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A female soldier of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam walks through an L.T.T.E. cemetery in Kilinochchi, in September, 2007.


T he mobile-phone video clip shows a

pair of soldiers pushing a naked,
blindfolded man into the frame. His
hands are tied behind his back. One sol-
dier, dressed in the uniform of the Sri
Lankan Army, forces him into a sitting
position on the ground, kicks him in the
back, and steps out of the way as the other
soldier comes forward and shoots him in
the back of the head. The man’s body
jolts and flops down. Off camera, the
shooter can be heard laughing giddily and
exclaiming, “It’s like he jumped!” The
soldiers kill two other men in similar
fashion, and then dispatch a number of
wounded prisoners. The camera turns to
show at least eight other bodies, includ-
ing those of several half-naked women,
lying in pools of blood. All of them ap-
pear to have been freshly executed.
When the end came for the Libera-
tion Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in May,
2009, it was overwhelming and unmer-
ciful. In a three-year offensive of increas-
ing sophistication, the Sri Lankan Army
had outmaneuvered one of the world’s
most ruthless insurgent armies. The
battlefield defeat ended a vicious conflict
that for twenty-six years had divided
Sri Lanka along ethnic lines, as the
country’s Tamils, a mostly Hindu mi-
nority, fought for the creation of a sepa-
rate state against the ruling majority of
Sinhalese Buddhists. The Tamil army—
known as the L.T.T.E., or simply the
Tigers—was led by Velupillai Prabha-
karan, a charismatic, elusive man who
had become one of the most successful
guerrilla leaders of modern times. The
Tigers were persistent suicide bombers,
as well as relentless guerrilla fighters, and
the war took at least a hundred thousand
lives in Sri Lanka. In many respects—its
A REPORTER AT LARGE entrenched religious and ethnic conflicts,
its festering guerrilla warfare and sui-
cide bombings, its seamless interchange
DEATH OF THE TIGER between civilians and combatants—the
war prefigured any number of later
Sri Lanka’s brutal victory over its Tamil insurgents. conflicts. Where it differed was in the
government’s brutal effectiveness in put-
BY JON LEE ANDERSON ting down the insurgency. To the extent
that a counter-insurgency campaign can
be successful, Sri Lanka is a grisly test
case for success in modern warfare.
The Tigers’ collapse began in January,
2009, when they lost the town of Kili-
Government soldiers later destroyed the cemetery. Photograph by Ron Haviv. nochchi, their de-facto capital. For an


organization that had controlled much of cious that the diplomats also wanted to gested,” the pastor recalled. “But as we
northern and eastern Sri Lanka for nearly save the Tiger leaders, the government approached they said, ‘Don’t come,’ and
a decade, it was a devastating reversal. ignored them. Tens of thousands of ci- fired guns in the air.” The soldiers had
Their remaining fighters, a force of about vilians remained in the kill zone, which been told there could be suicide bomb-
fifteen thousand, retreated into the jungle continued to shrink until it was no big- ers among the last Tigers, and in fact
near the coastal town of Mullaittivu, tak- ger than four football fields. several insurgents blew themselves up in
ing along more than three hundred thou- A survivor of the final stand at Mul- the midst of civilian refugees turning
sand Tamil civilians who were trapped laittivu, a young pastor, described the themselves in to the Army. “We fell on
with them. With international concern scene to me. He and four other pastors the ground. They were about fifty metres
mounting over the safety of and a group of sixty orphans away. We crawled back to the bunker,
the civilians, the Sri Lankan in their care had been dug and then they fired at the bunker. The
Army designated a series of into shallow bunkers on the whole night, I could hear the Army
“no-fire zones” and told civil- beach. “It was the first thing throwing grenades in the bunkers near
ians to assemble there. It then we did whenever we reached us. There were explosions, and people
shelled those zones repeat- a new position—digging were crying and saying, ‘Help us.’ ”
edly, while issuing denials and making bags with cut- At dawn, the pastor said he “felt
that it was doing so and for- up women’s saris,” he said. courage” and decided to go out and con-
bidding journalists access to “Only afterward would we front the soldiers. “I went with another
the area. Hundreds of people go and look for food or pastor and a white flag,” he said. “We
were killed every day. By mid- water.” The Tamil fighters explained who we were, and they told
April, the Tamil rebels and were in bunkers all around everyone to come forward out of the
the civilians were trapped on a bloody them. “Most of them were Black Ti- bunker. They ordered us to kneel down.
stretch of beach about a mile long. gers,” he said, referring to the Tamil sui- There were about fifteen soldiers. Their
Hemmed in by the sea, a lagoon, and a cide squad. “Prabhakaran was among faces were covered with black cloth.
hundred thousand government soldiers, us, too, but none of us saw him.” He de- One soldier said, in Sinhala—I under-
they were all but helpless, as the Army scribed a charnel ground, with artillery stand a little—‘We have orders to shoot
kept up a barrage of fire from gunboats, shells landing at random. “All we could everyone.’ We were shouting for them
aircraft, and field artillery. see was dead people, people crying for not to shoot.” After a tense standoff, the
On April 21st, the Army broke through food and for water, and burning vehicles pastor was strip-searched, along with
the Tigers’ defenses, creating a chaotic everywhere.” the children, and then allowed to collect
corridor that, over several days, allowed On May 16th, Army troops took the his belongings from the bunker. “A
nearly two hundred thousand famished last coastal positions, and, as they pur- pastor came behind me, but he was
and wounded civilians to flee into its sued the remaining Tigers, the Army punched in the chest by a soldier. He
custody. The Army had ordered most commander, General Sarath Fonseka, fell down. He died later that day. The
relief workers and all international ob- declared victory. The next day, a Tiger same soldier who hit him stuck his
servers to leave the area, but it nonethe- spokesman posted a statement on the fingers in the wounds of the young men
less billed its offensive as a “humanitar- organization’s Web site: “This battle has with us who had been injured.”
ian operation” to rescue hostages from reached its bitter end. . . . We have de- After another strip search and a long
the Tigers. (The Tigers did in fact pre- cided to silence our guns. Our only re- interrogation, the pastors were reunited
vent some civilians from fleeing, and grets are for the lives lost and that we with the children and put in a detention
shot hundreds of them as they tried to could not hold out for longer.” camp. When I asked the pastor how
escape.) The Tigers’ defenders, mean- In the bunker, the pastor’s group the experience had affected him, he
while, claimed that the Army was com- talked by cell phone with a brigadier said, “It is in my mind. When I sleep,
mitting genocide. Secretary of State general in the Sri Lankan Army who automatically it comes out—things I
Hillary Clinton admonished Sri Lanka’s told them to stay there until they saw only saw in films in my youth. Bodies
government, saying that “the entire soldiers, then identify themselves with without heads. Bodies with the stom-
world is very disappointed” by the “un- white flags. The group had run out of ach open and the liver coming out.” He
told suffering” that was being caused by food and went foraging in an aban- added, “At the end, we were walking
its efforts to end the war. There were doned bunker nearby. “We found food out through fire and past dead people,
later reports, which the government de- packets—meat, chocolates,” the pastor and the soldiers were laughing at us and
nied, that as many as forty thousand ci- said, and they took as much as they saying, ‘We have killed all your leaders.
vilians were killed during the Army’s could carry, dodging incoming fire. Now you are our slaves.’ You can imag-
final offensive, and that their bodies were The next morning, a young man in ine how I feel about my country.”
burned or buried in secret mass graves. their group was fatally shot as he defe-
The foreign secretaries of France and
Great Britain flew to Sri Lanka, where
they pleaded with the government to
cated outside.
