Sri Lanka: Caught between the Tigers and the tanks

Posted பிற்பகல் 8:44 by S R E E in
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka — Every day, the women get up in the cool of early morning and walk a few kilometres north to the heavily fortified checkpoint that stands between them and their families. And every day a kindly staffer from the International Committee of the Red Cross tells them that they still cannot cross. So they turn away from the barbed wire and stacks of sandbags and camouflage and walk back into town, where they squat in the shade of the main government office, waiting for the road home to open — and knowing it won't, until home has changed so much that they will scarcely recognize it. Tamils and other opponents of the government who look around the country today will probably take little comfort in the promise of a just peace. The east — which came under government control in 2006, after the No. 2 Tiger leader split off with several thousand fighters and allied with Colombo — remains heavily militarized and is actively being "Sinhalized," with areas losing their Tamil names and Hindu shrines being converted to Buddhist worship sites.Meanwhile, two weeks ago in the capital, the country's leading anti-corruption journalist was assassinated by gunmen on motorbikes, a crime the government limply condemned. International observers put the blame squarely on state intelligence agencies. "They whacked the most influential editor of a newspaper in the country in broad daylight, with real military precision," the Western diplomat says. "It's the work of armed groups funded by the intelligence agencies and reporting to the Secretary of Defence — that's the prevailing point of view. "There is a complete culture of impunity here. There is a perception that the government can do whatever they want — and they can." That leaves the civilians of the north facing two equally odious choices. "Helpless Tamils are pressured by both sides," says a weary government employee in Vavuniya who is charged with looking after the civilians who cross from the north. He is Tamil himself. "People find it very difficult to live in a war zone with bombing and shelling, and they would leave if they could. Then the government says it wants to safeguard them and then puts them in a jail. "People only want freedom. But we don't have that anywhere," he says, then adds ironically: "I blame Tamils for being born Tamils — that's who I blame in the end." Stephanie Nolen is a Globe
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