Sunday, February 8, 2009

Los Angeles Times: Sri Lanka closes in on Tamil Tiger rebels

By Mark Magnier from New Delhi

As the Sri Lankan military tightens the noose around Tamil Tiger guerrillas, squeezing them into an increasingly tight pocket on the island's northeast coast, the government appears closer to winning the war than at almost any time since fighting began a quarter-century ago.

Yet after the battle ends, it may prove nearly as difficult to win the peace, according to some analysts.

"The risk is that the government will snatch political defeat from the jaws of military victory," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based think tank the Center for Policy Alternatives. "I'm not particularly optimistic."

If the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo fails to extend a hand to its minority Tamil population, it could spur another guerrilla movement in the Tigers' place, even if long-time rebel leader V. Prabhakaran is captured or killed.

"If the Tamil people don't get a good political package, if there is triumphalism by the government, another military group with another name will rise up," said N. Manoharan, with the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi.

The Tamil campaign for a homeland separate from the Sinhalese majority dates to the 1970s. By the late 1980s, the Tigers had seized control of part of the island's northeast coast. The group, formally named the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, has assassinated several high-ranking Sri Lankan and Indian politicians and is said to have pioneered the use of suicide bombers.

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