By evening, they could see soldiers
approaching. “Two or three of us went
O n the same day, May 18th, the
Army announced that the Tiger
leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had
call a ceasefire in order to rescue the ci- out with several children, and we took been killed, along with two hundred
vilians who were still trapped. Suspi- white flags, as the brigadier had sug- and fifty others, during an overnight
escape attempt across the Nandikadal they are considered nouveau-riche up- tenets were: deny access to the media,
Lagoon, which separated the beach starts. He has made his rusticity a po- the United Nations, and human-rights
from the mainland. Images were re- litical asset, however, and he enjoys a groups; isolate your opponents, and kill
leased of his body lying at the feet of huge following among rural Sinhalese. them as quickly as possible; and seg-
Army troops, a handkerchief over his One of his brothers, Gotabaya, is his regate and terrify the survivors—or,
forehead to conceal a yawning wound. defense minister; another, Basil, is his ideally, leave no witnesses at all.
The Army claimed that it had cre- chief of staff and minister for economic
mated his remains. Prabhakaran’s el- development; and a third, Chamal, is 2. THE PAST
dest child, Charles Anthony, was killed Speaker of Parliament. His twenty-
the day before, along with other fighters
who launched a final assault on Army
lines. Soon after, the Army said it had
four-year-old son Namal was recently
elected to Parliament, and forty-odd
additional brothers, sisters, cousins,
I n 1914, Leonard Woolf ’s younger
sister, Bella Sidney Woolf, published
an illustrated guidebook titled “How to
also recovered the bodies of Prabha- nephews, nieces, and in-laws hold var- See Ceylon.” Leonard, who had not yet
karan’s wife, their daughter, and their ious other government posts. married the novelist Virginia Stephen,
youngest child, a boy, all of them dead After the war, Rajapaksa’s govern- worked in Ceylon as a colonial adminis-
of gunshot wounds. ment adopted a posture of triumphalism trator, and Bella went to visit him before
Dozens of unarmed Tamils, includ- at home and defensive resentment of the settling there herself. It was the Edward-
ing several senior Tiger political leaders outrage that the carnage had caused ian era of languorous travel by rail and
and their families, were also shot dead abroad. When the U.N. created an “ac- rickshaw, croquet clubs, and afternoon
by soldiers as they walked out of the kill countability panel,” government-spon- teas attended by servants. Woolf wrote,
zone carrying white flags. Their sur- sored rioters mobbed its headquarters in “The stranger, looking down on the
render had been personally approved by Colombo, forcing it to close. Sri Lanka’s motley throng that threads the streets of
Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Raja- High Commissioner in London com- Ceylon, is bewildered, puzzled. How is
paksa, after being negotiated over a plained to me that his country was being he to distinguish between all these peo-
satellite-phone link by the U.N.’s spe- unfairly singled out: “Colombia has been ple?” She ventured a brief comparison of
cial envoy to Sri Lanka and Marie Col- contaminating the world for years with the island’s two main ethnicities: “The
vin, a correspondent for the Sunday its cocaine, and now Somalia is with its Tamil cooly, it must be conferred, is a
Times of London, whom the Tamil piracy. What do we hear about that in much more law abiding, peaceful person
leaders had asked to be their interme- the U.N.? Nothing.” The important thing, than the Sinhalese. Apart from the hot
diary. “This was not the chaos of bat- he said, was that Sri Lanka had ended temper which leads to the flashing out of
tle,” Colvin said. “It was a negotiated terrorism, making it the first country in a knife and murder, there is an undercur-
surrender. Promises were made and the modern age to have done so. In mil- rent of malice in village life.”
they were broken.” itary circles around the world, the “Sri Under the British, tensions festered
After the announcement of victory, Lanka option” for counter-insurgency between the Sinhalese, who make up
there were fireworks in Colombo, the was discussed with admiration. Its basic seventy-five per cent of the population,
nation’s capital, and across Sinhalese Sri
Lanka. In an address to Parliament on
May 19th, Rajapaksa declared a na-
tional holiday. “We have liberated the
whole country from L.T.T.E. terror-
ism,” he said. “Our intention was to save
the Tamil people from the cruel grip of
the L.T.T.E. We all must now live as
equals in this free country.”
Rajapaksa is a veteran politician
with a commanding physical presence,
a trademark smile, and a folksy cha-
risma, which his admirers liken to that
of the late Ronald Reagan. In office
since 2005, he seized on the mood of
national euphoria that followed his war
victory to call an early election last Jan-
uary, in which he was duly reëlected to
a new five-year term. Rajapaksa is the
son of a well-known politician, but his
family comes from a village in the deep
south of the country, rather than from
Colombo’s Western-educated élite; in
Sri Lanka’s highly stratified society, “I try to be royal without being regal.”
A billboard of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s President, who has a huge following among the country’s rural Sinhalese population.

and the Tamils, with seventeen per cent. the north, known as the Vanni, and the lonial rule, said, in a frequently quoted
(There was also friction with other eth- lowland jungles of the east, areas their speech, “This bright, beautiful island
nicities; in 1915, Sinhalese mobs attacked ancestors had occupied two thousand was made into a Paradise by the Aryan
the island’s Muslim minority.) The Tam- years ago, during wars of conquest waged Sinhalese before its destruction was
ils were seen as having unfairly benefitted by Hindu kings from Tamil Nadu, the brought about by the barbaric van-
from colonial rule; they held a dispropor- southernmost state of India. Sinhalese dals. . . . This ancient, historic, refined
tionately high number of civil-service jobs nationalists trace their lineage to Aryan people, under the diabolism of vicious
and university enrollments, and more of tribes of northern India, despite the lack paganism, introduced by the British ad-
them were fluent in English. After Cey- of evidence to support the idea. Al- ministrators, are now declining and
lon gained its independence, in 1948, though intermarriage across language slowly dying away.”
Sinhalese nationalists grew increasingly barriers was fairly common, especially The “vandals” Dharmapala referred to
insistent that the Tamils were “invaders,” among the upper castes, Sinhalese pol- were the Tamils, of course, and the “vi-
whose presence threatened the very exis- itics by the early twentieth century had cious paganism” their Hindu faith. By the
tence of the Sinhalese culture. become infused with racialist theories time of independence, the seeds of sectar-
The Sinhalese have traditionally on “Aryanism” then being promulgated ian hatred had taken root. In 1948, Sin-

lived in the south, with its lush land and in Europe. Anagarika Dharmapala, the halese nationalists introduced legislation
ancient reservoir-fed rice paddies. The leader of the Sinhalese Buddhist revival to deny citizenship to hundreds of thou-
Tamils lived in the arid scrublands of movement that began under British co- sands of so-called “Indian Tamils,” most
travelled to Lebanon and received mili- ticians called for action. In response,
tary training from Palestinian guerrillas. Indira Gandhi’s government began
In 1975, the pro-government mayor providing the militants with covert fi-
of Jaffna, the informal Tamil capital, was nancial assistance and military training.
shot dead as he arrived for prayers at a Sri Lanka’s civil war had begun.
