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March 11, 2009

Sri Lanka and its long war

The Sri Lankan Civil War, waged between separatist Tamil rebels and the government of Sri Lanka - a conflict which has run hot and cold over 26 years, and has cost over 70,000 lives - may now be approaching its end. The ethnic Tamil rebel force called The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or LTTE, or just "Tamil Tigers") has been fighting for the creation of an independent Tamil state since 1983, using both conventional warfare techniques and terrorist methods. Since 1987, the LTTE has claimed responsibility for nearly 200 suicide attacks, more than any organization in the world. Now, since late 2008, aggressive Sri Lankan government forces have dealt many serious defeats to the LTTE, capturing towns and airfields, and recently trapping the remaining 1,000 (estimated) LTTE rebels in a 37 square km (15 sq m) area, surrounded by 50,000 government troops. Army shelling and retaliation by desperate rebels has led to many recent civilian casualties, and an estimated refugee population of over 200,000. The Sri Lankan government has exercised tight control on media over the years, limiting coverage of the conflict and allegedly inciting its supporters, and several journalists have paid with their lives. (37 photos total)

An injured man in the main hospital of Colombo, Sri Lanka on February 20, 2009 after he was wounded following a rebel Tamil Tiger attack. Tamil Tigers carried out a kamikaze-style attack in Sri Lanka's capital, smashing a light aircraft into the main government Inland Revenue building, killing two people and wounding 50, officials said. Sri Lanka's air force said anti aircraft guns shot down one of the light aircraft that had flown over the tightly-guarded capital while the wreckage of the second was found inside the Inland Revenue building, which caught fire. (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

A Sri Lankan army soldier stands guard by a damaged building in Mullaittivu, January 27, 2009. Sri Lanka's government on Friday again pledged safe passage to thousands of people trapped in fighting between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels, but said there would be no ceasefire with the separatist guerrillas. (REUTERS/Stringer) #

In this undated handout photograph made available by rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, center, poses for a group photograph with Tamil rebels in Anuradhapura, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, HO) #

Ethnic Tamil civilians get into a bus to go to a camp for internally displaced people after being checked by the military in Vishvamadu, a town recently captured by soldiers battling to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), February 7, 2009. The rate of people fleeing fighting between Sri Lanka's army and the LTTE has picked up sharply recently, with the separatist rebels now confined to less than 175 square km (67 sq miles). (REUTERS/Stringer) #

Internally displaced Tamils gather at a tube well at a government-run displacement camp in Manik Farm, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Vavuniya, Sri Lanka on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. Speaking to journalists during an army-run visit to a camp Monday, many of the escaped Tamil civilians told of huddling in bunkers as the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels pounded each other with heavy artillery in recent months. (AP Photo/Ravi Nessman) #

This undated picture provided by independent observers in Sri Lanka on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, shows an unidentified young ethnic Tamil at a hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu, about 275 kilometers (170 miles) north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. After days of shelling sent patients fleeing the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital, the Red Cross evacuated the staff and wounded Wednesday, effectively closing the last remaining medical facility in the war zone, the aid group said. (AP Photo) #

Tamil people, who escaped from Tamil Tiger-held area following fighting between Sri Lanka army and Tamil Tigers, chat with their relatives over the fence of a temporary refugee camp in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka February 23, 2009. Since the beginning of the year, over 35,000 Tamils have fled to government-controlled areas following fighting and been placed in refugee camps. However, these refugees complain that they are not able to leave the camps, a temporary measure the government says will continue until they can weed out the rebels' infiltrators hiding among civilians. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

A tank drives its way to the current front line in Puthukudiyiruppu, Sri Lanka, which was captured in recent days by the Sri Lankan army after battles with the LTTE, February 23, 2009. Tamil Tiger rebels told the U.N. and international community on Monday that they are willing to accept a ceasefire with the Sri Lankan government, as Asia's longest-running civil war may be nearing an end. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

A soldier guards a bridge near Dharmapuran, Sri Lanka, about 8 km (4.9 Mile) west of the front line February 22, 2009. Dharmapuran was captured about a month ago by the Sri Lankan army. The bridge was blasted by the LTTE as they were pushed away during an army offensive, to prevent transportation of Sri Lankan troops heading east. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

Soldiers stand next to their motorbike as they secure a road near Dharmapuran, Sri Lanka, just west of the current fighting on February 22, 2009. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

Tracer rounds from anti-aircraft guns light up the sky of Colombo, Sri Lanka during an attack by Tamil Tiger rebels on Friday, Feb 20, 2009. Two rebel aircraft launched a surprise raid on the Sri Lankan capital late Friday, an act of defiance by the beleaguered Tamil Tiger rebels in the face of a punishing military offensive in the north. (AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena) #

Sri Lankan Fire services attend to the Department of Inland Revenue building in Colombo on February 20, 2009. At least two people were killed and 44 others wounded in what officials have said is a suicide Tamil Tiger attack against the Sri Lankan capital. (Ishara S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images) #

Sri Lankan soldiers survey the damage caused to the building of the Sri Lankan Inland Revenue Department following an attack by Tamil Tiger rebels in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009. (AP Photo) #

Investigators examine the wreckage of a light aircraft that Tamil rebels deliberately crashed into the building of the Sri Lankan Inland Revenue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009. (AP Photo) #

