Colombo • Galkissa • Moratuwa • Jaffna • Negombo • Pita Kotte • Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte • Kandy • Trincomalee • Kalmunai • Galle • Point Pedro • Batticaloa • Katunayaka • Valvedditturai • Matara • Battaramulla South • Dambulla • Maharagama • Kotikawatta • Anuradhapura • Vavuniya • Kolonnawa • Hendala • Ratnapura • Badulla • Puttalam • Welisara • Kalutara • Bentota • Homagama • Beruwala • Panadura • Mulleriyawa • Kandana • Ja Ela • Wattala • Peliyagoda • Kelaniya • Kurunegala • Nuwara Eliya • Gampola • Chilaw • Eravur Town • Hanwella Ihala • Weligama • Ambalangoda • Shanjeev Home • Ampara • Hatton • Polonnaruwa • Kilinochchi • Tangalla • Monaragala • Gampaha • Horana South • Wattegama • Minuwangoda • Horawala Junction • Kuliyapitiya • Haputale • Talawakele • Talpe • Unawatuna • Hikkaduwa • Kadugannawa • Sigiriya • Iththikkandal • Ielanthaiwan • Moonkilmurichchan •
|SRI LANKA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Sri Lanka within the Continent of Asia
Map of Sri Lanka
Flag Description of Sri Lanka : The Sri Lanka flag was officially adopted on December 17, 1978.
Prior to 1815, the gold lion was originally the national flag of Ceylon; its four pipul leaves are Buddhist symbols and the sword is said to represent authority. On this modern version, the green represents Muslims, while the orange represents Hindus.
Official name Sri Lanka Prajatantrika Samajavadi Janarajaya (Sinhala); Ilangai Jananayaka Socialisa Kudiarasu (Tamil) (Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (Parliament ) Head of state and government President: Maithripala Sirisena, assisted by Prime Minister: Ranil Wickremesinghe Capitals Colombo (executive and judicial); Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (Colombo suburb; legislative) Official languages Sinhala; Tamil1 Official religion none2 Monetary unit Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) Population (2013 est.) 20,463,000COLLAPSE Total area (sq mi) 25,332 Total area (sq km) 65,610 Urban-rural population'
- Urban: (2012) 18.2%
- Rural: (2012) 81.8%
Life expectancy at birth'
- Male: (2009) 70.6 years
- Female: (2009) 78.1 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate'
- Male: (2009) 92.8%
- Female: (2009) 90%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 3,170
1English has official status as “the link language” between Sinhala and Tamil.
2Buddhism has special recognition.
Background of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, island country lying in the Indian Ocean and separated from peninsular India by the Palk Strait. It is located between latitudes 5°55′ and 9°51′ N and longitudes 79°41′ and 81°53′ E and has a maximum length of 268 miles (432 km) and a maximum width of 139 miles (224 km).
Proximity to the Indian subcontinent has facilitated close cultural interaction between Sri Lanka and India from ancient times. At a crossroads of maritime routes traversing the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has also been exposed to cultural influences from other Asian civilizations. Ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane. Arabs referred to it as Serendib. Later European mapmakers called it Ceylon, a name still used occasionally for trade purposes. It officially became Sri Lanka in 1972.
The distinctive civilization of Sri Lanka, with roots that can be traced back to the 6th century bce, is characterized by two factors: the preservation of Theravada Buddhism (the orthodox school of Buddhism having its literary traditions in the Pali language) and the development over two millennia of a sophisticated system of irrigation in the drier parts of the country. This civilization was further enriched by the influences of Hinduism and Islam.
In 1948, after nearly 150 years of British rule, Sri Lanka became an independent country, and it was admitted to the United Nations seven years later. The country is a member of the Commonwealth and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
Colombo, which emerged as the main urban centre during British rule, remains the executive and judicial capital of Sri Lanka; Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, a Colombo suburb, is the legislative capital. For administrative purposes, the country has been divided into nine provinces and subdivided into 25 districts.
Sri Lanka is densely populated. The majority of its people are poor, live in rural areas, and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. A physical environment of wide-ranging diversity makes Sri Lanka one of the world’s most scenic countries. As the home of several ethnic groups, each with its own cultural heritage, Sri Lanka also has a highly varied cultural landscape.
