October 16, 2021

North Korea’s role in Sri Lanka’s bloody insurgencies

Pyongyang has history of backing radical nationalist movements in civil war

“Secrets become powerless in the open air,” says a character in Anil’s Ghost (2000), Michael Ondaatje’s novel set in the midst of Sri Lanka’s long civil war. It is a truism that powerful figures in Sri Lanka, accused of human rights abuses and war crimes, should ponder.

Five years after the war’s end, secrets are indeed being exposed to the open air, secrets written in bone. Just before Christmas, laborers laying a pipeline in the northern district of Mannar unearthed a mass grave dating from over a decade ago. In November 2012, construction workers did likewise in the central district of Matale, this one dating from the late 1980s. Both were the legacies of two very different insurgencies on an island that often seemed a paradise, a teardrop off India’s southern tip. And both rebellions had active North Korean support.