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Sri Lanka: What happens now?

Via Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum states one of the big unanswered questions about today's big news from Sri Lanka:

And now the hardest part: can the Sinhalese majority bring itself to treat the defeated Tamil minority charitably after a quarter century of brutal war and nearly 100,000 deaths? Stay tuned.

Another question, if the remaining pro-Tamil extremists do indeed return to their "guerilla roots," as many are predicting, to what extend will the internaitonal Tamil diaspora continue to fuel the conflict. Bringing in a COIN perspective, Abu Muqawama's "Carlos" gets at this question though I think he may be overstating the degree to which diaspora support for the Tigers is the result of coercion. As Nirmala Rajasingam wrote for FP last week:

The Tamil diaspora community is isolated by its own nationalism. Co-opted by the LTTE, it has made no contribution to peace. While the ravages of war encouraged Tamils in Sri Lanka to rethink the LTTE's secessionist project, the diaspora embraced it even more firmly, not having been affected by the collateral damage of that war directly.

In other words, even if the Sri Lankan government can improve conditions in the Tamil regions and bring separatists into the political process, it might not be enough if the Tamil communities abroad continue to side with the irreconcilable elements of the independence movement.

One final question, to what extent will we ever really know what happened during the last stand of the LTTE? Throughout this phase of the conflict, reliable information has been frustratingly hard to come by, with most battlefield reports and statistics coming directly from the combatants themselves.

Yes, the fact that the Sri Lankan military blocked journalists from the conflict area didn't help, but I can't help the feeling that the international media dropped the ball on this one. (Notice, for instance, that yesterday's decisive New York Times piece on the Tigers' defeat was written by reporters in New Dehli and Bangkok.)

Not that it's entirely the newspapers' fault. Given the economic realities big news organizations are facing, and the fact that this conflict flared up at the same time that Pakistan was falling into chaos and the world's biggest election was happening in India, Sri Lanka was sadly just one South Asian conflict too many. As the International Crisis Group's Andrew Stroehlein wrote a few weeks back, the battle that just ended in Sri Lanka is a pretty good preview of what a world without foreign correspondents will be like, and it's a discouraging vision.

With the conventional war ending, Sri Lanka will quickly fall from even its peripheral spot in the international media spotlight. At the same time, whatever pressure that international organizations and governments had brought to bear will also dissapate. This means that it will be entirely up to the Sinhalese and Tamil communities (and their international diasporas) to put together a full account of what happened and devise a way of moving forward that avoids more bloodshed. They're on their own now.


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