Geography of Sri Lanka
A roughly triangular mountainous area known as the Central Highlands occupies the south-central region of Sri Lanka and is the heart of the country. This highland mass is surrounded by a diverse plain, the general elevation of which ranges from sea level to about 1,000 feet (300 metres). This plain accounts for about five-sixths of the country’s total area.
The Central Highlands have a highly dissected terrain consisting of a unique arrangement of plateaus, ridges, escarpments, intermontane basins, and valleys. Sri Lanka’s highest mountains—Pidurutalagala at 8,281 feet (2,524 metres), Kirigalpotta (7,858 feet), and Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada; 7,559 feet)—are found in this area. The highlands, except on their western and southwestern flanks, are sharply defined by a series of escarpments, the most spectacular being the so-called World’s End, a near-vertical precipice of about 4,000 feet.
The plain that surrounds the Central Highlands does not have an entirely flat and featureless terrain. To the north and northeast of the highlands, the plain is traversed by low ridges that decrease in altitude as they approach the coast. The western and southwestern parts of the plain feature alternating ridges and valleys running parallel to the coast and increasing in elevation toward the interior to merge imperceptibly with the highland mass. Elsewhere the flatness of the plain is sporadically interrupted by rocky buttes and mounds, some of which reach elevations of more than 1,000 feet. The plain is fringed by a coast consisting mostly of sandy beaches, spits, and lagoons. Over a few stretches of the coast there are rocky promontories and cliffs, deep-water bays, and offshore islets.
Geologically, the island of Sri Lanka is considered a southerly extension of peninsular India (the Deccan), with which it shares a continental shelf and some of its basic lithologic and geomorphic characteristics. Hard, crystalline rock formations, such as granite, gneisses, khondalite (a type of metamorphic rock), and quartzite, make up about nine-tenths of the island’s surface and subsurface.
The surface drainage of Sri Lanka is made up of about 100 “rivers,” most of which are mere wet-season rivulets. Twelve major rivers account for about 75 percent of the mean annual river discharge of the country, with those that flow entirely through the Wet Zone (the highlands and the southwestern part of the country; see below) carrying about half the total discharge. With the exception of the 208-mile-long Mahaweli River, all major rivers flow radially from the Central Highlands to the sea. The Mahaweli, which originates on the western slopes of the highest areas of the highlands, follows a circuitous route in its upper reaches before it enters the plain to the east of the highlands and then flows toward the northeast coast. Because a part of its catchment is well within the Wet Zone, this river has a larger and less seasonally varied flow than the other Dry Zone rivers and so is a major asset for irrigation in the drier parts of the country (the Dry Zone includes the northern part of the country and much of the east and southeast; see below).
Variations of soil within Sri Lanka reflect the effects of climate, lithology, and terrain on the soil-forming processes. The climatic influences are reflected in the dominance of red-yellow podzolic soils (leached lateritic soils) in the Wet Zone and of reddish brown earths (nonlateritic loamy soils) in the Dry Zone. In parts of the Central Highlands there are reddish brown latosolic soils (partially laterized soils) or immature brown loams (clayey loams). Among the other important soil types are the alluvials that occur along the lower courses of rivers and the regosols (sandy soils) of the coastal tracts.
Most of the soils of Sri Lanka are potentially suitable for some kind of agricultural use. However, depletion of the natural fertility of the soil has occurred extensively, especially on the rugged terrain of the highlands, owing to poor soil conservation.
Sri Lanka’s tropical location ensures perennially high temperatures, with monthly averages between 72 °F (22 °C) and 92 °F (33 °C) in the lowlands. In the Central Highlands, higher altitudes account for lower temperatures, with monthly averages between 44 °F (7 °C) and 71 °F (21.6 °C).
Rainfall is the conspicuous factor in the seasonal and diurnal variations of the climate of Sri Lanka. Most parts of the country receive an average annual rainfall of more than 50 inches (1,270 mm). However, regional differences in the amount of rain, its seasonality, and its variability and effectiveness have formed the basis of a distinction in Sri Lanka between a Wet Zone and a Dry Zone. In the former area, which covers the southwestern quadrant of the island (including the highlands), the rainfall is heavy (annual averages range from 98 inches along the coast to more than 150 inches in the highlands) and seasonally well distributed (although a greater part of the rain comes from the southwest monsoon from May to September). Rainfall deviates relatively little each year from the annual averages and is effective enough to maintain soil moisture and surface drainage throughout the year. Over the rest of the island—the Dry Zone—annual totals of rain range from 30 to 70 inches in the different areas (much of it being received during the northeast monsoon season from November to January). Droughts that persist for more than three months are common.
