August 25, 2007:
years and over 70,000 dead, the Sri Lankan civil war is approaching its end.
The LTTE separatist rebels still have a population of nearly 500,000 Tamils
under its control in the north (out of a total Sri Lankan population of 20
million). There are about 3.5 million Tamils (whose ancestors came from
southern India) on the island. Most are tired of the violence, so the LTTE has
to use increasing amounts of force on the Tamil population. After three years
of a ceasefire (during which 130 people died in combat anyway), and failed
peace negotiations, the fighting resumed two years ago. Since then the 215,000
man Sri Lankan army has lost about a thousand dead, while the 12,000 LTTE
forces lost about 3,000 dead, and another 5,000 men who surrendered, were
captured or deserted. The army suffered even more desertions, but has been able
to replace them. Because of declining popular support, the LTTE has had a
harder time recruiting. Many, if not most, of their new troops are young
teenagers, enticed or coerced into joining. The LTTE is believed to have about
7,000 people under arms full time. But they are mobilizing another 30-40,000
fighters from among the population they control. How useful this last group
will be is unknown. The the LTTE has increasingly been using coercion to
maintain support from Tamils, and has been known to shoot their own fighters to
prevent or discourage desertion.
The big problem for the LTTE
is the loss of over 5,000 fighters, and control of over a million civilians, in
eastern Sri Lanka. Large quantities (over 10,000 rifles, and many tons of
artillery shells, grenades of explosives) of weapons were lost. There are still
stockpiles in the north, but not enough to arm over 30,000 mobilized civilians.
The civilians up north get training in how to use rifles, and basic military
techniques. But without weapons, a lot of the mobilized civilians can only help
by carrying ammo and other supplies for those who are armed, and digging
The LTTE navy is used to make
suicide boat attacks against the navy, andsupervise the smuggling of weapons and ammo into LTTE territory. The
LTTE still has over fifty speed boats and at least a dozen smuggling boats (often
rigged to look like fishing boats). The smugglers try to mix in with the
hundreds of Indian fishing boats that operate off Sri Lanka each day. But the
Sri Lankan nave has gotten better at detecting these efforts, and more of the
LTTE boats being discovered and sunk.
The final battle has over
100,000 soldiers facing as many as 30,000 LTTE fighters. The army wants to
avoid a bloodbath, and so is taking its time starting the final offensive, and
apparently plans to be slow and methodical, giving the shaky LTTE force plenty
of opportunity to surrender or desert.