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The cost of war

While Sri Lanka unable to bear the chill winds of the global financial crisis is negotiating a loan package of $ 1.9 billion with the IMF to tide itself over, reports say Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona has placed the loss the country has suffered due to her protracted war at $ 200 bn. However, if the external costs are also factored in, the figure should be much higher.

There is no way human, social and political costs of Sri Lanka's war could be quantified. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in direct combat, in indirect fire and in deliberate attacks on civilian targets. The number of Sri Lankans displaced, widowed and orphaned is frighteningly high. Thousands of children have been recruited into the ranks of terrorists and others denied their right to education.

Many political and community leaders have perished. The Tamil community which was under Prabhakaran's jackboot for about 30 years is without a democratic political leadership save one or two veterans who, unfortunately, have only a few more years of politics left in them.

The war has also led to a chronic militarisation of society and the attendant twin evils, violence and impunity. Luckily, the foundation of democracy, though severely debilitated, has not given way. Besides, Sri Lanka's international image has suffered irreparably taking a heavy toll on tourism and foreign investment. These costs are simply incalculable.

Has this war yielded the intended dividends at least for its architects? Both India and the LTTE are hoist with their own petard. Having busted billions of rupees on its Eelam project and destroyed many lives for its macabre cause, the LTTE is lying supine with the armed forces poised to deal a decapitating blow. Ironically, India has had to help destroy the monster it created. Separatism in Tamil Nadu has mutated into a new form. Separatists are on the rampage and lawyers are shouting anti-Indian slogans inside court houses. All the signs are that the monster is coming home to roost! Are those pro-LTTE elements in Tamil Nadu campaigning on their own? Or, are they being manipulated by some Scandinavian LTTE backers seeking a warm-water port to step up pressure on the Central Government to intervene to rescue their friends trapped in Puthukuduyiruppu?

What a boost Sri Lanka's development programme would have got, if $ 200 bn had not gone down the gurgler? The blame for this country's economic woes and lack of development must be placed at the doorstep of those who have kept this war going by supporting the LTTE in spite of its mindless terrorism and intransigence which put paid to peace efforts and devolution packages presented over the years. Together they have brought Sri Lanka to such a pass that it is now begging for $ 1.9 bn!

At least at this late stage, those members of the international community making a not-so-surreptitious attempt to bail out the LTTE must realise the gravity of their criminal action against a democratic nation and stop sponsoring terrorism so that it can finish the war and put the conflict behind it.

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