The Tragedy in Sri Lanka

IN the tiny teardrop-shaped country of Sri Lanka the teardrops are falling faster as civil strife and the body count increase daily, and the chance for political stability seems dimmer. Bands of ultranationalist Sinhalese militants are trying to topple the Sri Lankan government, and the clash is turning one of the most beautiful countries in the world into a killing field, and an economic basket case. In the past two years, 5,000 people have been killed - 1,130 in the last six weeks. Bodies are found strewn across the countryside every day now.

This week troops have been in the streets of Colombo to break a strike urged by the radical People's Liberation Front (JVP). Tourism, a main industry in this verdant land of mountains and spectacular beaches, is at a halt.

The problem stems from a decade of clashes between the Hindu Tamil minority in the north, and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority. In 1983, India, responding to its own 75 million Tamil residents, sent troops in. Today, a leading demand of the JVP is for these troops to leave - a promise Sri Lanka President Premadasa has largely been unable to keep.

The tragedy is that Sri Lanka was becoming a model ``developing nation.'' It was supposed to be another Singapore. Now it threatens to become a Beirut. Violence begets violence, and an entire generation may become poisoned by war and bitterness.

There are no easy answers for Sri Lanka - no quick solutions for bad blood. What's more, Sri Lanka must solve this strife itself. No one else is going to. The country is not of great strategic importance. The UN isn't up to the task.

India can do something - leave soon. Strife in the north is down. Indian troops now give JVP an excuse to fight. India's departure would remove that mask. Perhaps Tamils and Sinhalese could even then find cause against JVP terror.

Other nations have dealt with ethnic tensions. In Malaysia, Chinese and Indian minorities have autonomy. Belgium - site of tension over religion and language for centuries - has found a way. In Sri Lanka, Tamils should be given autonomy and rights.

Communal warfare isn't getting Sri Lanka anywhere. Perhaps enough of it will bring the missing leadership and will to change.

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