Sri Lanka War May Give Way To Court Battles
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
A 25-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka appears to be at an end. And now the European Union is calling for an independent investigation into possible human rights abuses. The Sri Lankan military says it now has full control of areas formerly held by the Tamil Tigers, and state television has been broadcasting images of dead Tamil Tigers, including the movement's leader. Stewart Bell is a reporter for the National Post; that's a Canadian newspaper. He's just back from Sri Lanka, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
Mr. STEWART BELL (Reporter, National Post): Thank you.
NORRIS: Let's begin with the fighting itself. What are you hearing? Is it now completely finished?
Mr. BELL: With the death of Prabhakaran it's finished, and so are the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE, the rebel group, was pretty much a personality cult built around Velupillai Prabhakaran, who's been their leader for 30 years, was their founder. And I think with his death, that's the end of the Tamil Tigers.
NORRIS: No sporadic fighting. There were some conflicting reports that some of this did continue.
Mr. BELL: I think we're going to see over the next days, or even weeks, we'll see some of this mopping-up going on. There may even be some attacks in other areas by lone individuals, but as a guerrilla force that controlled territory, Tamil Tigers are no more.
NORRIS: Now, what does this mean for the government, particularly the president, who over the weekend was declaring victory?
Mr. BELL: Well, it's a big success story for him. I mean, he came to power in 2005 and announced that he was going to be the president that was going to finish off this issue. He was not going to pass on this problem to the next generation. And he's done that very quickly. Now, having resolved the military issue, he now has the problem of trying to resolve the underlying grievances. And this goes back years to independence, 1948, and the feeling among the ethnic Tamil minority that they need further protections in terms of their human rights. And, also, that they should have greater autonomy in the north and the east of the country, where they are the overwhelming majority.
NORRIS: Now, the Tamil Tigers began as a group that was calling for a separate state for the ethnic minority, the Tamils. And they were over time declared a terrorist organization by the international community. They're accused of using civilians as human shields. And they recruited, as I understand, soldiers very young. They're accused of using children as soldiers.
Mr. BELL: Yeah. I visited some of those children who'd been conscripted to this most recent fighting. They told me that they were sent to camps where they saw 150 kids as young as 13 that were training. One girl told me she was trained for eight days and then sent to the front with an automatic rifle. And she was shot and captured. So, yeah, I mean, that's one of the really horrific aspects of this. That's one of the issues that the government's going to have to deal with.
You have a lot of child ex-combatants, and they're going to need to be rehabilitated over the coming years, so they can be reintroduced into society, which is beginning to happen. There are camps that have been set up to help with that. And UNICEF is helping. But it is a huge issue for this country and this conflict.
NORRIS: Is there any kind of aid getting to the people who are still there, either through the government or through outside organizations?
Mr. BELL: Yeah. There's a lot of NGOs that have moved in now. And the entire north is basically empty. There's nobody left living there. They've all been brought to camps around the central city of Vavuniya. So there's two to three hundred thousand people living in these camps. They're going to be living there until they can be resettled, which is going to be a years or so. So, you're talking about quite a huge humanitarian undertaking here. You have people that need to be housed and fed. You have kids that need to be educated. You have the potential for disease unless there's proper sanitation and health care provided.
So, these are things the government's working on, the United Nations has been working on, and about four dozen NGOs at the moment trying to make a livable existence for these people until they can get back to their homes.
NORRIS: Stewart Bell is a reporter for the National Post - that's a Canadian newspaper. Stewart, thank you very much for talking to us.
Mr. BELL: My pleasure.
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