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Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has always been a hot potato for the government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The rebels fought a long war with the Sri Lankan government for what they claimed were rights of ethnic Tamils long-suppressed by the Sinhalese majority. The much-feared and reviled rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran shot to infamy over years — carrying out high profile attacks, assassinations and issuing statements from his jungle hideout to challenge the might of the state.
In 2009, Rajapaksa ordered a full-scale assault on the Tamil rebels holed up in a small area in the northeast. The war drew international condemnation as Sri Lankan troops shelled rebel strongholds which were thought to house thousands of Tamil civilians. The military denied attacking civilian areas and accused the Tigers of using innocent people as shields.
Even four years after the war, the spectre of the conflict refuses to leave the Rajapaksa government. A Channel 4 documentary has claimed that Lankan forces killed Prabhakaran’s son Balachandran, 12, in cold blood in 2009. The allegation has been strongly denied by Colombo. The death of LTTE chief Prabhakaran during the war in 2009 shook the foundations of the rebellion and sounded the death knell of any separatist tendencies being nursed by Tamils.
There are tens of thousands of Tamils in Lanka’s biggest neighbour India and the question of their self-determination touches a raw nerve in the country. A resurgent demand by Tamils in India for a probe into alleged war crimes during the final days of the conflict has recently roiled the politics of India. The Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is under intense pressure to push Sri Lanka for an investigation into alleged war crimes. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a woman Tiger militant in a suicide attack in 1991. He had sent an Indian peacekeeping force in the late 80s to Sri Lanka. A Tamil party has quit the ruling coalition to force the Indian federal government to push Colombo over the probe demand.
Yesterday, the United Nations passed a resolution asking Sri Lanka to probe the alleged war crimes. The US-sponsored resolution, though weaker than the previous one, has been supported by India. The resolution is a major victory for those trying to bring out the truth. Collateral damage in wars and insurgencies is not uncommon. But what can tip the balance against an elected government is its indifference towards civilian casualties. Responsible dispensations are required to be above board in dealing with questions of human rights, especially when it comes to minorities. Colombo should take the UN resolution seriously and start a probe into whether civilians were killed by government forces during the war with LTTE. This will help burnish Rajapaksa’s image and lend credibility to Sri Lanka’s international standing•