Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 10:15 UK

Tigers finished as military force

Rebel fighters (Courtesy EelamWeb)
The once-powerful Tigers are now finished as a conventional force

As the Sri Lankan army completes its clean-up operation against the last remaining Tamil Tiger rebels, the BBC's South Asia Correspondent Chris Morris looks back at one of Asia's longest-running civil wars.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting against the Sri Lankan state for more than 25 years, led from the beginning by the elusive and dictatorial Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

Suicide bombing has been a speciality - their victims included Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The Tigers also allowed no political opposition within Tamil society - opponents were killed, and dissent was stifled.

But at times they enjoyed substantial military success.

In the past, they have controlled significant tracts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka, establishing the trappings of an independent country - including courts and a police force - in areas they regard as the traditional Tamil homeland.

Turning point

Now they are finished as a conventional military force. Their leadership has been decimated, and they no longer control any territory.

A Sri Lankan demonstrator looks on as placards burn outside the British High Commission in Colombo on May 18, 2009.
There have been Sinhalese protests against UK policy

It is a turning point in Sri Lanka's recent history.

There are still likely to be scattered guerrilla-style attacks - they already happen in the east of the island.

There could be bombs in cities.

The Tamil Tigers also control huge financial and logistical resources around the world, and they continue to enjoy significant support among expatriate Tamils scattered in many countries.

So much now depends on what the Sri Lankan authorities choose to do next.

The manner in which they pursued their military victory - ignoring international calls for restraint - may have radicalised a new generation of Tamils, both on the island and in the diaspora in Europe, Asia and North America.

There will be international pressure on Sri Lanka to implement a package of political autonomy for Tamil civilians quickly, to try to ensure that this conflict does not reignite with more violence in the future.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has promised that he will introduce political reforms which will satisfy Tamil aspirations.

It is not yet clear exactly what he has in mind, and there may be those in Colombo who want to be less magnanimous in victory than the president himself.

But the dream of Eelam - an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka - has come to an end.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific