The List: Insurgencies That Refuse to Die

Five rebellions that somehow keep going years after the governments they antagonize declared victory.


Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA)

Country: Spain


Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA)

Country: Spain

Began: 1959

History: Originally founded as a student movement in opposition to dictator Francisco Francos repression of Basque language and culture, the increasingly militant ETA was one of Europes most feared terrorist organizations during the 1970s and 1980s. It is responsible for more than 800 deaths. In the late 1970s, as Spain was transitioning to democracy and Basque country was given greater autonomy, the groups campaign of violence for full independence only intensified, at one point claiming nearly 100 lives per year.

Current state: ETA has operated under a series of intermittent cease-fires and returns to violence since 1998 as public opinion, even among Basque nationalists, has largely turned against them. The group has carried out a number of small bombings in recent years, including an attack on Madrids Barajas airport in 2006 that killed two. Meanwhile, Spanish police have captured a number of senior ETA leaders, including military chief Mikel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina in November 2008. Prime Minister Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero hailed Rubinas arrest as a decisive blow to ETA, but the group is apparently not done yet. It took credit for a car bombing at an office park in Madrid in February 2009.


Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path)

Country: Peru

Began: 1980

History: The Communist Party of Peru, a Maoist outfit more commonly known as Sendero Luminoso, was responsible for a wave of terror that left almost 80,000 Peruvians dead between 1980 and 2000. The groups founder, philosophy professor Abimael Guzmn, once said that 10 percent of Perus population would have to be killed before he could take power. Sendero was known for the brutality of its attacks on peasant villages, including the massacring of children, and its policy of assassinating prominent Peruvian figures, particularly the leaders of rival leftist movements.

Current state: Sendero took a major hit after Guzmn was captured in 1992. By the late 1990s, the group was all but defeated, but there are troubling signs that it is making a comeback. Down to only 400 to 700 fighters from the thousands of guerrillas the group boasted at its peak, the Senderistas managed to kill 25 soldiers and police officers in 2008. Thankfully, Sendero has largely abandoned Guzmns most bloodthirsty tactics, and there have been few recent attacks on civilians. This might be because, like Colombias FARC, Sendero has largely put its Marxist ideology aside in favor of cocaine trafficking and narcoterrorism. The Peruvian government launched a full-scale military offensive last year to stamp out Sendero once and for all, but has so far failed to kill any of the groups new generation of leaders.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The North Caucasus Insurgency

Country: Russia

Began: 1991

History: The modern era of violence in the Caucasus began with Chechnyas declaration of independence after the fall of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsins failed attempt to militarily crush the nascent Chechen independence movement in 1992. When the insurgency began to spread to neighboring Dagestan in the late 1990s, Russias then new prime minister, Vladimir Putin, engineered a brutal military campaign to crush the Chechen separatist movement. During the war, Caucasian militants carried out large-scale attacks throughout Russia, including a 1999 apartment-bombing campaign, the 2002 Moscow theater siege, and the 2004 Beslan school massacre. The Chechen war also radicalized the separatist movement, as jihadists from throughout the Middle East and Central Asia came to join the fight.

Current state: Under the hard-line rule of Chechnyas rebel-turned-Putin-loyalist President Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen insurgency has largely been brought under control. The same cannot be said of neighboring republics Dagestan and Ingushetia, however, where Islamist militants have shifted their base of operations. Attacks against local police and government units increased in frequency throughout 2007 and 2008. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was forced to dismiss Ingushetias unpopular president after rebels in the republic killed 75 security personnel and 40 civilians in 2007. In late 2007, a number of Caucasian rebel groups announced the formation of the Caucasus Emirate, an umbrella group dedicated to creating an Islamic state in the North Caucasus. In recent months, there have been worrying indications that the group has begun operating in the disputed Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well.

-/AFP/Getty Images

Tuareg Rebels

Country: Mali and Niger

Began: 1961

History: Ever since Mali won its independence from France in 1960, the Tuareg nomadic ethnic group in the countrys northern, arid region has waged a low-level resistance struggle against the government. Supposedly crushed at various points during the 1970s and 1980s, the rebels reappeared in force in the 1990s in both Mali and Niger. Although countless leaders have led the rebellion during the nearly 50 years of fighting, the grievances remain largely the same: The Tuareg claim that government policies have favored settled populations at the expense of their nomadic lifestyle, allotting traditional grazing land to farmers, for example. More recently, Tuaregs have protested mineral exploitation by foreign firms. They have resorted to planting land mines and kidnapping foreigners to garner attention for their cause.

Current state: Following late-1990s cease-fires in Mali and Niger, both countries governments promised to better integrate the Tuaregs into national armies and governments, a vow that failed to materialize. Violence came in spurts through the early part of this decade and flared up in 2007, this time under the auspices of the more organized Mouvement des Nigriens pour la Justice (MNJ). In 2007, the MNJ kidnapped Chinese mine workers and ordered all expatriate companies to cease operations. The most recently brokered cease-fires in 2007 and 2008 brought only a temporary calm, and sporadic clashes and kidnappings remain the norm. As recently as late January, rebels abducted a group of French tourists who are still being held near the border with Niger.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Tamil Tigers

Country: Sri Lanka

Began: 1975

History: Tamil resistance movements emerged in the 1970s as a backlash against decades of legislation in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) that limited the ethnic groups rights and economic opportunities. The Tamil Tigers, who received support from India and are formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, called for an independent Hindu Tamil state, free of control from the islands Sinhalese Buddhist majority. In the late 1980s, India sent a peacekeeping force to help broker a cease-fire, but the fighting only worsened. The resulting insurgency dragged on for a decade, during which time the Tamils pioneered the art of suicide bombing, along with the frequent use of land mines and assassinations. More than 700,000 people have died in the conflict.

Current state: Although the tsunami of 2004 brought a brief respite, fierce fighting resumed in just two years. The government pushed forward with a military campaign, and by early January 2009, government troops had captured the Tamils traditional stronghold in Kilinochchi. The remaining estimated 1,700 to 1,900 Tamil fighters were pushed into just a small sliver of 620 square miles in the north of the country. The Sri Lankan president has vowed to destroy the Tigers this time. Our heroic forces today have given us an opportunity to celebrate independence in a country nearly free from terrorism, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared in his Feb. 4 independence day address. But the Tigers dont seem ready to give up just yet. On Feb. 9, they exploded a suicide bomb in a recently government-captured town, killing 28.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Elizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based member of the journalism collective Deca.

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