May 17, 2009 / 4:05 PM / 10 years ago

Q+A: Deciphering the end of Sri Lanka's war

COLOMBO (Reuters) - It is a rare conflict where both the victor and the vanquished say the war is over before the last bullet has been fired. But that is what has happened in the closing chapter of Sri Lanka’s 25-year war over the weekend.

Here are some questions and answers about the situation:

IS THE WAR OVER?

Technically, no. Realistically, yes. As of Sunday evening in Sri Lanka, the military said there were sporadic firefights and clearing operations going on. But there could be no safer bet than saying the Sri Lankan military has victory safely in hand.

WHY IS THERE SO MUCH CONFUSION?

First, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militarily defeated on Saturday. That was confusing, because at the time, the military said troops were still battling the Tigers in northeastern Sri Lanka and said the final fight had intensified on Sunday. Muddling things further, the LTTE released a statement in the middle of Sunday saying it was doing the one thing it had vowed never to do — laying down its weapons. The Tigers’ diplomatic chief, Selvarajah Pathmanathan, gave a later interview to Channel 4 News in which he said that did not mean a surrender. That is seen as anathema to the LTTE’s image of suicide before defeat, which it plays up to its network of supporters in the global Tamil diaspora.

WHAT IS THE NEXT SIGN TO LOOK FOR?

The military’s announcement that it has, for the first time since 1983, taken the entirety of Sri Lanka into its control and ended combat operations. Rajapaksa is due to formally announce the end of the war in parliament on Tuesday.

SO DOES THAT MEAN THE END OF THE LTTE?

As a conventional force, yes. As a guerrilla force, not yet. Security experts say the Tigers still have a wide international network of operatives and criminal enterprises, and a deep well of financial support from diaspora Tamils. Pathmanathan this week threatened a new phase of war if the Tigers were wiped out on the battlefield.

Since he was better known for most of his career as “KP,” the LTTE’s chief weapons smuggler and offshore financier wanted by Interpol, he has the practical experience to make good on his threat. The military says it is ready for any kind of guerrilla attacks, and other security analysts point out the LTTE will no longer have its own turf in Sri Lanka from which to operate.

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