Hindu temple. The assassin was Velupil-
lai Prabhakaran, a thin, goggle-eyed
twenty-year-old who had left high school
and gone into hiding to devote himself to
I n December, 1986, I arrived in Sri
Lanka with my brother Scott. The
conflict was only three years old, and its
the fight for Tamil independence. Prab- body count—around five thousand—was
hakaran is said to have torn up all pictures still relatively modest. But the Tigers were
of himself in the family’s photo album to already notable for their unusual discipline
prevent police from identifying him. (His and ferocity. In addition to carrying out a
father, a civil servant, was horrified by his few massacres of their own (including an
son’s extremism, and remained estranged especially brutal one in 1985, in which a
from him. He died this month, in Army hundred and forty-six civilians were killed
custody.) At the time of the shooting, in a raid on one of the holiest Buddhist
Prabhakaran was a member of a fledgling shrines in Sri Lanka), the Tigers had in-
group called the Tamil New Tigers. stituted a reign of terror among their fel-
Within a year, he had formed his own low-Tamils, imposing absolute authority,
breakaway organization, the L.T.T.E. levying war taxes, and eliminating their
Prabhakaran—known to his followers rivals. A master of battlefield innovation,
as Thamby, or Little Brother—had a Prabhakaran devised a form of execution
flamboyant touch: in his early days as the for collaborators with the enemy: the vic-
Tiger leader, he posed for pictures with a tim was tied to a lamppost and blown to
pet leopard cub, and spoke with admira- pieces with Cordex explosive fuse wire.
tion of Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexan- During our visit, Colombo was quiet,
der the Great. His contemporary heroes and the Sinhalese areas of the country re-
included Sylvester Stallone and Clint mained largely untouched by the war. In
Eastwood, and he often showed their the eastern city of Batticaloa, however, we
movies to his young fighters, whom he found an atmosphere of violence and con-
called his “cubs.” The Tigers soon tained hysteria. The Army’s antiterrorist
emerged as the most ruthless of the Tamil Special Task Force, created for the pur-
militant groups, and eventually annihi- pose of fighting Tamil insurgents, had
lated all their rivals. taken over the city’s police stations; its sol-
On July 24, 1983, the Tigers killed diers were bunkered in behind sandbags
thirteen soldiers in a land-mine ambush, and razor wire, their guns pointing out
and Sinhalese residents of Colombo through sniper holes. After dusk no one
turned on their Tamil neighbors. In a ventured out on the streets. Groups of
Photograph by Patrick Brown. murderous orgy that spread quickly women in saris recognized us as foreign-
across the southern part of the island, ers and beseeched us to help them find
of them tea-plantation workers de- they hacked, raped, burned, and shot as their sons, who had been detained by the
scended from laborers brought to the is- many as three thousand people. The kill- S.T.F. The Army had developed a pat-
land by the British. Then a new law made ing went on for a week, and thousands tern of mass arrests, torture, and, with
Sinhala the country’s official language, re- of Tamil homes and businesses were growing frequency, murder. A Tamil
placing English, and many Tamils work- torched and looted. The authorities, by Catholic priest, Father Chandra Fer-
ing for the government lost their posi- and large, did not intervene, and in some nando, told us that disappearances and in-
tions for being unable to speak the cases coöperated with the mobs. discriminate shootings occurred daily in
language. In the seventies, legislation was The violence was a historic water- the area, and that every male between
enacted to favor Sinhalese students in shed. Hundreds of thousands of Tam- fifteen and forty had been arrested at least
university admissions, and soon after, a ils who had lived in the south fled to the once. The conflict had grown so terrible,
new constitution made Buddhism the north and east; many of them entered he said, that he had come to question the
state religion. Tamil politicians called for the Tigers’ training camps, where a very existence of God.
Gandhi-style campaigns of civil disobe- movement was growing for a sepa-
dience, but young radicals advocated an
armed struggle for “national liberation.”
Militant groups formed and began squab-
rate Tamil homeland. Another wave of
refugees moved abroad, and these “di-
aspora Tamils” began to support the
T hrough Father Chandra, we made
arrangements to visit the Tigers’
nearest camp, a journey that took us by
bling over the way to bring about a sepa- Tigers’ cause. India’s sizable Tamil pop- motorcycle, ferry, and jeep into a remote
rate, secular, socialist Tamil state. Some ulation was outraged, and their poli- area of sparse jungle. When we arrived,
wicker chairs had been placed in a half- came later in other parts of the world, six. He ordered his men to bring her in.
circle inside a thatched hut. A group of led constrained lives; they were denied She was tiny, with unkempt hair and a
perhaps forty fighters, teen-agers mostly, alcohol, cigarettes, and premarital sex, bad limp, and her eyes were wide and un-
stood by, armed with Kalashnikovs and and maintained a worshipful devotion focussed. She was made to sit in a chair
rocket-propelled grenades. The Tiger to Prabhakaran, which they demon- next to Kumarappa. Her name was
commander of the Eastern Province, strated with their willingness to perform Athuma, he said. His men had caught
Colonel Kumarappa, appeared. A heavy- suicide missions. Kumarappa boasted her two days earlier, after she infiltrated
set Tamil with a drooping mustache, he that his fighters were obliged to wear cy- their area, and accused her of spying for
wore khaki trousers and a white shirt and anide capsules around their necks and to the Sri Lankan Army. Kumarappa said
had a revolver tucked in his belt. He sat swallow them if they were captured. “I she had already confessed: “Without any
down in one of the chairs and motioned think the cyanide helps our morale, you torture, she accepts everything.” Her rela-
for us to do the same. His fighters know?” Recently, he said, Army com- tionship with the Army had begun when
crowded into the hut around us. mandos had captured a handful of an officer agreed to take two of her chil-
Guerrilla commanders often lay out fighters without their cyanide, and the dren to be adopted by his sister in Co-
a philosophical and historical argument Tigers had evaded interrogation by lombo. Afterward, he had demanded that
for their use of violence, but Kumarap- struggling until their captors were forced she collect information.
pa’s case for war seemed almost offhand; to shoot them. Athuma mumbled in Tamil, and her
for the Tigers, killing and dying seemed Kumarappa acknowledged killing ci- eyes roved around. Kumarappa trans-
to be virtues in themselves. When I vilians: “Sometimes, you know, we don’t lated: “She asks me for her life.”
asked him what kind of government he have any alternatives. Sometimes we have “Has she said why she did it?”
wanted for the new Tamil state of to do that job, too.” But the Tigers had a “Because of money. She’s suffering
Eelam, he paused for a long while before higher purpose—the cause of a Tamil in poverty, you know.”
replying, “Oh, yeah, socialist. A socialist homeland—and therefore had no choice Scott asked, “What does she think is
country, yeah, because in here sixty per but to punish those who collaborated going to happen to her?” Athuma said
cent of the people are poor—only ten with the enemy. Kumarappa said that he something in a soft voice. Kumarappa
per cent are very rich. Corruption, you had captured many spies; he had one in said, “She knows very well the final deci-
know?” The Tigers, like insurgents who camp at that moment, a woman of thirty- sion. She knows we’re going to kill her.”
Athuma spoke to Scott and me, re-
peating something over and over. Ku-
marappa said, “She’s pleading, ‘They’re
going to take my life.’ ” I asked if people
had died as a result of her information,
and Kumarappa said no.
“Then why can’t you forgive her?”
I asked.
Kumarappa sighed. “Because, you
know, she made a big mistake.” He
waved, and Athuma was taken away by
several fighters.

B oth sides of the Sri Lankan civil

war insisted on their victimhood,
which only prolonged the fighting. A
few hours’ drive from Colombo, we vis-
ited a camp for Tamil political suspects
who had been arrested under the Pre-
vention of Terrorism Act. There were
a hundred and twenty-five inmates,
ranging in age from fifteen to sixty-
seven, all of whom had been picked up
by the Special Task Force. Although
most of them were uneducated farmers
and fishermen, and denied having any-
thing to do with the Tamil militant or-
ganizations, they had been tortured and
humiliated, they said. Their guard, a
Muslim, nodded sympathetically as
“Rosalie—your poor performance this year has reduced your they spoke. At one point, he whispered
parents’ investment in you by almost seventy per cent.” to us, “They are all innocent.”
At the day’s end, we joined our host,
Bobby Wickremasinghe, the deputy
minister for prisons, on the veranda of the
camp administrator’s house. “Nobody
sees our problem,” he said. “We are just a
few Sinhalese, but the Tamils are mil-
lions, here and in South India. They can
go to India, where there are so many
Tamils. They can go all over the world.
