Sunday, July 19, 2009

New York Times: Justifying a Costly War in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — More than 2,000 years ago, a Sinhalese king named Dutugemunu saddled up his elephant and headed north to fight and kill Elara, an invading Tamil king from India. The battle between the men is one of the most celebrated moments in Sri Lankan history, and the last time, until two months ago, that a Sri Lankan ruler won such a decisive victory over a mortal threat.

Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that fans of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, have taken to calling him a modern-day incarnation of King Dutugemunu. After all, he presided over the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, among the world’s most enduring and vicious guerrilla separatists, hardened fighters who have humiliated four presidents over nearly three decades.

Asked about this comparison earlier this month, Mr. Rajapaksa laughed it off, insisting that the legend was misunderstood as a triumph of one ethnicity over another. After his victory, the story goes, Dutugemunu made peace with the Tamils and honored the memory of Elara, who was beloved by his people.

History will decide whether Mr. Rajapaksa will be remembered as a nationalist avenger or a unifying peacemaker.

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