COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, June 24 (UPI) -- The Sri Lankan military's victory ending the 26-year Tamil Tiger rebellion is only weeks old, but already the euphoria is giving way to rising international concerns about what awaits the country's Tamil-speaking minority in the future.
The plight of the minority in the predominantly Buddhist country of about 21 million is reflected in the humanitarian crisis of the about 300,000 Tamil civilians now housed in poorly supplied, military-run shelters after being driven from their homes by the war in which several thousands died.
The current Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is firm that these internally displaced persons would be resettled in six months, but outsiders disagree.
The government, already facing calls for a probe into alleged human-rights abuses in the final stages of the war, is coming under increasing pressure to address the plight of the IDPs, many reported to be living in deplorable conditions in the shelters.
The BBC's Sri lanka Timesline says the third century B.C. marked the beginning of Tamil migration from India. It says Britain began taking over the island in 1796 and in 1815 started taking in Tamil laborers from southern India to work in tea, coffee and coconut plantations.
Tamils say they are the original inhabitants of the island, that those in the north had been living there from when Sri Lanka was connected to India through the Palk Straits and that the majority of people in the refugee camps belong to this group. The other group, they say, are Tamils who were brought to work in the tea and coffee plantation in the center of the island and that they have not been affected by the civil war.
The resources of Sri Lanka, a poor country even in peace times, are stretched thin as a result of the prolonged civil war. International aid agencies also face problems in the current global financial crisis as they must deal with similar monumental refugee problems from Darfur to Pakistan.
Sri Lanka is receiving more attention as it celebrates its victory even as questions arise whether it can win the peace.
In a report this month, the Human Rights Group in New York said for more than a year, the Sri Lankan government has detained virtually everyone displaced by the fighting in military-run camps in violation of international law.
It said the Sri Lankan government should end the "illegal detention of nearly 300,000 ethnic Tamils" and warned that past government practice and absence of any concrete plans for their release raise serious concerns about indefinite confinement.
There is still no firm figure of the number of civilians killed during the final assault on the Tiger rebels, but estimates have ranged as high as tens of thousands.
The beleaguered Sri Lankan government has given greater access to the shelter camps for aid agencies, but the agencies say it is still not enough. The government says unrestricted access is not possible until it has determined the IDPs have no links to Tiger rebels or that no rebels are hiding among them.
One U.N. Official, quoting senior Sri Lankan military officials, has been quoted as saying he fears many of the displaced Tamils may still be in these camps a year from now despite government promises. A BBC report said the United Nations is concerned the shelters appear to be of a permanent nature, as efforts were under way to set up phone lines, schools and banks.
The Sri Lankan military may claim to have decimated the Tamil Tigers' leadership. However, in a recent article on TamilNet.com, a Web site the Tigers frequently use, the rebels' remnants said they have formed a "transnational government" to strengthen their Tamil diaspora and to "achieve the goal of independence and sovereignty … in the home country and to meet the international challenges internationally."
The article's message to fellow Tamils was the "contemporary world system including its apex body the United Nations, have shown least regards for the life, safety, dignity and human rights of Eelam Tamils."
The concern among some Sri Lankans is that their country in its current vulnerable situation might be exploited by outside forces.
The plea in some Sri Lankan media is that the Tamils and their Sinhalese counterparts now have a chance to meet free from fear of terrorism to achieve racial amity and national integration.
That would involve, among other things, the government allowing as much self-government as possible to the Tamils.
But before that happens, the civilian refugees must be resettled.
"Any long delay in resettling these war-ravaged Tamil people will further alienate them," Sri Lankan analyst D.B.S. Jeyaraj told the BBC, adding the future depends on how the Rajapaksa government reaches out to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people.