Who will take me, a Sinhalese? I must
live and die on this island! . . . Does no
one see that for us, the Sinhalese Bud-
dhists, it is a problem of survival? It is the
perishing of a race.” The Sinhalese, of
course, constituted three-quarters of the
population. “If we wanted to, we could
wipe out the Tamils in an hour or two.
But we haven’t done that, because we are
Over the decades, there were peri-
odic ceasefires and peace negotiations, “I had no idea a sexless marriage would involve so much reading.”
but the two sides could never agree to
durable terms. Both relied on the ongo-
ing fight for political leverage. Sinha-
• •
lese politicians needed the nationalist
vote, and Prabhakaran, who was pri- dian Prime Minister, during a public reservoir that supplied water to thou-
marily a battlefield strategist, seemed ceremony, blowing him and fourteen sands of farmers, Rajapaksa authorized
incapable of political compromise. other people to bits. a new military offensive against them.
The social and economic effects of The closest the Tigers came to rul- This was followed by a political blow: in
the war were huge. Tourism dwindled, ing a Tamil homeland was in the pe- October, the Supreme Court ordered
depriving the country of a crucial source riod that followed the peace accord of that the Northern and Eastern Prov-
of revenue. The expenditures for the February, 2002. During that time, the inces be separated, diminishing hopes
military diverted money from social- Tamil lands of the north and east were for the Tamil homeland.
welfare projects and energized leftist united, and the Tigers’ political admin- The next month, Prabhakaran de-
activism among Sinhalese nationalists. istration began to function as a virtual clared a renewal of the “freedom strug-
The government allowed Indian peace- state, with its own army, navy, border gle.” The war had begun again. With
keeping troops into northern Sri Lanka guards, and customs officials. (Bi- the help of two Tiger defectors named
in 1987, which further inflamed the na- zarrely, everything from the supply of Karuna and Pellian, the Army took over
tionalists and helped set off a Sinhalese- electricity to health and education ser- the east, and then moved its offensive
on-Sinhalese civil war that cost an esti- vices continued to be funded and run north, pursuing Prabhakaran’s troops
mated fifty thousand lives. In the war by the Sri Lankan government.) Act- into the Vanni. At the same time, the
with the Tigers, at least a hundred thou- ing as conflict negotiators, Norwegian Army embarked on a huge recruitment
sand people were killed; perhaps half of diplomats paid calls on Tiger officials drive: between 2005 and 2009, it grew
them were Tamil civilians, and roughly and carried messages to their govern- from a hundred and twenty-five thou-
a quarter were members of Sri Lanka’s ment counterparts in Colombo. sand troops to three hundred thousand.
armed forces. Hundreds of thousands of But by the time Mahinda Rajapaksa By January, 2008, Rajapaksa, deter-
Tamils were displaced from their homes, stood for election in November, 2005, mined to crush the Tigers, announced a
and a million more fled abroad. the ceasefire was already unravelling. formal end to the ceasefire.
The Tigers killed one Sri Lankan Just two months earlier, the country’s Sri Lanka’s war dragged to its bloody
President by suicide bomb, in 1993, foreign minister, a moderate Tamil, had climax just as Obama took office. Per-
and came close to killing two more; been assassinated by a suspected Tiger haps for this reason, the official Ameri-
they also assassinated scores of gov- sniper. The Tigers encouraged a boy- can position was one of lawyerly, largely
ernment ministers, parliamentarians, cott of the election, and, ironically, the ineffective disapproval, with the U.S.
military officers, and other officials. dearth of Tamil voters helped Raja- Ambassador, Robert Blake, voicing
In 1991, in the world’s first female sui- paksa win by a slender margin. At his humanitarian concerns and occasional
cide bombing, a Black Tiger named inauguration, Rajapaksa invited the Ti- criticism of the government, but other-
Dhanu set off explosives concealed gers to a new round of talks, but amid wise keeping quiet. The U.S. and the
under her clothing as she knelt at the mounting violence they withdrew. In European Union did curb arms sales to
feet of Rajiv Gandhi, the former In- July, 2006, after the Tigers blocked a Sri Lanka, so the Rajapaksa government
subterranean garage. Next to the fenced
entrance of the compound was an open-
air funeral bier, where the bodies of slain
Tiger officers were brought so that Prab-
hakaran could pronounce words of hom-
age before they were disposed of.
Down a narrow stairwell from the
bungalow’s front room was a claustropho-
bic series of small, tile-floored rooms.
The last one held an emergency exit,
where an iron staircase spiralled up to
ground level at the rear of the house.
From the top of the stairs, Prabhakaran
would have had to run only a few feet to
reach the protection of the surrounding
At Mullaittivu, after years of evasion,
Prabhakaran was finally trapped. Be-
cause all the people around him have
been killed, it is difficult to know how he
spent his last moments—whether, as the
Army says, he was killed in combat, or
whether he was caught and executed.
• • The Tiger leaders clearly hoped for a
deal that would spare their lives. Weeks
turned instead to Eastern nations. Lanka for so long, and built up such ex- before the massacre, Prabhakaran’s aides
China, in the last year of the war, sup- traordinary power, that he appears to began calling their intermediary Marie
plied a billion dollars’ worth of military have lost his sense of proportion. At some Colvin, and on the evening of May 17th
aid, including fighter jets, air-surveil- point during the Army’s siege of his head- one of them relayed surrender terms: the
lance radar, and anti-aircraft batteries; quarters at Kilinochchi—before the city Tigers would lay down their arms in re-
Russia and Pakistan provided artillery fell, in January, 2009—he is believed to turn for a guarantee of safety for fifty of
shells and small arms; Iran supplied fuel. have escaped with his wife and children their leaders and a thousand of their
Unofficially, however, the United and their bodyguards to one of his hiding fighters. Colvin said that this surpris-
States had provided some help. Sri places in the jungle, in an area called Vi- ingly low number most likely repre-
Lankan diplomats and military officers suamadu. For weeks at a time, they lived sented all the Tiger fighters left alive on
acknowledged to me privately that U.S. literally underground in an elaborate the beach. She heard machine-gun fire
satellite intelligence had been crucial hideout. behind the aide’s voice, suggesting that
when, in 2008, Sri Lanka’s Navy sank The house was so ingeniously con- the fighting was close by.
seven Tiger ships loaded with military cealed that its existence was discovered Until the very end, Prabhakaran be-
cargo. The ships—members of the Sea only in 2009, when soldiers stumbled lieved that the international relief com-
Pigeons fleet, which sailed without across it. They discovered an under- munity, the U.N., and Western govern-
identification from various Asian sea- ground lair of rooms descending fifty ments would save the Tigers. “The
ports—were cruising in international wa- feet, with bulletproof doors, air-condi- L.T.T.E. continued to read the world as
ters, as far as a thousand miles from Sri tioning, surveillance cameras, and elec- if it was pre-9/11,” Jayampathy Wickra-
Lanka, when they were attacked. They tricity from a soundproof generator. maratne, an adviser to Sri Lanka’s past
carried war material worth tens of mil- They claimed to have also found oxygen two Presidents, explained. “What hap-
lions of dollars, and their destruction de- tanks, a bottle of cognac, and a supply pened was that many countries, such as
prived the Tigers of their traditional of insulin (suggesting that Prabhakaran, the U.S., took a different view of the
means of military resupply just as the Sri who had grown rotund in recent years, L.T.T.E. than they had before—even if
Lankan Army ramped up hostilities. may have been diabetic), as well as a they sympathized with the Tamil peo-
From then on, the Tigers were on the Marks & Spencer shirt with a forty- ple.” In May, 2006, after years of accom-
run, herded ineluctably into shrinking two-and-a-half-inch chest. modating the L.T.T.E., the European
territory. The Army maintained the compound Union branded it a terrorist organiza-
as a private museum for select visitors. At tion. The U.S. had done so a decade ear-

T he Tigers’ defeat was not preor-

dained. The events that led to their
demise had everything to do with the per-
the end of a paved road just wide enough
for a single jeep was a modest-looking
pink bungalow, its roof camouflaged by
lier, and George W. Bush’s Administra-
tion had supported Sri Lanka’s counter-
insurgency campaign directly.
