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Sri Lankan Government turns attention to winn -

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Sri Lankan Government turns attention to winning the peace

The World Today - Monday, 18 May , 2009 12:30:00

EDMOND ROY: The United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians have been killed since the war in Sri
Lanka escalated earlier this year.

Aid groups say the priority now is to reach the thousands of civilians who have been caught up in
the fighting.

There are an estimated 20,000 people sheltering in up to 40 government controlled camps in the
north of the country.

But as the Government stands poised to end the decades-long military battle, analysts say how it
deals with the displaced, and long-standing Tamil grievances, may determine whether or not the
conflict shifts to urban terrorism.

ANU Professor Sandy Gordon is an expert on Asia-Pacific diplomacy. I began by asking him whether
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be magnanimous to the Tamil community in victory.

SANDY GORDON: Well, my gut feeling on this is that having won that victory Rajapaksa will be
somewhat reluctant to concede a process of autonomy and a further, what he might see in that
position, a further erosion of the control of the state in particularly the northern province and
part of the eastern province.

And you know, one hopes that the Government can be magnanimous in its victory but everything we
have seen so far, I think, would suggest that he is going to be reasonably uncompromising. There
may be some compromises but I don't think he is going to negotiate towards autonomy as we'd
understand that term.

EDMOND ROY: So in all probability we are going back to the '80s and presumably then a new
generation of Tamils fills the void?

SANDY GORDON: Well, I think a key to this is going to be if there is any resettlement program of
non-Tamil Sri Lankans in the Tamil areas, I think we would certainly be going back to the '80s in
the longer term. I think that would be very negatively viewed in the Tamil areas. Yes, so I think
we could go back in the longer term to discontent.

It probably won't take the form that we have seen with the Tamil Tigers. I think they are a unique
one-off sort of situation. It may take other forms. More urban terrorism and that sort of thing.

EDMOND ROY: What about the Tamil diaspora around the world? Are we seeing a hardening there? Are we
seeing anyone come out - rise up from the ranks so to speak?

SANDY GORDON: Well, obviously it is a mixed picture there. There are clearly many, many, many
moderate Tamils but there are some really hardline diaspora Tamils. People who use hardline
enforcement tactics to collect money for instance. We are seeing more and more of that.

However, while they are very hardline and very tough in their attitudes, I don't see them really
going back to Sri Lanka itself to prosecute the type of war we've seen, the civil war we've seen.

I think they are diaspora communities that have probably become used to being diaspora communities.
They will probably still try to collect money for the Tamil cause but that would be more towards
the quote, quote "propaganda" side of that cause rather than the military campaign I think.

EDMOND ROY: India has always been a big player in this and how will a military defeat of the Tamils
go down in say Tamil Nadu?

SANDY GORDON: Well, it is causing a lot of heartache there. As we know both Chief Minister of Tamil
Nadu and leader of the Opposition in Tamil Nadu indulged in a one-day fast. It has become very
politicised in the context of the Indian election but now that the election is over, I think we are
going to see that situation settle down.

But it will depend greatly on the sort of reporting one is going to get in India of how the
Government actually treats the Tamils. If there are continuing reports of mistreatment of the
Tamils, if there are no decent efforts to try and deal with the IDTs, internally displaced people,
then I think we are going to see quite a lot of heartache and agitation in Tamil Nadu, in India.

But it is not going to be anything that is going to cause India to intervene again, I don't think.

EDMOND ROY: Basically on all fronts, the omens are not very good.

SANDY GORDON: Well, at the moment, no but we have to I suppose allow for some hope in the political
process in Sri Lanka. You know, there might be some efforts to integrate Tamils more fully into the
political processes and we'll just have to wait and see.

That is that the processes as they now stand without any extra efforts towards autonomy. Even that
in itself would go some way towards mitigating the situation and if, as you say, the language
situation and the employment situations can be addressed over the longer term, that would be good.

It is not entirely without hope but I am not hopeful of a sort of, the types of autonomy demands
that the Tamils have demanded for a long, long time now.

EDMOND ROY: ANU Professor Sandy Gordon, speaking to me earlier.