The recent turn of events is due primarily to the intensified campaign launched by the government over the past months. President Mahinda Rajapakse won a narrow margin in 2005 on the platform of a hard line against the Tamil Tigers. Starting in 2006, the army led an initial campaign against the eastern LTTE-held regions, before turning to the main autonomous Tamil region in the north.
As recently as two years ago, the Tamil Tigers seemed unbeatable as they solidified their rule over their autonomous state they called Elam. They humiliated the Sri Lankan army at the Mavil Oya reservoir by cutting off water to villages and their navy led many successful attacks on the Sri Lankan navy. Today the picture is different as the military converges on the last enclave of the Tamil Tigers in a strip of jungle. They are also sinking what remains of the LTTE navy gunships.
An army breakthrough of the Tiger first line of defense back in September 2008 led to a steady build up of momentum in the government’s favor. Over the next few month successive LTTE strongholds fell with fierce fighting until the government captured the Tamil Tigers’ capital of Kilinochchi and their last stronghold of Mullaittivu.
As the military campaign finishes up, the Sri Lankan government now faces many challenges of incorporating the Tamil population back into Sri Lanka. The civil war first broke out in 1983 as a result of years of Sinhalese-dominated government and mistreatment of the Tamil minority that makes up 18% of the country. The immediate issues are how to care for and receive the refugees fleeing the brutal fighting between Tiger and government forces. The government claims that the Tigers have been using civilians as human shields; the Tigers deny this. For their part the government has heavily restricted media access to the battle scene and to Tamil refugee camps.
The Sri Lankan government has been granted a unique opportunity of a second chance with the Tamil population. By crushing the autonomous state of Elam and the Tamil Tiger rebels, many hope the government will now offer the olive branch and rectify many of the abuses against Tamils within Sri Lanka. Many opposition leaders who favored a softer approach to the Tigers, are now concerned that the current government is ill equipped to make the necessary gestures for peace with the Tamil minority.
The window of opportunity is not unlimited as the LTTE has vowed to switch from conventional military tactics to asymmetrical warfare and terrorism. Already, a female suicide bomber killed thirty people and wounded 75 in an attack in early February. The government needs to show the Tamil population that they face a brighter future by working with the government rather than resisting it.
This situation has greater implications for the world at large. Most wars today echo the Sri Lankan case, as they are internal wars rather than clashes of two separate states. Three of the most recent wars to make the news: Sri Lanka-Elam, Israel-Gaza, and Georgia-South Ossetia all involved semi-autonomous regions fighting against the majority states. Sri Lanka is a unique case because it involves the complete defeat of an insurgent state, and thus the greatest opportunity to start anew and rebuild. If its leaders sincerely choose the path of integration, Sri Lanka could be the test case for the world to see if a previous insurgent minority can be successfully reincorporated into a society.