- Plant and animal life
Sri Lanka’s natural vegetation covers about one-third of the total land area. The climax vegetation (i.e., natural vegetation permitted to develop uninterrupted) in most parts of the country is forest. In the Wet Zone, tropical wet evergreen forest dominates in the lowlands, and submontane and montane evergreen forests prevail in the highlands. The Dry Zone has a climax vegetation of dry evergreen forest and moist deciduous forest, with forests giving way to a stunted, shrubby, xerophytic (drought-tolerant) vegetation in its driest parts. In the highest areas of the Central Highlands, forests tend to be sparse and interspersed with grasslands.
Most of Sri Lanka’s climax vegetation cover has been heavily depleted by extensive clearing of forests for settlements, extraction of timber, and agriculture. Only the Sinharaja forest and the Peak Wilderness of the southwestern interior remain as significant remnants of the Wet Zone’s original evergreen forests. The forests found in most parts of the Dry Zone are secondary vegetation, which probably developed after hundreds of years of repeated clearing and cultivation.
The virgin forests of Sri Lanka are rich in their variety and profusion of flora and fauna. Wildlife, including elephants, leopards, bears, buffalo, and peafowl, and tree species such as ebony, mahogany, satinwood, and teak are being rapidly depleted by indiscriminate exploitation.
- Settlement patterns
The Colombo Metropolitan Region dominates the settlement system of Sri Lanka. It includes the legislative capital, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. It is also the foremost administrative, commercial, and industrial area and the hub of the transport network of Sri Lanka. Urban settlements outside this area are much smaller and less diversified in functions.
About three-fourths of all Sri Lankans live in rural settlements, of which there are several types. In areas of high rural population density—the entire Wet Zone, the Jaffna Peninsula, and a few coastal localities in the east—villages merge with one another, each a conglomerate of homestead gardens interspersed with tracts of paddy. Villages of the Wet Zone interior also contain smallholdings monocropped with rubber or coconut and terraced paddy land. In the Central Highlands this type of rural landscape gives way to extensive plantations under tea or rubber cultivation. Here the villages are dense clusters of barrack-type structures, each cluster occupying no more than 2.5 acres (1 hectare) but accommodating up to several hundred plantation worker families. A third major type of rural settlement is found in the Dry Zone where the majority of people live in colonization schemes (irrigation-based, planned settlements). Each colony, a distinct entity, features agricultural allotments of near-uniform size with large stretches of paddy occupying the irrigable land.
Demography of Sri Lanka
- Ethnic composition
Ethnic, religious, and linguistic distinctions in Sri Lanka are essentially the same. Three ethnic groups—Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim—make up more than 99 percent of the country’s population, with the Sinhalese alone accounting for nearly three-fourths of the people. The Tamil segment comprises two groups—Sri Lankan Tamils (long-settled descendants from southeastern India) and Indian Tamils (recent immigrants from southeastern India, most of whom were migrant workers brought to Sri Lanka under British rule). Slightly more than one-eighth of the total population belongs to the former group. Muslims, who trace their origin back to Arab traders of the 8th century, account for about 7.5 percent of the population. Burghers (a community of mixed European descent), Parsis (immigrants from western India), and Veddas (regarded as the aboriginal inhabitants of the country) total less than 1 percent of the population.
The Sinhalese constitute the majority in the southern, western, central, and north-central parts of the country. In the rural areas of the Wet Zone lowlands, they account for more than 95 percent of the population. The foremost concentration of the Sri Lankan Tamils lies in the Jaffna Peninsula and in the adjacent districts of the northern lowlands. Smaller agglomerations of this group are also found along the eastern littoral where their settlements are juxtaposed with those of the Muslims. The main Muslim concentrations occur in the eastern lowlands. In other areas, such as Colombo, Kandy, Puttalam, and Gampaha, Muslims form a small but important segment of the urban and suburban population. The Indian Tamils, the vast majority of whom are plantation workers, live in large numbers in the higher areas of the Central Highlands.