sonality of their leader. Prabhakaran had dried palm fronds. Another palm-cov- Prabhakaran also crucially under-
been dictating the terms of the war in Sri ered structure concealed a drive-down estimated Mahinda Rajapaksa. “Pre-
Rajapaksa governments never went one Tigers’ former capital. There were Army ducing, their presence. This is perma-
hundred per cent all out to wipe out the bivouacs every hundred yards or so, and nent.” Entire military cantonments,
L.T.T.E.,” Wickramaratne explained. larger military camps every few miles. made out of special materials supplied
“They used military force, but always The soldiers scrutinized us closely as we by the Chinese, were being erected all
had a political solution in mind. But drove by, but allowed us through the over the north. We passed many more
then came Rajapaksa, and he was pre- roadblocks. The Vanni was a wasteland Army camps along the road.
pared, rightly or wrongly, to go whole of low bushes and fallow farms and a suc- The Army had said that it was wait-
hog. If you look at the L.T.T.E., it’s a cession of war-ruined hamlets. ing until mines could be cleared to return
case of them arrogantly refusing oppor- We stopped in one tiny fishing vil- Tamils to their homes, but Siva was du-
tunities. They thought they could just lage: a welter of roofless houses, trash- bious. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they are
keep telling the world that they were strewn sand, and scrubby trees—and looking for gold on the corpses,” he said.
willing to talk, but not follow through. an Army post. The hundred-odd fam- “The Tamil people are famous for liking
They thought they were the exception, ilies there had been released from the jewelry and gold. I think that’s it; other-
until Rajapaksa came along and said, detention camps five months earlier, wise there is no reason why they shouldn’t
‘I’m not going to let you do it.’ ” and were now living in lean-tos made allow people to go back to their places.
out of sheet metal or U.N.-issue blue That and evidence of mass graves, war
3. THE CONQUERED LANDS plastic; some had fenced themselves in crimes. Maybe they are moving the
with woven palm palisades. No one in bodies.”

W ith the Tigers’ defeat at Mullait-

tivu, all of Sri Lanka’s territory
came under government control for the
the community spoke Sinhala, and the
soldiers did not speak Tamil; the com-
munity leader told Siva that they
Siva’s claims at times had the ring of
conspiracy theory. But later Major Gen-
eral Mahinda Hathurusingha, the security
first time in nearly thirty years. In the wanted someone to be sent to live with commander of Jaffna, confirmed for me
north and east, the Army occupied the them who could talk to the soldiers on that the cantonments were indeed in-
land, pursuing a kind of clear-and-hold their behalf. In the past few nights, tended to be permanent. From the mili-
strategy, in which it herded the Tamil someone had tried to break into a tary’s perspective, the war continued.
inhabitants into a series of Army-run number of homes, and the villagers be- “The L.T.T.E. inculcation of the youth—
“welfare camps”—essentially military lieved it was Sinhalese soldiers. “We this is a big problem for us,” he said. The
prisons—and did not allow them out don’t know if they are trying to steal or Army needed to maintain a presence in
until they were deemed harmless. The if they are looking for women to rape,” the north to insure that Tamil radicalism
camps initially held three hundred and the community leader said. never started again. To gather intelli-
twenty thousand Tamil civilians; an es- It was one of many allegations of gence, another senior officer told me, it
timated twelve thousand Tigers were rape I heard. Over the years, groups had infiltrated the Tamil population and
kept in separate facilities. With the like the Asian Human Rights Com- installed electronic surveillance systems.
north largely emptied out and the sites mission and Amnesty International During the war, signs of the Tigers’
of the fiercest fighting off limits to all have documented numerous cases in presence were ubiquitous in Tamil areas.
but military personnel, secrecy de- which Sinhalese soldiers raped Tamil Throughout the north, hand-painted
scended over the former Tiger territory. women and girls. In the cell-phone billboards advertised their sacrifices on
President Rajapaksa had described his video from Mullaittivu, the behalf of their people. One
postwar vision as “one nation, one peo- soldiers appraise the dead of them showed two Tamil
ple”—in which no single ethnic group women and make lewd com- mothers, both wondering
would lay claim over any part of the ments that strongly suggest where their daughters were.
land—and called for “economic develop- that they have been sexually On the left side of the bill-
ment and prosperity” as the route to rec- assaulted. board, one of the daughters,
onciliation. But many Tamils believed We drove north on the an adolescent girl in pigtails
that this was simply the first step toward main road from Colombo and a pink dress, is depicted
complete Sinhalese domination. With- to Jaffna, the historic capital in three panels. In the first,
out the Tigers to defend the land, the of the Tamils. The road had she is at home alone, meekly
government would flood the north and been reopened to the public receiving three armed gov-
east with Sinhalese soldiers and their for the first time in years; the British- ernment soldiers. In the second, she
families; much as China did in Tibet, era railway, whose rails and wooden ties looks out through the bars of a jail cell.
they would weaken the Tamil claim on had been torn up and used as bunker In the third, her pink skirt and legs pro-
the region with unrelenting force and by reinforcements by the Tigers, was also trude from a bush, while the soldiers dig
diluting the population. being rebuilt. Cafés and picnic grounds a shallow grave. On the right side, the
The military prohibited access to the had sprung up by the side of the road, other daughter, wearing tiger-striped
north to all foreigners without special with signs identifying them as “People’s camouflage, looks strong and deter-
permits, but a Tamil social worker, whom Rests” and “Army Welfare Canteens.” mined; she wields a weapon during com-
I will call Siva, agreed to take me through They were occupied by soldiers and bat in the jungle, and steers a Sea-Tiger
the less guarded back roads of the Vanni. busloads of Sinhalese tourists. Siva re- launch on the ocean.
We set out by jeep for Kilinochchi, the marked, “They are increasing, not re- Now the Army had methodically
erased all traces of the Tigers in the her son, and explained that he had been marked the northern limits of govern-
north. Kilinochchi’s cemetery had been forcibly conscripted by the Tigers in ment control. He and his officers met
totally eradicated. Pointing to mounds of 2002. In the areas they controlled, the me in a dark wood-panelled conference
broken gravestones and piles of rubble, Tigers had demanded that each Tamil room, where framed photographs showed
Siva explained, “The Army has come family contribute at least one member to the General and his soldiers standing
along and just bulldozed them.” In the the cause; children as young as fifteen, over Prabhakaran’s body. Gunaratne, a
center of Kilinochchi, the Army had girls as well as boys, were often con- tall, blustering man wearing a red beret
erected a victory monument: a giant con- scripted. If they weren’t produced volun- and a camouflage uniform with a chest-
crete cube with a bullet hole cracking its tarily, they were taken by force. ful of medals, described the war in he-
fascia and a lotus flower rising from the The other woman had lost her roic terms: “Our youth is gone now, but
top. Soldiers stood at attention before a daughter in 2006. The girl, twenty-four we had no choice, we had to live with
marble plinth, whose inscription extolled at the time, had gone out to attend a this problem. But we didn’t want our
the Rajapaksas’ leadership during “a hu- birthday party and hadn’t returned. She, children to live with it, so we decided to
manitarian operation which paved the too, had ended up in the Tigers. Neither end it. It was a mammoth task, but we
way to eradicate terrorism entirely from woman had heard anything of her child have done that for the nation.” His men
our motherland, restoring her territorial since the end of the war. They told Siva had paid for Sri Lanka’s peace with their
integrity and the noble peace.” of going to the detention camps and get- “blood, sweat, and body parts.” In the
Though the Rajapaksa government ting the runaround from authorities. end, he said, the three-year offensive
denies plans for the “Sinhalization” of They had come to him because they had killed six thousand of his soldiers and
the north and east, it has done little to heard rumors of a secret detention camp twenty-three thousand Tigers. He
assuage the Tamils’ fears. These anxi- and hoped he’d know where it was. added, “Since the death of the ruthless
eties are fuelled by a sense of communal The younger woman had last heard terrorist leader Prabhakaran, there have
humiliation. During a stop at a friend’s news of her daughter from another fe- been no deaths in Sri Lanka from a ter-
house in Kilinochchi, Siva complained male fighter who had survived the siege rorist act.” Gunaratne was echoing the
of “seeing soldiers everywhere, occupy- at Mullaittivu. “That girl told me that Sri Lankan government’s official dogma:
ing our places. But people are resigned. they had been together, that my daugh- the postwar peace justifies whatever was
They feel they can’t fight the Army ter had a chest injury, and that in the necessary to achieve it.
