Sunday, February 8, 2009

Washington Post: Families Hurt by Sri Lanka War View Army Offensive With Hope

By Emily Wax, Washington Post Foreign Service

When Margaret Nanayakkara heard Friday that the Sri Lankan military had seized the headquarters of a rebel detention camp, she sent a prayer of thanks to Buddha. Her son, an army major, had been captured by rebels 15 years ago when his tank was ambushed.

"My heart is saying he's still alive," said the 74-year-old mother of three, who wore a brown, swirl-print house dress and her gray hair in a braided bun.

For every year that he's been missing, she has donated a bull to her temple. On each of her son's birthdays, she has sponsored breakfast and lunch for disabled children. She hopes her good deeds will bring him home. "I pray every morning and every night," she said. "I don't do anything to hurt others. I believe he will come home."

Like Nanayakkara, thousands in this busy seaside capital are following the television coverage as the Sri Lankan military destroys the last outposts of the Tamil Tiger rebels, potentially ending a quarter-century of civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people. The Tamil Tigers, whose full name is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have been fighting for a separate Tamil nation in the northern tip of the Sinhalese-majority country.

Almost every family in this island nation has been touched by the war: victims of Tamil Tiger suicide bomb attacks, civilians caught in the crossfire, mothers and wives of missing servicemen in a political conflict that suddenly became personal.

Sudarshinie Fernandopulle and her children look at a photo of her husband, a Sri Lankan highways minister killed in a suicide bombing last spring. The government blamed Tamil Tiger rebels. "I really just want the war to end," she says.

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