After waging a 26 year battle to carve out their own homeland, the once seemingly invincible Tamil Tigers have admitted defeat in their bloody fight against the Sri Lanka government.
The latest report: the Tamil Tigers’ leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, is dead.
According to reports on CNN-IBN, the body of what is believed to be the 54-year-old LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, along with about 150 others were found when government troops stormed the final LTTE stronghold in the Mullivaaikkaal area of Karaithuraipatru AGA division of Mullaitheevu district.
In a statement posted on the TamilNet website, the LTTE said its decades long struggle for a Tamil homeland, “has reached its bitter end.”
The scene where the 26 year-long civil war came to an end: on a little spot of land on a coconut grove as cameras captured the final spurt of a conflict that had been watched for years to see whether the existing map of South Asia would indeed remain cohesive: in the 20th century South Asia had already experienced the turmoil of Pakistan being carved out of India and Bangladesh being carved out of Pakistan. Times Online’s earlier report:
Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels admitted defeat today after a final flurry of suicide attacks on the government forces which have surrounded them in a tiny patch of coconut grove on the northeastern coast.
The Tigers’ surrender -– after 26 years of fighting for an ethnic Tamil homeland — was announced in a statement by Selvarasa Pathmanathan, their chief of international relations, on the pro-rebel Tamilnet web site.
“This battle has reached its bitter end,” said Mr Pathmanathan, who is believed to be in hiding outside Sri Lanka. “We remain with one last choice – to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.”
The surrender came after the army announced that it had freed all of the 50,000 civilians that the UN estimated were trapped with the Tigers in a pocket of land smaller than London’s Hyde Park.
Government forces had encircled the rebels and cut them off from the sea yesterday, taking control of the entire island’s coast for the first time since the Tigers launched their armed struggle in 1983.
What will likely happen next? Reuters offers this list of dramatic scenarios, in a conflict where both sides have been accused of killing large numbers of civilians. Several news organizations including TIME have noted that there are fears the Tamil Tigers will commit mass suicide.
An ITN News report gives a good summary of the conflict and the President of Sri Lanka’s declaration of victory:
This ABC News report also gives some good background on the conflict, some of the regional tensions it has accentuated, and how the Tamil Tiger refused to admit defeat just days ago:
The Tamil Tigers were recently at the center of a particularly troubling news story: charges that the group had forced children as young as 11 to fight for them to kill or be killed. Here’s part of the Sydney Morning Heraldpiece:
A Tamil speaker from northern Sri Lanka, Christine says she was abducted by Tamil Tiger cadres in March and forced to undergo military training. She performed drills using dummy weapons in preparation for battle and, as with many female recruits, her hair was cut short.
“I was full of fear when they came and took me,” she said. “I was crying every day.”
Sri Lankan commanders on the battle front say they are encountering more and more children as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) try desperately to stave off defeat. The rebels are trapped on a 4.5-kilometre strip of land on the north-eastern coast of the island.
Major-General Jagath Dias, the commander of the Sri Lankan Army’s 57th Division, said his men had been fighting girls as young as 11.
“It’s very difficult [to shoot at children] but when someone has a weapon and is firing it at you, it doesn’t matter what age, you have to shoot.”
His colleague, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, the commander of the army’s 58th division fighting on the front line, said “most of” the Tiger cadres captured since April 23 were aged between 11 and 18.
A couple of days ago a British politician flatly labeled the Tamil Tigers terrorists and said they stood in the way of a united Sri Lanka:
Liberal Democrat Chairman of the Commons International Affairs Select Committee and MP for Gordon, Malcolm Bruce accused Tamil Tigers as terrorists and said “unless you end terrorism you can’t actually build the united Sri Lanka”. He made this eye opening statement on BBC Radio-4 interview after coming back to UK from a two day visit in Sri Lanka.
Two key parts of the interview (go to the link to read it all):
BBC: But there still lots of people caught in the fighting. Aren’t they?
Malcolm Bruce, MP: Well, there are unknown number of people figure between ten and hundred thousand (10,000 – 100,000) trapped inside the conflict zone and of course there is a concern if the Government were to finish off the terrorists and they would have to same time finishing off their own civilians. I think at the moment it appears there is an attempt to try and find a solution that will end the war without causing great colossal damage to local civilians. We did find quiet lot of people we spoke to, freely told us that they were unable to leave the conflict zone before they were given the assistance by the Sri Lankan Army because there were threatened with shooting by their own side. Many of them were with children not repaired to take that risk.
Malcolm Bruce, MP: I think the point is obviously it is determination trying to end the 30 years of conflict into deal with terrorists for ever. But I think partly because of the pressure from international community and also recognition these are Sri Lankan citizens, they want to find a way of doing it, does not kill more and indeed many have already died. And in that cause huge frustration for the military because they want to take out the terrorists but they can’t do it without these hostages getting in between. At the moment it is a deadlock.
BBC: You are just using the word, terrorists. It is a very loaded one. We are talking about the Tamil Tiger rebels here, Aren’t you?
Malcolm Bruce, MP: Well, I have to say these Tamil Tigers have assassinated many many Tamils including in and out of governments and the opposition parties and we had very credible evidence many of the people we met in camps to say they were threatened and shot at by their own side and told them if they try to leave the conflict zone their lives be at risk and in those circumstances, I think there is a clear indication that this is a divided community and the unless you end terrorism you can’t actually build the united Sri Lanka.
—Tamil Tigers, rebels who once seemed invincible
—FBI says Tamil Tigers danger to U.S. (2008)
—Global Security.Org backgrounder on Tamil Tigers
— A BRIEF HISTORY OF The Tamil Tigers (TIME)
—Tamil Eelam (Wikipedia on the proposed Tamil nation-state)
—Tamil Tigers: A fearsome force (2000 BBC story)
UPDATE: Read Dave Schuler.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.