Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation

By Robert I. Rotberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
South Asia's Enduring War

Chris Smith

THE CIVIL WAR in Sri Lanka consists of thrust and counter-thrust. It has been characterized by an extraordinarily resilient guerrilla insurgency and a particularly inept campaign by government forces to annihilate their wily opponents. In this chapter, a detailed history of engagement, with an account of the failed Indian intervention, precedes an analysis of insurgent and government capabilities.

In 1973 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or "Tamil Tigers") were formed by Vellupillai Prabhakaran. In the mid-1970s they reconstituted themselves as the extremist revolutionary Marxist-leaning "Liberation Tigers" and emerged as the spearhead of Tamil separatism, prepared to use extreme terror and violence in the pursuit of an independent homeland--Eelam. These developments occurred against a backdrop of a Sinhalese-dominated government that was extremely insensitive to the concerns and well-being of the Tamil population.

During the late- 1970s, the Tamil Tigers were few in number and limited in scope. Initially, their aims were to murder and terrorize moderate Tamil politicians and police. About one hundred in number, they operated in four groups around the Jaffna area. As recruitment increased, drawn primarily from the student community, target lists were extended to include the security forces. Bank robberies provided income. The rural poor were ambivalent and failed to lend much support to the Tigers. 1 Proximity to India allowed the Tigers, when pressed, to retreat across the Palk strait to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a "haven option" so vital for any insurgency movement contemplating a sustained campaign against the

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