Made up of a population of around 20 percent Tamils and 75 percent Sinhalese, the current conflict in Sri Lanka dates back to independence from Britain in 1948. But, it was only in 1972, that the Tamil New Tigers Militia was formed after resentment over perceived discrimination. With the Tigers wanting independence from the majority Sinhalese, the conflict has killed some 70,000 people and uprooted hundreds of thousands more.
With a fiece reputation, the Tigers have become one of the most infamous guerilla movements in the world. But, they have also attempted to govern the areas they control setting up justice and health systems.
The civil war has seen multiple political assassinations but it was the murder of India’s prime minister Rajiv Gandi in 1991 that eventually lead to the Tigers being placed on the international list of terrorist organisations. The group has used suicide to great effect. Only last February, the military shot down two Kamikazi planes heading towards the Sri Lankan air force’s headquarters.
Two and a half years ago, the Tigers held some 15,000 square kilometres of territory. Today, that has changed dramatically, with the group controlling a tiny rump in the north.
The election in 2005 of president Mahinda Rajapakse saw a major swing in the conflict. No longer prepared to negotiate with the Tigers he vowed their complete destruction giving the military carte blanche.
Helped in particular by the desertion of the Tigers’ eastern commander, the Sri Lankan army has recaptured large swathes of rebel territory. Despite those huge advances, few analysts believe this will see an end to the conflict until a more lasting solution is found.