Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Sri Lankan civil war

The silhouette of the truth about what happened in Mamasapano is beginning to be seen. If there were ineptness, falsehood, terrorism, human rights violations and whatever other evils, where should we go from there?
If the answer is war or violent retaliation, let us remember the Civil War that occurred in Sri Lanka and which lasted 25 years. Each side committed human rights violations, people were caught in the crossfire, displaced, others were tortured and impoverished, society was broken, assassinations of officials were a way of life and the country is still traumatized.
Along the way, there were many attempts at peace. Ceasefires were not followed, commitments made were discarded, suspicion was rampant on both sides. So, they opted for war.
The issue was between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority. The tensions between them arose because of colonization when one colonizing power (the British) preferred to deal and empower the Tamils because they were resilient, hardworking, and effective in administering colonial affairs which gave rise to ill-will between them and the Sinhalese. When Independence came the way of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese majority began rectifying their position by passing language laws cutting out the Tamils by making Sinhalese the official language. This meant the loss of government positions in the civil service and a general disfavor to Tamils in opportunities such as university admission, etc.
The answer was a Tamil reaction of violence and assassinations led by a war-oriented leadership that brought on riots from both sides, and a fatal fragmentation of society. The Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam came into being and fought ferociously using tactics like what is now recognized as terrorism. So much so, that with their use of suicide bombers (the first to use them), assassinations of public figures (including Tamils that did not conform to their way of rectifying their position through violence), massacres of government soldiers, providing their soldiers with cyanide pills to commit suicide when captured, they were labeled as a terrorist organization by 32 countries.
While there were Tamil opposition figures that believed in struggling for their cause with peaceful and legal means, the armed Tamil elements held sway by wreaking the same violence on them. From 80,000 to 100,000 people lost their lives in the conflict.
When peace talks and ceasefires did not work because of the suspicions, ill-will and belief by both sides in the use of force to settle matters, the war went on and on. It finally ended by the use of massive force coming together with atrocious human rights violations that literally wiped out the Tamil Tigers but not the memories of war.
The armed conflict has ended but the country has been so traumatized by the violence on both sides that it will struggle for generations to erase the past. Meanwhile the war took its toll not only on the population which in turn hampered the nation’s progress. No one side really won it.
There are better ways of achieving peace. They must be found despite the obstacles that are there from the past injustices, violence, betrayals. Like anything else in life, making peace like getting married, starting a business, choosing a goal to follow, always has the element of chance that it will not work the way one wants it to, or plans it to be. Then it should go back to the drawing board, it should be adjusted in fairness and righteousness. The two sides must have those virtues, the vision of settling matters without violence.
Sri Lanka erupted into its decades-long civil war when 13 Sinhalese soldiers were massacred by Tamil insurgents.
It is a cautionary tale.

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