Sri Lanka’s False Dawn

NEW YORK – As the Sri Lankan government celebrates the first anniversary of its historic triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), it is increasingly clear that the battlefield victory will prove pyrrhic unless the legitimate grievances of Sri Lanka’s minority communities are recognized and addressed. By failing to reach out meaningfully to the Tamil-speaking minority, and by cracking down on opposition voices and any kind of dissent in Sri Lanka, the government is throwing away a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

But it is not too late for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to change course and begin to build a truly multi-ethnic society. Indeed, the country’s future depends on his doing just that.

The end of the civil war was an unambiguously positive development for Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers led a ruthless campaign for an independent territory against Sri Lanka’s government for most of the past three decades. They killed not only government officials, but often Tamil leaders willing to explore compromise solutions with the government, as well as civilians from all ethnic groups.

Indeed, the LTTE has been accused of a range of human-rights violations, in addition to such killings, including abduction, child conscription, and using civilians as human shields. The Sri Lankan army, police, and other state organs also perpetrated major abuses during the conflict.