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In Sri Lanka, an end in sight

Is Sri Lanka's long war about to come to an end?

Since 1983, and spurred by ethnic tensions and violence that started long before that, the government of Sri Lanka has been fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, widely known as the Tamil Tigers.  The government and Sinhalese ethnic majority controls the country's south. Until recently, the Tigers, composed of ethnic Tamils, controlled large parts of the country's north and east in a struggle for independence.

There has been heavy fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers since 2006, with the government pushing further into Tiger-controlled areas. Earlier this month, the government captured the Tigers' capital Kilinochchi and pushed the fighters, and civilians, into a tiny patch of jungle called the Vanni (Sri Lanka as a whole is only the size of West Virginia).

This war has seen cruelty on both sides and the Tigers — with their suicide bombs and intimidation of civilians — have been branded a terrorist organization. And it appears that its end will reflect that.

According to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, about 250,000 people are trapped and it has been difficult for the wounded to cross the front lines.

"MSF is standing by with medical staff and supplies, but has not been permitted to enter the area since the government told all NGOs and UN to leave the area in September 2008," the organization said in a statement. "This despite several requests from Sri Lanka Ministry of Health staff still in the Vanni."

NGOs have not been permitted to enter the area since September.

While we can gasp at the horror of people trapped between two armies fighting until the end, it can be difficult to feel empathy for those in a far-away, faceless and seemingly endless conflict. In the past year I have read two novels about Sri Lankans in exile, "The Match" by Romesh Gunesekera and "Love Marriage" by V.V. Ganeshananthan. Both will make you care about what happens in this conflict, and care that it finally might end.