Tamil Autonomy Is the Road to Peace in Sri Lanka

As Sri Lanka's military all but vanquished the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last month, the 25-year ethnic conflict finally seemed to be over. But unless President Mahinda Rajapaksa gives Tamils real autonomy, it's only a matter of time before violence flares again.

Many Tamils would be ready for a deal with Colombo. Few of them backed the LTTE's calls for independence or its vicious tactics. But they want greater political autonomy, as well as respect for their religion, language and customs—and Rajapaksa is offering few compromises. He's failed to enact promises to devolve power to the country's provinces and has installed loyalists in Tamil areas. And his harsh treatment of Tamils fleeing the battle—human-rights groups say the military shelled civilians being used as shields by the LTTE and interned refugees in camps—have only aggravated the sense of alienation among Tamils.

If Colombo truly wants reconciliation, it will have to do the following: hold free elections in Tamil-dominated provinces; grant Tamil areas greater autonomy; and work with international donors to fairly distribute money for postconflict reconstruction. Yet given Rajapaksa's record so far, these moves seem unlikely. And that makes more conflict all but guaranteed.