presence anymore.” His friend added fighting she had lost sight of her. She Gunaratne showed me some private
that he had heard a local Tamil vegeta- said that just behind her the Sri Lankan snapshots of the dead Prabhakaran, in-
ble seller calling out in Sinhala. When Army was coming, so it’s possible they cluding one in which the handkerchief
he asked why, the vender told him, caught and saved her.” The mother that covered his forehead had been re-
“Tamil has no place now.” added, hopefully, “She was in Intelli- moved, revealing a gaping hole in his
Among many Tamils, as well as Sin- gence. She had finished high school, forehead. It suggested an exit wound, as
halese, the Tigers were despised for vi- and she spoke some English.” if he had been shot from behind at close
olently upsetting Sri Lanka’s delicate The older woman said that other de- range. Gunaratne had taken Prabha-
status quo. Middle-class and upper- tainees had told her that her son was karan’s dog tags, which he had given to
class Tamils were targeted for captured alive, and he had Sarath Fonseka, the Army commander,
extortion; those who opposed been collaborating with the and his Tiger I.D. card, which he had
the Tigers’ separatist cam- Army by leading it to the Ti- kept for himself. He pulled out his wal-
paign risked assassination. gers’ hidden weapons caches. let and extracted it from among his
But in the backlands of the If the reports were true, she credit cards. The serial number on the
north and east the Tigers, de- said, sobbing, it meant that I.D., he pointed out, was 001. I asked if
spite their brutality, were the her son had been tortured. I he intended to keep his trophy. He took
only government that most asked Siva what the chances the card and looked at it for a moment,
Tamils knew, and were more were that either of the wom- then put it back in his wallet. “Maybe
representative of their com- en’s children were alive. “Very one day I’ll give it to the Army for its
munity than the postwar Sin- little,” he said. Of the wom- museum or something. But right now
halese administration. Siva an’s daughter, he told me, in it’s mine. I think I’ve earned it.”
said, “After all, who were the L.T.T.E.? English, “Most likely they killed her on
They were our children! O.K., maybe
even they were terrorists, but people
here, because they were their children,
the spot.”
F or nations operating in the age of in-
stant media, counter-insurgency is
in significant measure a public-relations
had feelings for them.” problem. What should victory look like?
At one point during our trip, two
women approached Siva. The older one,
in her forties, with a long ponytail and a
M ajor General Kamal Gunaratne
was the field commander of the
Special Forces troops that finished off
No matter what else happened in Viet-
nam, many Americans’ image of the war
was formed most vividly by the photo-
red bindi dot on her forehead, carried a Prabhakaran. During my visit, he was graph of the huddled civilians of My Lai
photograph of a slim youth standing in running the north from his base at Va- moments before they were killed by U.S.
front of a shrine. She identified him as vuniya, a town that, in the old days, soldiers. Since the cell-phone video from
Mullaittivu leaked out, the Rajapaksa
government has fought a second cam- SKETCHBOOK BY ZACHARY KANIN
paign to define the massacre as a glori-
ous victory. Sri Lanka has found friends
who are willing to agree, or at least not
to care; these include China and other
Eastern nations, as well as military ex-
perts from around the world who are im-
pressed by the effectiveness of its tactics.
The government has largely ostracized
those who disagree; within its borders, it
has silenced them by force.
A week after the war’s end, the U.N.
Human Rights Council in Geneva was
the scene of a political standoff between
a bloc of Western nations that called
for an investigation and another—led
by Sri Lanka and including Brazil,
Cuba, India, and Pakistan—that called
for a resolution praising Sri Lanka for
the “promotion and protection of all
human rights.” The latter resolution
won, with twenty-nine votes in favor,
twelve against, and six abstentions.
In the following months, lawyers in
the U.S. Justice Department began ex-
ploring the possibility of war-crimes
prosecution of Gotabaya Rajapaksa—
who lived in the United States for a time
and acquired citizenship—as well as the
former Army commander Sarath Fon-
seka, a green-card holder. On a visit to
the U.S. in the fall of 2009, Fonseka
dodged an interview request from Home-
land Security and flew back to Sri Lanka.
For the most part, though, the Obama
Administration has maintained a policy
of circumspection.
One senior Administration official
told me, “With regard to Sri Lanka, I can
assure you that war crimes and crimes
against humanity are a big part of our bi-
lateral discussions.” But the Administra-
tion’s only public acts have been to send
Stephen Rapp, the State Department
emissary on war crimes, to Sri Lanka, as
well as its two senior human-rights
officials on the national-security council,
Samantha Power and David Pressman.
Rapp filed two fact-finding reports with
Congress, while Power and Pressman
urged the Rajapaksa government to show
greater accountability for its actions dur-
ing the war.
Rajapaksa, meanwhile, has said that
his government was “looking east,” and
he signed a number of economic deals
with China, including one for the con-
struction of a large port in his home dis-
Clad, “a great friend of Sri Lanka.” Clad
was the Bush Administration’s Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Defense for South
and Southeast Asia, in charge of the Pen-
tagon’s dealings with India and Sri Lanka,
until he was replaced by the Obama Ad-
ministration in January, 2009.
I telephoned Clad, and he invited me
to his home, in suburban Washington,
D.C. Clad is an articulate man in his late
fifties, with a ready sense of humor. Cit-
ing official oaths of secrecy, he demurred
when it came to questions about U.S. aid
to the Sri Lankan military, but he made
it clear that he had been supportive of the
Sri Lankan government’s war effort, and
that he felt that the criticisms expressed
by the West had been counterproductive
to Western interests.
“The self-imposed marginalization
by the U.S. and other Western countries
in Sri Lanka has led directly to increased
influence by China, Pakistan, and Iran,
none of which share the Western hu-
manitarian agenda, to put it mildly,” he
said. As evidence, he mentioned a Chi-
nese arms dealer that had advanced am-
munition to the Sri Lankan government
“And of course Allen continues his work with super-sized hamsters.” throughout the military campaign; the
debt was later satisfied by arrangements
• • that gave China commercial advantages
in Sri Lanka.