- Language and religion
Among the principal ethnic groups, language and religion determine identity. While the mother tongue of the Sinhalese is Sinhala—an Indo-Aryan language—the Tamils speak the Dravidian language of Tamil. Again, while more than 90 percent of the Sinhalese are Buddhists, both Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils are overwhelmingly Hindu. The Muslims—adherents of Islam—usually speak Tamil. Christianity draws its followers (about 7 percent of the population) from among the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Burgher communities.
- Ethnic relations
Sri Lanka’s ethnic relations are characterized by periodic disharmony. Since independence, estranged relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils have continued in the political arena. Intensifying grievances of the latter group against the Sinhalese-dominated governments culminated in the late 1970s in a demand by the Tamil United Liberation Front, the main political party of that community, for an independent Tamil state comprising the northern and eastern provinces. This demand grew increasingly militant and eventually evolved into a separatist war featured by acts of terrorism. The violence to which the Tamils living in Sinhalese-majority areas were subjected in 1983 contributed to this escalation of the conflict. The secessionist demand itself has met with opposition from the other ethnic groups.
- Demographic trends
At independence Sri Lanka had a population of about 6.5 million, which by the early 1990s had increased to more than 17 million. The rate of population growth averaged about 2.6 percent annually up to the early 1970s and declined to about 1.7 percent over the next two decades. In Sri Lanka the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas has remained a slow process. The pronounced trend has been that of migration into the Dry Zone interior, which has doubled its share of the country’s population since independence.
Economy of Sri Lanka
- The economy
The economy that evolved in Sri Lanka under British rule consisted of a modern sector, the main component being plantation agriculture, and a traditional sector comprising subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing was an insignificant segment of the economy. Banking and commerce were, for the most part, ancillary to plantation agriculture. Nearly all foreign earnings were derived from the three staple plantation crops—tea, rubber, and coconut. The country depended on imports for nearly three-fourths of its food requirements and almost all of its manufactured goods.
During the first three decades after independence, development policy focused on two themes, equity through social welfare and substitution of imports with local products. Government price subsidies on food, statutory price controls on consumer goods, and the provision of free education and health services by the government were the principal measures guided by equity considerations. Stimulating local production to cater to an increasing share of domestic consumption and imposing diverse restrictions on imports were the main elements of the import substitution policy. The pursuance of these policies required increased government intervention in the economy.
The social welfare policies achieved a measure of success in lowering mortality rates and in increasing life expectancy and literacy rates to levels seldom matched by other developing countries. However, the restrictive impact that the policies had on domestic capital accumulation and investment retarded economic growth, leading not only to soaring unemployment but also to the persistence of low incomes. The achievements of the import substitution policies were even less tangible, except perhaps in the production of rice and subsidiary food crops. Industry, starved of imported inputs and domestic investment and often mismanaged under state control, failed either to grow or to achieve acceptable standards of product quality or to remain commercially viable. The policy focus on import substitution also meant the relative neglect of plantation agriculture, which, nevertheless, had to carry a heavy burden of taxation.
After the late 1970s there was a shift away from the earlier policies toward ones aimed at liberalizing the economy from excessive government controls. The new policies were designed to accelerate economic growth by stimulating private investment and to increase the country’s foreign earnings by promoting export-oriented economic activities.
The liberalization policies succeeded initially. Stimulated by a substantially enhanced level of foreign aid and investment, the economy became buoyant, recording, up to about 1984, real growth rates of about 6 percent per annum. Thereafter, however, there was a marked deceleration of growth, caused mainly by the disruptive effects of the ethnic conflict on economic activity.
In Sri Lanka the resource potential in minerals such as gemstones, graphite, ilmenite, iron ore, limestone, quartz, mica, industrial clays, and salt is large. Small but commercially extractable amounts of nonferrous metals and minerals like titanium, monazite, and zircon are contained in the beach sands of a few localities. Of fossil fuels, the only known resource is the low-grade peat found in a swampy stretch along the west coast.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Rice production is the most important economic activity of Sri Lanka’s peasantry. Since independence there has been an impressive increase of paddy production. The factors that contributed to this were, first, the opening of 248,000 acres for paddy in the colonization schemes of the Dry Zone (including those of the Mahaweli Development Program launched in the early 1970s) and, second, the adoption of yield-increasing technology. Other important changes in peasant agriculture during postindependence times included diversification of production as well as increased commercialization of production transactions.
In terms of product value, contribution to export earnings, and the size of the work force, plantation agriculture has continued to figure prominently in the economy of Sri Lanka; however, its long-term trend has been one of relative decline.
