Sri Lanka Emerges from Quarter Century of Civil War

In May 2009, Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war ended in a decisive victory for government troops over the ruthless insurgency of the Tamil Tigers. A large-scale government offensive concluded in the capture of the Tigers’ headquarters and the killing of their top leadership. The bitter ethnic conflict, which erupted in 1983, pitted the minority Hindu Tamils against the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. Tamil demands for self-rule in the northeast were opposed by the Sinhalese-dominated government. An estimated 100,000 people were killed in the fighting.

Sri Lanka’s economy has begun to rebound as tourism increases. The island country boasts palm-lined beaches and seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. Tourists are even returning to the capital, Colombo, which suffered terrorist attacks in recent years. The country also has recovered somewhat from the devastating tsunami in 2004. Some 280,000 civilians who were caught in the war zone are being held in camps until mine-clearing operations are completed.

Sri Lanka’s government denies that its troops committed war crimes against Tamils, but evidence has surfaced of extremely brutal methods employed to defeat the insurgency. Journalists and NGOs were banned from the war zone, and media outlets were intimidated from even covering the final months of the war. Allegations of army misconduct are difficult to verify, but reporter Robert Kaplan claims there was widespread killing of civilians. Some recent charges of atrocities are linked to a video released by a group of Sri Lankan journalists, some of whom fled the island during the last stages of the war.

Related Links

  • End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War Brings Back Tourists
    This article in The Independent points to improvements in Sri Lanka’s economy since the end of the civil war in May.
    (Source: The Independent, August 16, 2009)
  • Sri Lanka Rejects Accuracy of Footage Showing “Execution” of Tamils by Troops
    In this article The Guardian reports charges of excessive brutality on the part of Sri Lankan government forces during the recently concluded civil war.
    (Source: The Guardian, August 26, 2009)
  • To Catch a Tiger
    This analysis by Robert Kaplan of the Sri Lankan government’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers raises troubling questions about the tactics used to win the civil war.
    (Source: The Atlantic, July 1, 2009)
  • Country Profile: Sri Lanka
    This BBC News overview of the country includes a time line of key events in Sri Lanka’s history, through August 2009.
    (Source: BBC News, August 11, 2009)
  • Map of Sri Lanka
    Map of Sri Lanka from the University of Texas. Most of the fighting in the civil war was in the north of the country. Sri Lanka’s capital is Colombo, on the southwest coast.
    (Source: The University of Texas)

Other Issues in the Region

Population Explosion

Rapid population growth is a problem for South Asian countries and a strain on regional infrastructure, including water, food, and energy supplies, health care, and schools. Resources are strained, and both the environment and the standard of living are affected. More serious social problems may erupt in South Asia unless governments and social service agencies can find ways to work together to contain population growth.

  • Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India’s Vanishing Water
    NASA hydrologists from using satellite imagery have found that human activities such as crop irrigation is draining northern India’s groundwater supply faster than natural processes can replenish the region’s aquifers.
    (Source:, August 12, 2009)

Living with Extreme Weather

The basic weather patterns of India and South Asia are built around the summer and winter monsoons (seasonal wind systems). Monsoons, tropical cyclones, floods, and drought are the major weather conditions of concern in the area. While the summer monsoon rains can cause flooding and devastation, they are also critical to Indian agriculture. An estimated one billion people in India rely on farming to survive, and a good monsoon season can significantly boost India’s economy. The winter monsoon months are dry, and can result in deadly heat waves.

Territorial Dispute

India and Pakistan have fought two wars, in 1947 and 1965, over Kashmir. The Kashmir region between the two countries is divided between them, but both sides claim it in its entirety. Since 1989, India has faced armed resistance in Kashmir and has accused Pakistan of funding the resistance forces. After a suicide bombing of the Indian parliament building in 2001, the two countries once again appeared on the brink of war. By this time both countries had nuclear weapons in their arsenals, provoking considerable international concern. War did not break out, and relations between the two countries have thawed.

In November of 2005, India began to withdraw some of its troops from Kashmir in an effort to ease tensions in the region and bring about further peace talks.

  • Unrest Ends Kashmir Tourism Revival
    Currently ruled by India, protests for independence have become common in recent months. A heavy crackdown on protests by Indian security forces has reduced Kashmir’s tourism industry to virtually nothing.
    (Source: AFP, September 16, 2008)

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