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Heroes Cross Swords in Sri Lanka

NEW DELHI – Two celebrated heroes who, as president and army chief, helped end Sri Lanka’s long and brutal civil war against the Tamil Tigers are now crossing political swords. Whichever candidate wins Sri Lanka’s presidential election on January 26 will have to lead that small but strategically located island-nation in a fundamentally different direction – from making war, as it has done for more than a quarter-century, to making peace through ethnic reconciliation and power sharing.

Sri Lanka, almost since independence in 1948, has been racked by acrimonious rivalry between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, who make up 12% of today’s 21.3-million population. Now the country is being divided by the political rivalry between two Sinhalese war idols, each of whom wants to be remembered as the true leader who crushed the Tamil Tiger guerrillas.