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With the military defeat of the separatist Tamil rebels, a 30-year civil war ends with over 70,000 victims. The rift between the Sinhalese and the Tamils ​​remains deep, says a Swiss peace expert.

This content was published on May 19, 2009 - 9:01 pm

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With the recapture of all of the island's territory and the reported death of Velupillaï Prabhakaran, leader of the Tamil Liberation Tigers (LTTE), the army's victory appears to be a total one.

The door to reconciliation between the ethnic groups remains barricaded, fears Martin Stürzinger, who until last year was an advisor for civil peacebuilding at the Swiss embassy in the capital Colombo.

swissinfo: Could the tigers be resurrected after this defeat?

Martin Stürzinger: Militarily, the LTTE has lost its fighting power. But the organization is still supported by part of the diaspora.

It cannot be ruled out that the LTTE will reorganize as a political organization outside of Sri Lanka. Other terrorist attacks are also possible on the island.

The rebels have also systematically eliminated Tamil politicians who were not on their line. In doing so, they have weakened the Tamils' ability to act politically.

swissinfo: The Tamils ​​abroad are still behind the rebels. For how much longer?

M.S .: It is still too early to make an assessment. But I was surprised how many banners and flags in favor of the tigers I discovered at the rallies in Geneva and Bern.

Even the second generation in the diaspora seems to support the guerrillas.

swissinfo: Did Tamil separatism die with the Tiger leadership?

M.S .: In the last few days it was read that the violence and war crimes of the Sri Lankan army made a peaceful coexistence between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority impossible forever.

Indeed, there is much evidence of dire violations of international humanitarian law in the government army's final offensive. If these harden, a large part of the Tamils ​​could decide never to live under a Sri Lankan government again.

swissinfo: What do we know about the government's plans for the Tamils?

M.S .: This has always promised to grant the Tamils ​​a political solution after the military victory, for example in the form of decentralization.

swissinfo: In the last few weeks Colombo has been completely closed to Western proposals. Will this course continue?

M.S .: The government needs help from the international community. Especially in demining, rebuilding and helping the thousands of displaced people.

Colombo recently applied for a loan of 1.9 billion dollars from the International Monetary Fund. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that this request comes at an inopportune time. So the Colombo government is under pressure.

swissinfo: What role do India and China play?

M.S .: With the Congress party's victory in the elections, India's weight should increase. India has always advocated decentralization of power in Sri Lanka.

China is currently the most important investor on the island and could also play a role politically. The empire is active in the area of ​​coal mining in the south of the island, so the Chinese interests are more in the economic and strategic area.

swissinfo: And the role of Switzerland, which hosted talks between the warring parties?

M.S .: If the Sri Lankan government so wishes, we will provide expert knowledge in the field of peacebuilding and humanitarian aid. Switzerland has already demanded unhindered access to humanitarian aid for victims and displaced persons of the conflict.

Frédéric Burnand, Geneva, swissinfo.ch
(Translation from French: Renat Künzi)

Tamils ​​in Switzerland

Switzerland. The Tamil community in Switzerland has over 40,000 people.

Naturalized. Almost 15,000 of them have obtained Swiss citizenship.

Bern. The majority of Tamils ​​live in German-speaking Switzerland, mainly in the canton of Bern.

Vaud. Around 8,000 Tamils ​​live in western Switzerland, 3,000 of them in the canton of Vaud.

Waves of refugees. The largest waves of Tamil refugees were in the 1980s.

Asylum applications. Since 2008, the number of asylum applications from Sri Lankan citizens has increased. In the first four months of 2009 there were 587.

Refugee aid. According to the Swiss Refugee Aid (SFH), the number of asylum applications had already doubled in 2008, to 1262. In 2007 it was 636.

Directions. In 2008 only 170 asylum applications were accepted. 192 Sri Lankan citizens were granted temporary asylum.

Signpost stop. The SFH appealed to the Swiss authorities to refrain from negative decisions for Tamil asylum seekers and to order a ban on evictions. The rejected asylum seekers are still being repatriated.

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