Sri Lankan air force officers lift the wreckage of a second aircraft used by the Tamil Tiger rebels to launch an attack at Colombo after it was gunned down close to Katunayake International airport, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009. The body of the pilot and undetonated explosives were earlier removed from the wreckage. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) #

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his wife Shiranthi attend Independence Day celebrations in Colombo February 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe) #

Tamil S. Sarangan, 11 years old, with his parrot Peti, which he brought with him as he escaped his home at the Tamil Tiger-held area following fighting between Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tigers, seen on February 23, 2009. He now stays in a temporary refugee camp in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

Performers dance and play music during the Dammaduwa festival celebrations in Anawatuna village, some 160 km (99 miles) south of Colombo, March 8, 2009. The festival is celebrated in Anawatuna once a year in March through the night till morning and is believed to give good fortune and prosperity to the village as well as to keep the evil spirits away. (REUTERS/ Nir Elias) #

A man, surrounded by egrets, searches for valuable items in the garbage dump at Bloemendhal in Colombo, Sri Lanka on March 7, 2009. (REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe) #

A police officer stands guard as Red Cross workers bury the bodies of Tamil rebel fighters in a cemetery in Vavuniya, about 210 kilometers (131 miles) northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. Sri Lankan air force jets bombed Tamil Tiger artillery guns and key rebel positions Tuesday, a day after ground troops captured a rebel base and training camp in their march toward the insurgents' last stronghold in the north, the military said. (AP Photo/Sanath Priyantha) #

This image made from video shows an explosion as it happened among a group of Sri Lankan Muslim men performing during a religious procession in Akuressa, in Matara, south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. A suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed 14 people and wounded 35, including Sri Lanka's telecommunications minister, during the Muslim festival, officials said. (AP Photo/APTN) #

The covered bodies of those killed by a bomb blast (previous photo) are seen outside a mosque in Godapitiya in Matara district, south of Colombo, Sri Lanka on March 10, 2009. (REUTERS/Stringer) #

A Sri Lankan soldier stands near a tank as it fires a shell at Puthukkudiyirippu where skirmishes between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE were taking place, in northeastern Sri Lanka on March 1, 2009. (REUTERS/Stringer) #

This photo, taken on Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 and provided Monday, Feb. 2, 2009 by independent observers in Sri Lanka shows the body of an unidentified Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil woman, allegedly killed during shelling, in the debris of a temporary shelter in Udakattu village in the rebel-controlled town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, 275 kilometers (170 miles) north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo) #

A Tamil man, who escaped from an LTTE rebel-held area following heavy fighting, looks on as he arrives at a temporary refugee camp in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka February 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

Sri Lankan army soldiers walk over boats to cross a lagoon in Vishvamadu, Sri Lanka, a town recently captured by soldiers battling to crush the LTTE on February 9, 2009. (REUTERS/Stringer) #

Fishermen sail their boats away from Colombo during an early morning fishing shift on February 19, 2009. Fisherman in Colombo face traffic restrictions at sea during the last two years due to the heightened security situation, fisherman said. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

A Tamil man, who escaped the Tamil Tigers rebels-held area, takes a shower in a temporary refugee camp in Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka February 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Nir Elias) #

Sri Lankan Army commandos march during Independence Day celebrations in Colombo February 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe) #

Ahimsha Wickrematunge, daughter of slain newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, and his sister Rukmani mourn over his body at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, January 11, 2009. Wickrematunga was slain by unidentified gunmen, and had been shot at and assaulted several times earlier. The assailants remain unidentified, but suspicion is widespread that Sri Lankan government forces or supporters were responsible. Wickrematunga, anticipating his possible murder, wrote a defiant editorial for posthumous publication only days earlier. (REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe) #

Sri Lankan protesters break coconuts, cursing the killers, during the funeral procession of the Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Jan. 12, 2009. The funeral procession for a slain Sri Lankan journalist turned into a large anti-government protest Monday, with thousands of marchers demanding justice and some blaming the government for the killing. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) #

People carry coffins of their relatives for burial during a mass burial ceremony for victims of a landmine explosion by suspected Tiger rebels that killed at least 64 people, in Kabithigollewa village, about 210 kilometers (131 miles) north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, June 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) #

Soldiers walk back to an army camp as the sun sets near Thoppigala, about 240 kilometers (149 miles) northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, July 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) #

A Sri Lankan soldier is seen aboard a military helicopter as they fly towards the newly recaptured Tamil rebel held town of Mullaittivu, about 230 kilometers (143 miles) northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. A government health official said Wednesday Jan. 28, 2009, that witnesses reported 250 to 300 civilians were killed in fighting over the past week in northern Sri Lanka and said hospital records showed that more than 1,100 were wounded. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) #

Sri Lankan Army soldiers are seen outside a damaged church in the newly recaptured Tamil rebel held town of Mullaittivu, northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) #

A Sri Lankan police officer stands guard in a transit camp for internally displaced ethnic minority Tamils in northern district of Vauniya, about 260 km (160 miles) north of Colombo, January 14, 2009. P.M.S. Charles, Government Agent of Vavuniya said the more than 1,450 ethnic Tamils that were recently displaced from the northern battlefields of Kilinochchi, north Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu are living in two transit camps recently set up in Nelukkulam and Menik farm areas in Vavuniya. (REUTERS/Stringer) #

A Tamil boy, Vinoth, holds the hand of a man named Thirugnanam as they play in the surf in Wellawatta, Sri Lanka on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) #

 
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