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“Only afterward would we go and look for food or water.” The Tamil fighters were in bunkers all around them.“Most of them were Black Tigers,” he said, referring to the Tamil suicide squad. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.”In the bunker, the pastor’s group talked by cell phone with a brigadier general in the Sri Lankan Army who told them to stay there until they saw soldiers, then identify themselves with white flags.“Prabhakaran was among us, too, but none of us saw him.” He described a charnel ground, with artillery shells landing at random. The group had run out of food and went foraging in an abandoned bunker nearby.“All we could see was dead people, people crying for food and for water, and burning vehicles everywhere.”On May 16th, Army troops took the last coastal positions, and, as they pursued the remaining Tigers, the Army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, declared victory. “We found food packets—meat, chocolates,” the pastor said, and they took as much as they could carry, dodging incoming fire.The foreign secretaries of France and Great Britain flew to Sri Lanka, where they pleaded with the government to call a ceasefire in order to rescue the civilians who were still trapped.Suspicious that the diplomats also wanted to save the Tiger leaders, the government ignored them.
In a three-year offensive of increasing sophistication, the Sri Lankan Army had outmaneuvered one of the world’s most ruthless insurgent armies. 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.The Army had ordered most relief workers and all international observers to leave the area, but it nonetheless billed its offensive as a “humanitarian operation” to rescue hostages from the Tigers.(The Tigers did in fact prevent some civilians from fleeing, and shot hundreds of them as they tried to escape.) The Tigers’ defenders, meanwhile, claimed that the Army was committing genocide.N.’s special envoy to Sri Lanka and Marie Colvin, a correspondent for the Sunday of London, whom the Tamil leaders had asked to be their intermediary. In an address to Parliament on May 19th, Rajapaksa declared a national holiday. After the war, Rajapaksa’s government adopted a posture of triumphalism at home and defensive resentment of the outrage that the carnage had caused abroad. Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London complained to me that his country was being unfairly singled out: “Colombia has been contaminating the world for years with its cocaine, and now Somalia is with its piracy. In military circles around the world, the “Sri Lanka option” for counter-insurgency was discussed with admiration.Its basic tenets were: deny access to the media, the United Nations, and human-rights groups; isolate your opponents, and kill them as quickly as possible; and segregate and terrify the survivors—or, ideally, leave no witnesses at all.