Tea, the preeminent crop of the plantation sector, grows in many parts of the Wet Zone. Crops that are concentrated at higher altitudes supply some of the best-quality black teas to the world market. The main rubber-growing area is the ridge-and-valley country of the Wet Zone interior. Coconut is grown mainly in the hinterland of the western seaboard.
Plantations represent a segment of the economy that has failed to make significant advances since the time of independence. This is largely attributable to the persistently low rates of investment in this sector. Sri Lanka’s land reforms of 1972–75, through which the government acquired the ownership of about 60 percent of the total tea acreage and 30 percent of the rubber acreage, also contributed to the decline in productivity and commercial viability of the plantation sector.
Forestry and fishing are relatively insignificant components of the economy. Forests had been cleared for settlement and agriculture at an estimated rate of 104,000 acres annually between 1956 and 1981. Extraction of timber and fuelwood from forests is constrained by environmental conservation. In fisheries, the resource potential is abundant, particularly on the north and northwest coasts. Constraints on development are largely technological. Fishing, however, is an important occupation for the people living along the coastal fringe.
Sri Lanka’s mineral-extraction industries include mining of gemstones and graphite; excavation of beach sands containing ilmenite and monazite; and quarrying kaolin, apatite, quartz sand, clay, and salt. Among them, gem mining is the most important, producing high-value gemstones such as sapphire, ruby, and topaz, in addition to a variety of semiprecious stones, most of which reach foreign markets. Graphite, ilmenite, and monazite, exported in semiprocessed form, contribute on a small scale to Sri Lanka’s foreign earnings. The other minerals are used locally as raw materials in the manufacturing and construction industries.
Until the late 1970s, manufacturing in Sri Lanka was dominated by several large-scale enterprises developed within the state sector to produce goods such as cement, fabricated steel, ceramics, fuel and lubricant oils, paper, leather, tires, textiles, sugar, and liquor. Only a few factory-based industries, most of them producing light consumer goods, were in private hands.
The liberalization policies adopted in 1977 brought significant changes. Some state-owned industrial enterprises were privatized. Fiscal and other concessions were offered to prospective private investors, particularly to attract foreign investments. These included a package of incentives provided at several investment promotion zones. The low wage rates prevalent in the country were an added attraction to the industrial ventures that responded to these incentives. By the early 1990s new industries employed a work force of more than 70,000 and had nearly equaled tea in gross export earnings. Many of them, however, depend on imported inputs and involve considerable repatriation of profits. Hence, they generate relatively low net returns to the economy.
Among the industries that flourished under the liberalization policies was tourism, which, however, remains highly sensitive to political instability. The expansion of tourism, along with the massive irrigation and housing projects undertaken since 1978, have contributed substantially to the growth of the construction industry.
The rivers that cascade down the Central Highlands offer prospects for hydropower development. Some of it is being harnessed at large power stations, including those established under the Mahaweli Development Program. Hydropower provides nearly three-fourths of the country’s electricity supply. Imported crude oil is being converted to gasoline and other petroleum products at the state-owned refinery. Some of these products are reexported. Fuelwood continues to be the major source of energy in rural areas.
Banking and the issue of currency are controlled by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. Until the late 1970s, commercial banking was the near-exclusive monopoly of two state-run banks, the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank. The postliberalization period allowed the establishment of several private commercial banks and an overall expansion in banking, particularly with the government’s decision in 1979 to allow foreign banks to open branches in Sri Lanka. These same trends were replicated in other spheres of commerce such as insurance and wholesale trade in imported goods. The increased participation of the private sector in industry and commerce has led to the emergence of a small but vibrant stock market in Colombo.
Changes in agriculture and industry have brought about a decline in the relative importance of plantation products among the exports and of food commodities among the imports. This, however, has not reduced the adverse balance in foreign trade from which the economy continues to suffer. Most of the trade deficit results from transactions with the industrialized countries of East Asia from which the bulk of imported manufactured goods originate. Usually, small surpluses are generated in the transactions with other major trading partners—France, Germany, the United States, and Saudi Arabia.
Road and rail transport accounts for an overwhelmingly large share of the movement of people and commodities within Sri Lanka. In rail transport the government holds a monopoly. Passenger transport by road is shared by the government and the private sector. The private automobile remains a luxury that only the affluent can afford. The bicycle and the bullock cart are important modes of conveyance, especially in rual areas.