Clad has known the Rajapaksas for
trict of Hambantota. In August, he pre- laughed derisively, and said, “There is many years. He referred to the Presi-
sided over a lavish ceremony to mark the no serious international pressure.” dent’s brother Gotabaya, the defense
opening of the port’s first phase, which a A Western diplomat in Colombo minister, as “Gota.” A fierce critic of
thousand Chinese laborers and engi- said, “We don’t have a lot of influence the Tigers, Clad said that the organiza-
neers, along with Sri Lankans, had com- here. We’re not a big fish. China is. It’s tion had assassinated several Sri Lank-
pleted in a year of around-the-clock pouring in billions of dollars that are ans whom he regarded as personal
shifts. Before an audience of hundreds of described as soft loans, but someday friends. “The L.T.T.E. was the most
dignitaries, Rajapaksa stood at the helm they will have to be paid back. And deliberately ruthless terrorist group, bar
of a giant model ship, turned the wheel, they don’t ask about human rights.” none, certainly in Asia,” he said.
and watched the seawater enter the Jaliya Wickramasuriya, another rela- In order to reform Sri Lanka’s pub-
muddy basin carved out by the Chinese. tive of President Rajapaksa’s, is Sri Lan- lic image, Clad, who recently retired
In the not too distant future, Sri ka’s Ambassador in Washington. He from the Pentagon’s National Defense
Lanka may be seen as an early skirmish suggested to me that the U.S. was miss- University, recommended to Gotabaya
in a new “Great Game” of influence ing out. With the war over, Sri Lanka was Rajapaksa that he host a meeting on
between China and the United States going to boom economically. “We want maritime-security concerns in the In-
and their proxies. “Sri Lanka has read the U.S. to come in,” he said. “America, dian Ocean. It would help Sri Lanka
the situation and seen that the West’s hurry up!” Laughing, he added, “But “get out of its box as a ‘single-issue
influence is diminishing,” Harim Pei- there are a lot of suitors, and if the suitor country’ and reconnect it with an earlier
ris, a Sri Lankan political analyst, said. takes a lot of time . . . however good- maritime heritage,” he said. In August,
“So this government has made some looking, there are always others!” Clad invited me to the Galle Dialogue,
strange friends: Iran, Pakistan, Myan- a two-day conference attended by se-
mar, Russia, and Japan. China is prob-
ably our biggest single investor. These
are ‘softies’—soft loans without pres-
T he Sri Lankan government does
have supporters in the U.S., particu-
larly in military circles. Senior officials
nior naval officers from more than a
dozen countries. The conclave was held
at a luxurious seaside hotel outside the
sure. So who’s putting the pressure? told me that their government owed old colonial fortress city of Galle, in
Oh—Sweden and the E.U.!” Peiris much to a Pentagon official named James the south.
The assembled commodores and ad- that it was rescinding a trade-tariff agree- The most prominent critic has been
mirals discussed everything from the ment on textiles worth several hundred General Sarath Fonseka, Gotabaya’s
Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 to the million dollars a year. And in the past handpicked subordinate and the com-
problem of Somali piracy. But mostly few weeks his government had fought mander of the final offensive against
the conference was an opportunity for with the United Nations; after Secretary- the Tigers. When Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lanka’s military leaders to boast to General Ban Ki-moon asked to send an called the snap Presidential election,
their colleagues about beating the Ti- advisory commission to Colombo to dis- after the war’s end, Fonseka announced
gers. The foreign speakers congratu- cuss accountability issues, an ultra-na- his own candidacy. The campaign was
lated them on their achievement, and tionalist government minister besieged ugly. Fonseka, who had been the face
asked eagerly about the techniques they the U.N. Mission in Colombo at the of Sri Lanka’s military victory, pre-
had used. Brigadier General Stanley head of a mob of angry demonstrators. sented himself as the country’s true lib-
Osserman, of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific President Rajapaksa said the U.N.’s in- erator. Rajapaksa accused him of plot-
Command, said, “Sri Lanka has a lot to volvement was not needed: a “Lessons ting a coup and revealed bank ac-
offer in the field of terrorism prevention Learnt” commission, which he had ap- counts that hinted he was corrupt. Fon-
and maritime security.” Sri Lanka’s Spe- pointed, would look into things instead. seka lost the election badly, but he
cial Forces commander said he had ad- A Western military observer told me emerged as the country’s main opposi-
opted the Tigers’ own tactics by sending that he believed that the abortive U.N. tion leader.
his commandos in small, guerrilla-style human-rights resolution had come at ex- In an interview two weeks after
bands to hunt them down. actly the wrong time. “All that did was to the election, Fonseka insinuated that
The keynote speaker was Gotabaya box them in and give heart to the most Gotabaya was guilty of war crimes for
Rajapaksa, an owlish, watchful man extreme Sinhalese voices,” he said. “You ordering the execution of Tiger leaders
with a mustache, wearing spectacles and have to keep in mind the Sinhalese na- who had surrendered. “I am definitely
a gray suit. “Sri Lanka’s victory over ter- tional psyche. They do not say thank going to reveal what I know, what I
rorism is an unprecedented event that you, and they do not say sorry. That’s was told, and what I heard,” he said.
the world can learn from,” he said. He from the Defense Minister on down. “Anyone who has committed war
spoke of how the Tigers’ international He’s very nice, but if you box him in he’ll crimes should definitely be brought
support network had enabled it to raise turn into a nasty little animal.” into the courts.” Within hours, Fon-
funds from the Tamil diaspora and to seka had been arrested. He was later
ship weapons into Sri Lanka. “At one
point, the L.T.T.E. controlled one-
third of the Sri Lankan coastline,” he
W ithin Sri Lanka, even Sinhalese
critics of the Rajapaksas have
been savagely attacked, and challenges
charged with corruption and violat-
ing his military oath of office by plot-
ting his political career while still in
said. “In this way, heavy weaponry and to the government’s explanation of uniform. Gotabaya suggested that he
enormous quantities of ammunition the war have been brutally put down. could be tried for treason, and told a
were brought to Sri Lanka. And this
happened in a post-9/11 world.” Raja-
paksa was congratulating the American
observers; it had been the U.S. that
helped locate the Tigers’ ships.
Later, the Sri Lankan terrorism ex-
pert Rohan Gunaratna underscored
much of what Gotabaya had said. “It is
a dream that no civilians will be killed in
a counter-insurgency campaign, and ci-
vilians died in Sri Lanka’s,” he said. “But
I can assure you that no Sri Lankan sol-
dier deliberately killed a civilian.” Gota-
baya stood up in the audience and said,
“From the very beginning, we had in
mind the safety of the civilian popula-
tion, and gave our campaign a humani-
tarian component along with the mili-
tary one. One of the ways we did this
was to call our campaign a ‘humanitar-
ian mission.’ ”
Gotabaya didn’t address the allega-
tions that festered in international cir-
cles, many of which focussed on him as
the ultimate overseer of the war. The “So there you are—I thought I heard someone
European Union had just announced squishing moodily about the moors.”
BBC reporter that he should hang if that message. I would have told him to posals, to win the peace through eco-
he was found guilty. With Fonseka in go to the nearest police station. No one nomic development, showed the right
prison, his wife carried on a campaign knows what happened.” way forward. The average Tamil, like
in his name for a subsequent parlia- the average Sinhalese, he said, just
mentary election, which he won, even
though his loyalists were harassed and,
in some cases, abducted by plainclothes
G otabaya Rajapaksa received James
Clad and me in a sitting room of
his house, a British-era villa in a large
wanted to get on with his life. Referring
to the Tamils’ long-standing wish for
secession, he said, “All that business
thugs. garden compound in Colombo. The about separation is something only poli-
In Colombo, a Sinhalese human- room was impersonally furnished with ticians care about.” When I asked about
rights lawyer said, “The Fonseka case fifties-style blue settees and abstract the suspicions that the government was
shows people that the Rajapaksas will geometric paintings, all government- attempting to change the demographics
go after anyone seen as a threat. They issue. The Defense Minister was casu- of the Tamil lands by swamping them
defeated the L.T.T.E. and have deci- ally attired in a T-shirt, sweatpants, with Sinhalese soldiers, he said, with a
mated their main political opposition, and flip-flops. He coughed in a com- laugh, “We should do that, but it’s
and now they are going after those pulsive way, as if he had a nervous tic. difficult.”
