Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War by Frances Harrison - review by Richard Cockett

Richard Cockett

The Last Days of the Tamil Tigers

Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War


Portobello Books 259pp £14.99

As Asian countries such as the Philippines, Burma and Thailand, among others, contemplate how to resolve long-running ethnic insurgencies, there is always the ‘Sri Lankan option’ to consider now. Much touted by the Sri Lankan government, this was the winning strategy deployed against the Tamils in the north of the country over the winter months of 2008–9. The Sri Lankans even held an international conference in 2011 to show everyone how to do it. Rather than a lot of boring jaw-jaw and months, years maybe, of messy give-and-take, the Sri Lankan option, as summarised by Frances Harrison, is to use ‘brute military force’: ‘it involves scorched earth tactics, blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants, and enforcing a media blackout.’

If any politician or government seriously contemplates this formula, even for just a second, then they should immediately be locked away in a room and be given Harrison’s book to read. For Still Counting the Dead chronicles in overwhelming and often horrific detail exactly what the Sri Lankan option means

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