Attrition: Sri Lankan Bloodbath Clarifies

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December 4, 2009: The 26 year civil war in Sri Lanka ended earlier this year. Once the fighting stopped, more accurate information emerged on the casualties. The violence, and casualties, were greatest during the last three years of the conflict. During that period, over 80 percent of the deaths occurred. For the entire war, the security forces (police and military) suffered 23,790 dead. The rebels, the LTTE, apparently lost about the same. Civilian losses were estimated to be over 20,000. Since the war ended, there have been fewer than twenty deaths resulting from continued violence by the few remaining LTTE rebels on the island. The LTTE still exists, although most of the surviving leadership is now outside Sri Lanka, and trying to raise money for continued guerilla war and terror attacks. Police have aborted several terror attacks since May, and are preparing to keep after LTTE operatives for the foreseeable future.

Throughout the 1980s, the fighting was rather low key. Then, in the 1990s, the LTTE inflicted several major defeats on the army, including driving out an Indian peacekeeping force. LTTE suicide bombers killed a Sri Lankan prime minister, and a former Indian prime minister. By 2002, the LTTE had taken control of 14,000 square kilometers (22 percent of the island nation of Sri Lanka), and signed a ceasefire with the government.

Tamils comprised 13 percent of the 20 million people living on the island, and wanted to establish their own nation in the territory the LTTE controlled in the north and along the east coast. Non-Tamils were driven out of that LTTE territory and a separate government set up. Negotiations with the government failed because hard line LTTE leaders insisted on partition of the island. The government, and many moderate LTTE leaders were willing to allow greater autonomy, but not a separate state. This led, in 2004,  to a split in the LTTE, with the east coast faction making a deal with the government. Troops moved into the east coast to put down the few hard line LTTE fighters that remained there. Continued negotiations with the LTTE proved fruitless, as the hardliners still insisted on partition. The war resumed in 2006, and ended 34 months later in May, 2009.

 


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