The Cage

Gordon Weiss, Picador

Gordon Weiss, former spokesman for the United Nations’ Humanitarian Mission in Sri Lanka, writes an enthralling account of the “civil” war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil Tigers.

Settlement and subsequent migration over the centuries attracted a variety of people of differing ethnic and religious backgrounds to this beautiful island.

Buddhism is “practised by two-thirds of the country’s 20 million people”.

Tamil settlers were mainly concentrated in the north and the north-east, with links to the Tamil populations in southern India, practising their own brand of Hinduism.

“Black July” in 1983 saw the massacre of thousands of young people who were revolting against the “state and its ruling elders”, many of whom were Buddhist monks preaching “bloodshed and dominion over the country’s minorities”.

The response of a section of the Tamil leadership was the formation of the militant Tamil Tigers. They became known for their violent resistance to the government forces, recruiting hundreds of children, boys and girls to their well-planned guerrilla activities.

The author recounts horrific actions and reprisals from both sides of a war, which tore apart a beautiful country.

Towards the end, with arms from Pakistan, India and China, the overwhelming number of government forces hemmed in the Tigers to a small triangle on the north-eastern coast, from which there was little chance of escape.

This was known as “The Cage”.

Weiss gives a graphic account of the needless and senseless slaughter of innocent Tamil people, with no connection to the Tigers, who were trapped in the onslaught: including Catholic priests and nuns, who refused to desert their people.

After all the tragedy, the regime is now in the hands of “an oligarchy of Sinhalese political leaders and monks”, who “hijacked democracy”.

John Atkinson

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