Air Lanka, the national airline, operates regularly between its base at Colombo and several major cities in Asia and Europe. Other airlines that frequent Colombo include the national carriers of Singapore, Thailand, India, the Netherlands, and Britain. The seaport of Colombo handles the bulk of Sri Lanka’s shipping, including some transshipments of the Indian ports. International cargo is also handled by the ports at Trincomalee and Galle.
Administrative and Social Condition of Sri Lanka
Culture Life of Sri Lanka
History of Sri Lanka
Early History and Colonialism
Sri Lanka was first settled by modern humans around 35,000 years ago and possibly earlier. The most ancient of the inhabitants may have been the ancestors of the Veddas, an aboriginal people (numbering about 2,000) now living in jungle areas near Maduru Oya National Park. They were conquered in the 6th cent. B.C. by the Sinhalese, who were originally from N India; the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic, probably reflects this conquest. The Sri Lanka chronicle Mahavamsa relates the arrival of Vijaya, the first Sinhalese king, in 483 B.C. The Sinhalese settled in the north and developed an elaborate irrigation system. They founded their capital at Anuradhapura, which, after the introduction of Buddhism from India in the 3d cent. B.C., became one of the chief world centers of that religion; a cutting of the pipal tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya was planted there. The Temple of the Tooth at Kandy as well as the Dalada Maligawa are sacred Buddhist sites. Buddhism stimulated the fine arts in Sri Lanka, its classical period lasted from the 4th to the 6th cent.
The proximity of Sri Lanka to S India resulted in many Tamil invasions. The Chola of S India conquered Anuradhapura in the early 11th cent. and made Pollonarrua their capital. The Sinhalese soon regained power, but in the 12th cent. a Tamil kingdom arose in the north, and the Sinhalese were driven to the southwest. Arab traders, drawn by the island's spices, arrived in the 12th and 13th cent.; their descendants are the Muslim Moors.
The Portuguese conquered the coastal areas in the early 16th cent. and introduced the Roman Catholic religion. By the mid-17th cent. the Dutch had taken over the Portuguese possessions and the rich spice trade. In 1795 the Dutch possessions were occupied by the British, who made the island, then known as Ceylon, a crown colony in 1798. In 1815 the island was brought under one rule for the first time when the central area, previously under the rule of Kandy, was conquered. Under the British, tea, coffee, and rubber plantations were developed, and schools, including a university, were opened. A movement for independence arose during World War I. The constitution of 1931 granted universal adult suffrage to the inhabitants; but demands for independence continued, and in 1946 a more liberal constitution was enacted.
- An Independent Nation
Full independence was finally granted to the Ceylon on Feb. 4, 1948, with dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1950 delegates of eight countries of the Commonwealth met in Colombo and adopted the Colombo Plan for economic aid to S and SE Asia. The replacement of English as sole official language by Sinhalese alienated the Tamils and other minorities, and led to Tamil protests and anti-Tamil attacks. Riots in 1958 between Sinhalese and the Tamil minority over demands by the Tamils for official recognition of their language and the establishment of a separate Tamil state under a federal system (which had been negotiated but then abandoned by the government) resulted in severe loss of life, predominantly among the Tamil community. In Sept., 1959, Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated, and in 1960 his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister. The Federal party of the Tamils was outlawed in 1961, following new disorders.
Certain Western business facilities were nationalized (1962), and the country became involved in disputes with the United States and Great Britain over compensation. The radical policies of Mrs. Bandaranaike aroused opposition, and the elections in 1965 gave a parliamentary plurality once more to the moderate socialist United National party (UNP) of Dudley Senanayake, who became prime minister with a multiparty coalition. Under Senanayake, closer relations with the West were established and compromise arrangements were made for recompensing nationalized companies. However, economic problems and severe inflation continued, aggravated by a burgeoning population (between 1946 and 1970 the population almost doubled).
