The Brits did their best to fuck the place up, naturally. They picked the Tamils to be their little helpers, and that made the Sinhalese majority hate the Tamils more than they already did. Naturally when the Brits pulled out in 1948, the Sinhalese jumped at the chance for some payback. They made their language the "official" one and stomped on the Tamils every way they could. The Tamils started getting pissed off. The LTTE were founded in 1976 with the goal of setting up a separate Tamil state in the northeast of the island, and by the late eighties, they had a booming business in suicide bombers.
One of the theories on why the Tamil were so good at suicide bombing was that Hindus just don't mind dying that much, since they expect to be back, reincarnated as a Newport Beach surf rat, real soon. That sounds like bullshit to me. Fact is, nobody minds dying till it happens to them. Nothing easier than getting high-school age idiots to put on a uniform and walk into bullets -- doesn't matter whether they're Muslims or Hindus or Baptists.
But Buddhists...that's different. Funny thing about Buddhists. They've been losing out all over the world. It's too bad, too. If I had to respect any religion, it'd be theirs. For starters, their God is a fat guy. I like that. And they're quiet at least. The Sinhalese are the only Buddhist-majority tribe in India. The Tamils, though, they've got lots of relatives in South India, where there are hundreds of millions of other Tamils. And lots of these mainlanders send money to the LTTE to buy bombs and guns to help "liberate" their "homeland" in the North and East of the island. Too many Tamils and not enough tigers. There's not a single actual four-legged tiger left in Sri Lanka.
It's like the California Grizzly: they put it on the state flag right around the time they wiped out the whole species. I'd trade the whole population of Fresno to have a few Grizzlies wandering around the Sierras. I'd throw in the whole population of Bakersfield in exchange for a few more tigers in India.
But the population of Sri Lanka doubled in just 35 years, and they wiped out the tigers. Now the only Tigers are the ones in camo fatigues who prowled around the island ambushing government troops from the early eighties to the truce of Feb. 2002.
That's 20 years of war. Something like 60,000 dead and a lot more hurt, blinded or maimed. Big doin's -- till you remember the population doubled in one generation. The higher the birth-rate, the easier it is to write off five-digit casualty figures.
The LTTE has a huge pool to draw from. They get a dozen volunteers for every soldier they take. Even so they're huge by guerrilla standards. They've got at least 7,000 soldiers and 15,000 fulltime civilian auxiliaries.
But that's not the most amazing part. What blows me away is that they've got an air force. No kidding, they're the only guerrilla army in the world with an air force. It's not much, a few helicopters and some prop planes, but it still counts. Kinda reminds me of an old joke you get in websites about terrorism:
Q: How do you define terrorism?
A: Violence by people who don't have an air force.
They've got a navy too, and this one's for real, medium-sized by world standards and world-class in terms of morale. The navy is more impressive. They're called the "Sea Tigers," and they've got at least 2,000 people. They've got a dozen fully armed freighters, hundreds of small fiberglass boats with tiny radar signatures, and a special frogman squad.
You get the feeling these guys are serious? Well, this is how serious they are: they've got a tank brigade of their own. About a dozen T-55s. OK, that's a pretty old tank, but it's a damn good one. Imagine going up against a couple of them if you were a Sri Lankan army patrol with nothing but rifles. If you're a Nam war fan, you might remember that one thing small US units strung out in the jungle feared most of all was the NVA coming in with tanks. They did it a few times and wiped out several small outposts. You just don't expect the guerrillas to come in with heavy armor, so it can be devastating when they do.