The LTTE was a formidable war machine. For almost 30 years it challenged the Sri Lankan army and in many occasions, it won. Prabhakaran left the peace talks also because he thought he could win on the field his own dependency. But now they are gone, both Prabhakaran and his invincible army. The Sri Lankan government is understandably concerned of a future threat, so it keeps the Northern under a tight military control. But this is just half of the story.
True, Colombo needs to keep an eye on the Tamil nationalism, but the belligerence of the movement is alive especially in the hearts of the diaspora. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are tired: most of all of violence. But also of empty proclaim. Even the last LTTE faced not small difficulties in recruiting new cadres. They had to enforce conscription. This led to a simple fact: maybe Colombo is far from winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils, but a new, military organization, ready to destabilize the country, is not in sight.
President Rajapaksa has two other, different reasons to maintain the militarization in the North. One is logistics: he needs to find a place for his army. The huge Sri Lankan army, with all its ramification, is a fantastic employer. But it’s better to keep the soldiers far from the capital. During the Roman Republic, a law imposed that no army could come closer than the Rubicon. Mr Rajapaksa don’t really fear any military man: his brother, Gotabaya, is firmly in control of the military side. General Fonseka could have represented a menace. In the past. Nothwistanding, it’s better to keep some of the boys far away. And the Northern and Eastern provinces are the ideal place.
But there is a second, more important reason. The IV Eelam war hasn’t been an anti-terrorism operation: an entire people was under the oppression of the majoritarian extremists and it rebelled against them. But it’s fundamental to underline a fact: before the fall of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan state was never entitled to keep that land. Surely, after the independence, it nominally received sovereignty over the whole island. But the North and the East are Tamil. Or at least they are as Tamil as the South is Sinhalese (the concept of minority is outside the Ceylonese horizon and it will stay there for a while). As soon as the Tamil nationalism gained conscience of its means, it overthrown the state presence with ease. The LTTE was a remarkable war machine and Prabhakaran an exceptional war leader. But their success resides in the first place in the real balance of forces: that the North was Tamil. And it has been since a good millennium at least (century more, century less).
Therefore when the Sri Lankan army crushed the LTTE, it was actually enforcing a military conquest., rather than re-establishing the rule of law and the lost sovereignty of the state. This entails that the military presence in the North doesn’t look like an occupation: it is one. The issue is not military: no young Tamil has really the will to start a war. They prefer to risk their life on a boat to Australia. The army doesn’t have to rein a rival force. It just need to re-affirm itself. also the reason of the land grabbing in the area: the army is confiscating land. Pure and simple loot.
The mere presence is required to affirm the Sinhalisation of the North. Sinhala boots have to walk in the North to fix the conquest.