Leading article: A military victory that will sow the seeds of hatred

The Tamil Tigers might be crushed, but this will not heal a divided island

Related Topics

The Sri Lankan government is on the brink of victory in its quarter-century-long conflict with the Tamil Tiger rebels. But it is also in grave danger of squandering the chance to establish a peaceful political settlement between the majority Sinhalese community and the island's Tamil minority.

An estimated 200,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the narrow strip of land still controlled by the rebels in the north-east of the country. Reports are emerging from the territory of 40 civilians dying daily and hundreds being injured in clashes between the Tigers and the military. The Red Cross has warned of a humanitarian crisis as feeding the displaced population becomes increasingly difficult.

The Tamil rebels cannot escape blame for this suffering. Credible reports have emerged of the Tigers using civilians as human shields. But the Colombo government, having pushed the rebels back into a small pocket of land, is unquestionably in control. And it is showing precious little concern to minimise civilian casualties as it pushes for outright military victory.

The lockdown of the rebel-held area has made it difficult for Tamils to flee the regions of intense fighting. The military has established "safe zones" for civilians, but these have come under shell fire. The military also wants to set up compounds to detain civilians that bear an ominous similarity to concentration camps. There is talk of holding civilians for several years in such facilities while the army ensures that the Tiger threat is finally extinguished.

Depressingly, such excesses appear to have been driven not by an over-mighty military, but by the civilian administration in Colombo. President Mahinda Rajapaksa campaigned four years ago on a hard-line platform of rejecting any concessions to the Tamils and overturning the peace process. His government has relentlessly stoked Sinhalese nationalism ever since. This was the insidious trend that the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickramatunge, identified so powerfully in an article penned shortly before his murder.

No criticism is tolerated in Colombo, however. The government's angry response this week to our own Government's nomination of Des Browne as a special envoy to the country is an indication that the Sinhalese authorities are in no mood to listen to the opinions of outsiders on how it should prosecute this war. International calls for a ceasefire have been ignored too.

Restraint is nevertheless firmly in the interests of the Sinhalese government. When the Tigers have been defeated, the Sinhalese will have to live side by side with their Tamil neighbours. The more violence is visited on innocent civilians now, the harder the process of reconciliation will be. A military occupation of the north and the east can never deliver the security that both sides in this conflict deserve.

Ultimately, the solution to the conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils can only be political. Tamils need political equality and access to jobs. The long-running discrimination that fuelled this conflict must end. Some degree of political autonomy, short of independence, for the Tamil-dominated regions would also be sensible.

Yet at the moment the Sri Lankan government is behaving as if it can solve this conflict purely through force of arms. The defeat of the loathsome Tigers ought to be an opportunity. But the victorious Sinhalese are instead sowing the seeds of more hatred and continued division on the island of Sri Lanka.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?