On Tuesday May 19th 2009, the President of Sri Lanka announced the end of the civil war that has ravaged the small island nation for over 30 years and deprived over 70,000 people their lives and future. The military captured all remaining territory previously held by the LTTE, and the military announced the death of the LTTE’s leader, Prabhakaran. By all accounts today should be a day of celebration as the country’s young, those under 30 years of age, have never known anything but civil war. And yet as I sit here and write during a new public holiday, fire crackers booming away in the distance, I can’t help but feel unsettled by the weight of suffering still going on, the lives lost to “win” the war, and the uncertain path Sri Lanka’s leaders will take: towards reconciliation or consolidation.

Since I moved to Sri Lanka over two years ago I have witnessed a number of momentous events. When I first arrived, the tenuous Ceasefire was just beginning to unravel. Very quickly open hostilities broke out which saw over 300,000 people displaced in Eastern Sri Lanka and most returned to their home villages over a year later. Some are still in IDP camps and still others have been returned, but their houses have been either destroyed or occupied by others, leaving them displaced withing their own village. Human rights workers and journalists have been kidnapped and killed in Colombo, and an increasing level of impunity has gripped the country. The government has successfully prosecuted the war against the LTTE and facilitated the TMVP, a the breakaway faction of the LTTE, to switch sides and ensure the government ‘s control of the East. Sure, there have been hiccups, suicide bombings and air raids in Colombo by the LTTE’s slow flying air force. However, every step of the way I wondered to myself, and whispered in the corners of air conditioned cafes: can the government really defeat the LTTE militarily? What if? And if they did, what political solutions would they offer that would help consolidate peace, and ensure that another disaffected group didn’t take up arms?

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Now the day has come, and I am having trouble reconciling my feelings. To be sure the LTTE was a brutal regime that enacted waves of terror on not only those living in Government controlled areas, but on any Tamil hoping to represent a different point of view. I can understand the urge to celebrate. The war has ended, peace has arrived, fears of suicide bombs and aerial raids can be eased. With Prabhakaran dead there is hope that a renewed and organized guerrilla campaign can be averted. And yet all of the negatives keep chewing at my soul, making me restless.

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While Colombo celebrated, 7,000-10,000 civilians lay dead from just the past one month of fighting in the North. Who knows how many soldiers died as no figures have been released. As firecrackers replaced the sounds of gunshots, 280,000 IDPs were confined to camps as they awaited processing and security clearance to insure they were not LTTE fighters. As the majority danced, sang and decorated Colombo in a swirling mass of Sri Lankan flags others stayed indoors, afraid of what might happen if they left their houses. Tamil friends of mine have suffered through taunts of “we one, you lost…,” others have been threatened and told to display the Sri Lankan flag on their front door, or else…

The President of Sri Lanka reached out to Tamils in his victory address, invited those who had fled the country to return and help rebuild. He promised to base reconciliation on Buddhist principles…never mind that those he is reaching out to are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. I am sure the sentiment was meant to be sincere, but it highlighted the one sided vision of a multi-ethnic problem and the inability to see the country from behind the closed door.

I worry what will happen to the IDPs, how long they will have to suffer in adequate “welfare centers.” When will military rule over the North give way to civilian control? When will the High Security Zones be dissolved so that people can move back to their homes and lands? Will development projects be created in consultation with local communities? Who will get the contracts, big Colombo firms or locals? What political concessions will be offered to ensure that Tamils and Muslims have fair access to education and government positions. Will power, along with substantial budgetary control, be devolved to the district level? These are just a few of the questions that prevent me from being excited.

I don’t envy the work of the Government. To be sure their task will be complicated and painful. They will have to continue to provide security in the face of armed para military groups, a strong and pervasive international smuggling and financing network, and a suspicious diaspora willing to fund anything that is “anti” government. It will have to battle corruption in its own ranks, and resist the call for victors justice and the temptation to only see the happy faces waving flags in Colombo. It will have to knock on the doors of Tamils and Muslims, not in the frequent mass security raids it has grown accustomed to, but in friendship to listen and learn. It will have to stop seeing groups of Tamils as a security threat and instead as its own citizens. The task will be painful, because to do it correctly things must change, and temptations to stay the same and become more powerful must be ignored.

While the military war may have ended, the fight for human security, the rule of law, and the respect for and realization of human rights continues. I hope that humility and justice pervades the decision of leaders in the coming months and years. It is said that roughly 31% of internal conflicts resume within 10 years of peace having been achieved. By prioritizing equality, reconciliation, human security, the rule of law and human rights, Sri Lanka will have a better chance of staying above the 31% mark and a chance to enjoy the dividends of peace over the next 30 years.

I did not write this to lay blame or to assume that I have all the answers…or that I am even correct. I wrote this to express my feelings and to hopefully get others to do the same, to pierce the silence of fear and the monotone declarations of victory.

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