Sri Lanka advances on rebel base
While the military is making gains on the Tamil Tigers, it could become mired in guerrilla attacks.
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But in recent years a worldwide dragnet on fundraising operations and weapons procurement has cramped the Tigers, which are listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. The group has been called the "most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world" by the FBI. Dozens of LTTE financiers and arms smugglers have been arrested by authorities in the US, Canada, Europe, and India; millions in assets have been seized or frozen.Skip to next paragraph
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Separatists could turn to guerrilla tactics
Still, the current offensive may have yet to encounter the full weight of the LTTE – or its long-term ability to feed conflict. One Colombo-based analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, points out that Prabhakaran is a master tactician who still commands hundreds of ultra-loyal fighters protecting him and possibly even chemical weapons. In the past, the Tigers have given up territory to draw government forces in and then counterattacked, he adds.
Even if LTTE is soon broken as a conventional fighting force, it could regroup in remote jungle areas to wage a protracted guerrilla war. This would include greater reliance on suicide and hit-and-run attacks to "bomb themselves back onto the agenda" as they have done in the past, says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a think tank in Colombo.
Despite the military's recent gains, he adds, unrest will not cease until the economic and political deprivations that fuel Tamil discontent are addressed by the government, which has favored the Sinhalese majority. Even Sri Lankan Army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka has warned that conflict could sputter along for another two decades unless a political resolution is reached.
More than 100,000 people displaced
Meanwhile, the stepped-up fighting has deepened a humanitarian crisis inside rebel-held territory. The United Nations says that in the past two months more than 112,000 ethnic Tamils have been displaced, bringing the total number of refugees to 145,000. Aid agencies in the north are trying to provide some relief to those displaced, but supplies are running low and access limited due to shifting front lines. So far clashes along the southern edge of the war zone have made some exit points off-limits, trapping people inside, the military has confirmed.
Human rights group Amnesty International says the LTTE is forcibly recruiting women and children to fill depleted ranks, as well as moving families toward the capital to serve as a human shield. Pro-LTTE media reports counter that people are freely enlisting by the hundreds.
• This article was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.