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Briefing: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger conflict

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Sri Lanka reached a milestone this week in its 26-year war with the rebel Tamil Tigers: The group admitted defeat Sunday in its battle for a separate homeland for the island’s ethnic Tamil minority. The Army dealt the Tigers another potential blow Monday when it claimed to have killed their chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, among other leaders. (Click here to read why Prabhakaran’s death would be a major loss for the group.)

Here’s a primer on the South Asia conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people. Who are the Tamil Tigers? Why has the FBI labeled them “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world”? Is this the end of the Tamil resistance movement?

Why the fighting?

Conflict between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese ethnic majority (74 percent of the population) and Tamil minority (18 percent) erupted in the 1970s. That’s when some Tamils – who had long decried discrimination by the Sinhalese dominating the country – began calling for a separate homeland and forming armed groups.

Who are the Tamil Tigers?

The Tamil Tigers – formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“eelam” means homeland) – established itself as the most powerful separatist group. It claimed to represent all the island’s Tamils, though they have terrorized some of those same people and forcibly recruited some, including children.


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