The government of Sri Lanka declared Wednesday a national holiday to celebrate this week's end to a 26-year civil war fought against the Tamil Tigers. While images emerged of jubilation in the streets of Colombo, news reports from the last battle front in the northeast depicted a grave state of affairs that could jeopardize long-term hopes for peace. According to UN figures, at least 7,000 civilians have died since January in the cross-fire between government military and dwindling Tamil Tiger forces. Sketchy reports are also emerging of 42 government-run internment camps where upwards of 300,000 Tamil civilian refugees have been interned in recent months.
At the same time, verifiable battleground facts are hard to come by in Sri Lanka. The Red Cross has been shut out of the northeast region, as have other international aid organizations and media. Many, including the pro-Tamil voices at TamilNet, fear for the safety of the island nation's Tamil minority, which comprise 12% of the population. Unlike in other recent conflict hot spots like the Sudan and the Balkans, there has been little talk of involving international forces in keeping the peace. If anything, the government has gained political cover through its linking of the fight against the Tamil Tigers to a larger global "war on terror."
"To protect the Tamil population in this country is my responsibility and duty," Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa proclaimed in an address to the nation early this week. Rajapaksa delivered the lines in Tamil, a hopeful sign perhaps of a new reconciliation. But later on he also emphasized, "we don't want advice from other country about how we should treat our people." Coming at the end of a war that has killed in the range of 90,000 Sri Lankans, it is difficult to be convinced that the suffering is now fully over.
Watch the Global Pulse video on Sri Lanka here.