Q&A: Post-war Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan army soldiers dig out heavy weapons, which they said were buried by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the end of the three-decade war against Sri Lanka troops in 2009 The legacy of the war is still felt across Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka's army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 after 26 years of brutal civil war.

Allegations of atrocities during the closing stages of that war have dogged the government ever since it ended. The rebels were also accused of abuses.

The government has strenuously denied such allegations and insist they are on the path of reconciliation and rebuilding Sri Lanka's north.

But rights groups warn that the country is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

What happened in the war?

After independence from British rule, increasingly assertive Sinhala nationalists, resentful of what they saw as British favouritism towards minority Tamils, began to fan the flames of ethnic division.

A Tamil separatist movement gained momentum during the 1970s when a number of armed Tamil groups emerged in the north and parts of eastern Sri Lanka.

But in 1983 the insurgency was transformed after a brutal anti-Tamil backlash following the killing by insurgents of 13 soldiers spread throughout the country.

Many thousands of Tamils left the country. Rebel ranks swelled as the campaign for a separate Tamil state was renewed with increased ferocity.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran as a ruthless and highly effective fighting force. It came to run what was in effect a shadow state in the north and east.

The group used suicide bombings and other attacks to devastating effect in the capital Colombo and elsewhere in the 1990s. It also killed high-profile figures, including Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. In just two decades, the conflict was estimated to have claimed tens of thousands of lives.

After various peace initiatives and ceasefires failed, the government launched a final offensive.

Amid warnings of a humanitarian crisis as rebels gradually lost ground to advancing government forces, the army finally succeeded in defeating the Tigers, killing their leader Prabhakaran.

But what happened in the final weeks of the war has been the subject of intense controversy in the years since it ended.

How many people were killed?

Until the final months of the war, the death toll for more than 25 years of conflict was estimated to be about 70,000.

But the final phase, when the government and rebels battled it out as thousands of civilians were hemmed in to a tiny strip of land on the north-eastern coast, has been the subject of most scrutiny.

Human rights groups have alleged that tens of thousands were killed - estimates range from 20,000-75,000 dead: but a government estimate says about 9,000 people perished.

Part of the difficulty in ascertaining final figures lies in the fact that few claims could be independently verified. Journalists and most aid groups were barred from the region.

A report commissioned by the UN in 2011 says it believed tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final stage, adding that most of them were caused by government shelling.

The government has consistently rejected such figures.

What were the main allegations against the government and rebels?

The 2011 UN report also laid out several other allegations against the government and the rebels.

It said hospitals, UN centres and ships belonging to the international aid group the Red Cross were deliberately targeted by the army.

The government was accused of using heavy weaponry and UN images obtained by the BBC appeared to show shelling damage in a government-designated "safe zone" for civilians.

The report also accused the Tamil Tigers of using civilians as human shields, saying the rebels shot those who tried to escape. It also said that the rebels positioned heavy weapons in hospital grounds.

Sri Lanka rejected the claims in the report as biased and fraudulent.

Human rights groups have also made public accounts of humanitarian suffering and video has also emerged apparently showing extra-judicial killings - all dismissed by the government as false.

What efforts have been made to promote post-war reconciliation?

This has proved a hugely controversial issue and many believe it must begin with addressing the legacy of the war.

Critics say there has been little serious attempt to do this so far. The government appointed its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission but rights groups dismissed the inquiry as "flawed".

The commission cleared the military of allegations that it had deliberately attacked civilians. But it did say there had been some violations by troops, although only at an individual level, adding that specific instances of alleged wrongdoing should be investigated.

Critics say the government has made little progress in addressing these recommendations.

What are the key issues facing the country now?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa told reporters after his presidential election victory that he would start by focusing on the economic development of the country.

He also promised to focus on the concerns of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and to discuss devolution of power - a subject his opponents have accused him of failing to address.

Sri Lanka's northern province is set to hold its first elections for a semi-autonomous council, but campaigning took place in a bitter atmosphere with reports of intimidation.

And when UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay visited in August 2013, she warned that the country was becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Issues such as disappearances, attacks on religious minorities and journalists, and the militarisation of the north were all brought up during her visit.

But the government dismissed her comments as "prejudiced" .

Is there any chance of a return to Tamil militancy?

On this, the overwhelming majority of analysts agree that in the short term at least the answer is a resounding "no".

After so many years of war, many Sri Lankan Tamils are war-weary and struggling to earn a living.

But many also warn that the government runs the risk of alienating the minority if it does not act on political reconciliation.

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