pay for long-term peace. It’s also a sure fire recipe to alleviate the poverty of the Tamils, which, as we well know, is the root cause of all this never-ending strife.

    I guarantee you I can predict that the Sri Lankans and Tamils will then live together in peace.

  5. Bithead says:

    LOL! Well played, sir, and worthy of Scrappleface, or IowaHawk. Your point is well taken, indeed.

  6. steve says:

    Obviously not a crowd that reads COIN theory. At any rate, if the Sri Lankan government can prove itself competent without too much overt corruption, they may avoid another real insurgency. Ending the war this way leaves them vulnerable. Remember the population judges the insurgency by its words and the government by its actions, roughly paraphrasing Galula. A strong, well functioning government will undercut the development of a new insurgency. A government dedicated to revenge will probably give cause for a new one.