who are critical of them.” The govern- It was a little before the dinner hour, so Clad gently lobbied Gotabaya to
ment has acted unsparingly against he called for an orderly to bring in the renew the country’s relationship with
journalists, human-rights activists, liquor trolley. He didn’t drink, he said, the International Committee of the
civic leaders, and others. In the most and didn’t know what he had in the Red Cross. In the last days of the war,
notorious case, in January, 2009, the house. He knew only that he had a the I.C.R.C. had been restricted to re-
prominent newspaper editor Lasantha bottle of “Fonseka.” Would we like a moving wounded civilians from Mul-
Wickrematunge was attacked as he drink of that? He grinned. On the trol- laittivu by sea, and ever since it had been
drove to work in Colombo’s city cen- ley was a bottle of Fonseca Bin No. 27, grounded at its headquarters in Co-
ter; motorcycle-riding assailants forced a brand of port. He laughed delight- lombo. In the final months of the war,
his car to stop and fatally shot him edly at his joke. He had a high-pitched the Army had repeatedly bombed the
in front of dozens of onlookers. At giggle, which broke out at odd mo- I.C.R.C.’s emergency hospital facilities,
the time of his murder, his newspaper, ments throughout the evening. killing three employees and scores of
the Sunday Leader, was being sued That was the day that Sri Lanka’s pa- patients. Gotabaya had blamed the Ti-
for defamation by Gotabaya Raja- pers had carried the news that a military gers. In a report prepared by the Inter-
paksa after it implicated him in alleged court had convicted Fonseka of involve- national Crisis Group, “War Crimes in
corruption. ment in politics while in service and Sri Lanka,” the hospital attacks feature
A few days later, the newspaper ran stripped him of his rank and military strongly in the case against Gotabaya.
an editorial titled “And Then They honors. (He was later sentenced to thirty Gotabaya warily said that he was
Came for Me,” which Wickrematunge months in prison.) I suggested that the willing to have the Red Cross stay on if
had left behind in the event of his timing of Fonseka’s arrest—only hours the organization would agree to a new
murder. In it, he excoriated Mahinda after he had accused Gotabaya of war understanding of its activities on the is-
Rajapaksa, whom he described as an crimes—made it look like a personal land. “We must forget the past and look
old friend who had become power- vendetta. Gotabaya coughed and giggled to the future,” he said. Lowering his
hungry and corrupt, for undermining and waved his hands dismissively. “No, voice confidentially, he added, “The
Sri Lanka’s democracy through state no. He made those same accusations problem is the I.C.R.C.—some of their
terror. “Murder has become the pri- during the campaign, many times. I people had been here for a long time,
mary tool whereby the state seeks to could have arrested him then if it was and became friendly with the L.T.T.E.”
control the organs of liberty,” he wrote. about that. In fact, I should have arrested He suggested that the Red Cross and
“When finally I am killed, it will be him earlier.” other international relief agencies were
the government that kills me.” Ad- Gotabaya evinced a grudging admi- long-time accomplices of the Tigers. In
dressing Rajapaksa, he predicted, “In ration for Prabhakaran, for his “ruthless December, 2006, he had nearly been as-
the wake of my death I know you dedication to his cause,” but acknowl- sassinated by a Black Tiger driving a
will make all the usual sanctimonious edged that he had felt “very happy” when rickshaw rigged with explosives; he
noises and call upon the police to hold he was told of his death. As for Sri Lan- pointed out that the bomber had been
a swift and thorough inquiry. But like ka’s national reconciliation, Gotabaya a Tamil employee of the relief organi-
all the inquiries you have ordered in said that he believed his brother’s pro- zation CARE. He said, “So I say to the
the past, nothing will come of this I.C.R.C., ‘Bring new people and let’s
one, too.” have a fresh start.’ ”
In an interview afterward with Time, After dinner, Gotabaya led us out-
President Rajapaksa was asked about side. Across his lawn, by the garden’s
Wickrematunge. “He was a good friend high security wall, was a huge, illumi-
of mine. He had informed somebody to nated outdoor aquarium. Inside, several
inform me” that he was in danger, he large, unmistakable shapes moved re-
said. “But unfortunately, I didn’t get lentlessly back and forth.
“Are those sharks?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “Do you want to see
We crossed the lawn and stood in
front of the tank, which was eight feet
tall and twenty feet wide. There were
four sharks, each about four feet long,
swimming among smaller fish.
I told Gotabaya that they looked like
black-tipped reef sharks. He shrugged.
“They’re my wife’s,” he said. She knew
everything about them, he explained,
but she was away on a visit to the States.
All he knew was that the tank needed to
be changed with fresh seawater every
two weeks. “They bring it in special
tanker trucks,” he said, watching the
sharks. He giggled softly.


“ s it over?” I asked a Sinhalese politi-
cian in Colombo.
“The war is over, but the conflict is
not,” he replied. “The problem goes be-
yond the existence of the L.T.T.E. The “The entrance to my cubicle is three feet away. Please respect my partition.”
problem is that this country does not ac-
commodate its minorities well.” Several • •
of Sri Lanka’s governments had at-
tempted to make political accommoda-
tions to the Tamils, he said, but Sinha- humous editorial, published four months people and terrorizing many more. In Af-
lese nationalists had always vetoed them. before the Tigers were crushed at Mul- ghanistan, Petraeus has told his field
“This is the perfect time to offer an ac- laittivu, he wrote, “There is no gainsay- commanders to “drink lots of tea” with
commodation to the moderate Tamils ing that [the Tigers] must be eradicated.” the locals. This effort had at best mixed
who have rejected violence.” But, he But, he argued, a “military occupation of results. At the same time, along the bor-
said, “I think Rajapaksa will not make the country’s north and east will require der with Pakistan, the C.I.A. has been
conciliatory gestures, because he is him- the Tamil people of those regions to live successfully sponsoring the Counterter-
self an ardent Sinhala nationalist.” The eternally as second-class citizens, de- rorist Pursuit Team, a paramilitary group
politician explained that he needed to prived of all self-respect. Do not imagine of three thousand Afghans. It was with
speak off the record, because, although you can placate them by showering ‘de- the help of such proxies that Petraeus
he knew Rajapaksa personally, it would velopment’ and ‘reconstruction’ on them rolled back Iraq’s insurgency in 2007 and
be “counterproductive” to voice his crit- in the postwar era. The wounds of war 2008. That effort involved a great deal of
icisms publicly. will scar them forever, and you will have outright killing, both on and off the
By the second anniversary of the an even more bitter and hateful diaspora battlefield. In the end, it mostly worked.
war’s end, the Army’s “welfare camps” to contend with. A problem amenable to We know that Sri Lanka’s conflict
had been largely emptied out. But many a political solution will thus become a ended in a bloodbath, even though it
of the Tamils I encountered felt that the festering wound that will yield strife for occurred, as intended, out of sight. In
peace was perilously fragile. In an east- all eternity.” the face of all the official denials and the
ern town called Vakarai, a Tamil youth The same might be written about any diplomatic language about accountabil-
leader who went by the name Prabha- number of entrenched conflicts around ity, there is Wickrematunge’s grim pre-
karan told me, “We only hope the inter- the world. To solve these problems, Gen- diction of his country’s future and his
national community can bring pressure eral David Petraeus and others have own. And there is the stubbornly in-
to bear on the government, because a placed great hope in a doctrine of coun- eradicable video of naked Tamils being
dignified and honorable solution is nec- ter-insurgency that tempers military ac- kicked and shot and laughed at by their
essary for the Tamil people.” Without tion with nation-building and careful uniformed killers. 
it, he said, “we cannot say that a second community work. But it should not be
war will not come. It will bring great forgotten that the more effective counter-
destruction if and when it happens.” insurgencies, like Sri Lanka’s, are hideous
In Lasantha Wickrematunge’s post- in practice. They involve killing many Jon Lee Anderson talks about Sri Lanka.