Michael Buerk

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES -

The Tigers’ lair was deep in the jun­gle. It was dif­fi­cult to find and tough to get to; two hours jolt­ing, semi-prone, in a trailer dragged by a trac­tor, watch­ing for mines. This was a war zone for decades. The paddy fields were aban­doned long ago to the pea­cocks and their perpetual courtship, dozens of them ev­ery­where, each male made fab­u­lous by de­sire. The man-made lake that once fed the fields was cov­ered in lo­tus flow­ers. A croc­o­dile basked on a rock in the shal­lows, jaws gap­ing as if in won­der at the lonely beauty of it all. Well into the thicker brush, down a maze of paths and tun­nels through the thorn trees, we came first to what was left of the Tigers’ guard post. Just rub­ble now where 30 fight­ers held part of the perime­ter of what was, in ef­fect, a sep­a­rate state. Their la­trine, the only recog­nis­able struc­ture left, was now home to a 15ft In­dian rock python.

The main camp was much fur­ther into the jun­gle, blasted to near obliv­ion, like the move­ment it­self. It had been the per­ma­nent base for 1,000 fight­ers, three times that many when re­cruits in this east­ern Tamil heart­land were tran­sit­ing to the bat­tle­fields of the north. It had been a small town of con­crete, breeze blocks and un­der­ground bunkers. Maybe the place was lev­elled by the Tigers them­selves, when the war ended in a bloody Göt­ter­däm­merung, 100 miles to the north. But the re­mains of their dis­tinc­tive uni­forms, the emp­tied am­mu­ni­tion boxes, and – more chill­ing – the hu­man bones that were ly­ing about spoke of col­lapse, and flight, and worse.

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