In 1970, Mrs. Bandaranaike and her three-party anticapitalist coalition won a landslide victory, following considerable preelection violence. She launched social welfare programs, including rice subsidies and free hospitalization, but failed to satisfy the extreme left, which, under the Marxist People's Liberation Front (JVP), attempted to overthrow the government in an armed rebellion in 1971. With Soviet, British, and Indian aid, the rebellion was quelled after heavy fighting. In 1972 the country adopted a new constitution, declared itself a republic while retaining membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, and changed its name to Sri Lanka. In the early 1970s the government was confronted with a severe economic crisis as the country's food supplies and foreign exchange reserves dwindled in the face of rising inflation, high unemployment, a huge trade deficit, and the traditional policy of extensive social-welfare programs.
- Civil War
Repression of the Tamil language fueled demands by the Tamil minority for an independent state. Election of a new UNP government under J. R. Jayawardene in 1977 and the implementation of economic reforms geared toward growth did little to restrain an upsurge of terrorist violence or of bloody anti-Tamil riots (1977, 1981, 1983). In the 1980s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam initiated a full-scale guerrilla war against the army in the north and east; at the same time, radical Sinhalese students assassinated government officials whom they believed were too soft on the Tamils, and in 1987–89 the JVP launched a new insurrection that was brutally suppressed. In response to a request from Jayawardene's government, India sent (1987) 42,000 troops to NE Sri Lanka. The Indian troops fought an inconclusive war with the Tigers and were asked to withdraw by Jayawardene's successor, Ramasinghe Premadasa, who was elected in 1988.
The Indian troops withdrew in late 1989, and fighting resumed in 1990. In 1993, Premadasa was assassinated in a suicide bombing; he was succeeded as president by prime minister and UNP leader Dingiri Banda Wijetunga. A year later, the opposition People's Alliance party (PA) came to power, and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became prime minister and then president. Her government negotiated a cease-fire with the Tamil Tigers, but it collapsed after three months as violence resumed. In late 1995 the government, in a large-scale offensive, captured the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna; heavy casualties were reported there, while terrorist bombs caused civilian deaths in Colombo. The war continued throughout the 1990s, as government troops attacked rebel bases and terrorists carried out political assassinations (including those of several moderate Tamil politicians) and suicide bombings. By end of the century, more than 60,000 people had been killed in the ethnic conflict.
President Kumaratunga was injured when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at an election rally in Dec., 1999; a few days later, she narrowly won reelection. Subsequent attempts by Kumaratunga to negotiate a new constitution that would grant Tamils some autonomy proved unsuccessful, and fighting continued. In Oct., 2000, the PA remained the largest party after parliamentary elections, but it was six seats shy of an absolute majority, leading it form a coalition with a Muslim party. When that party withdrew, Kumaratunga suspended parliament (July–Sept., 2001) until she could form a coalition with the JVP, which had become a nationalist leftist party after 1989. Defections by members of her own party, however, ultimately forced her to dissolve parliament and call for new elections in December.
Following an opposition victory at the polls, the UNP's Ranil Wickremasinghe became prime minister, creating a politically divided government. He pledged to work with the president, and agreed to a truce and mediated negotiations with the Tamil guerrillas. The truce led to a formal cease-fire, brokered by Norway and signed in Feb., 2002, and off-and-on peace talks began the following September.
In Nov., 2003, the president suspended parliament and assumed control of the defense, interior, and information ministries, accusing the prime minister of yielding too much to the Tamil rebels in negotiations. She also briefly declared a state of emergency. The power struggle created a constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka, and paralyzed the government and its inconclusive negotiations with Tamil forces.
The crisis continued into 2004, and in January Kumaratunga claimed she was entitled to an additional year in office because of a secret swearing-in ceremony a year after she was elected to her second term. (Sri Lanka's supreme court ruled against her claim to an additional year in 2005.) The following month the president called early elections, which were held in April. Her PA-led coalition won a plurality of the parliamentary seats, and she appointed Mahinda Rajapakse prime minister.
Meanwhile, a split developed in the Tamil guerrillas in Mar., 2004, when the smaller eastern force broke away, but the following month the main northern force reasserted control in the east. The rebels accused the government of supporting the renegade faction and refused to restart the peace talks. Sri Lanka's coastal areas, especially in the south and east, were devastated by the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that was caused by an earthquake off NW Sumatra. More than 34,000 people died, and more than 800,000 displaced. Only Sumatra itself suffered greater loss of life.
An agreement between the government and the rebels to share the distribution of disaster aid seriously weakened the governing coalition when the JVP quit the government in protest. The JVP challenged the agreement in court, and although it was upheld in principle, the court's objection to aspects of it led to suspension (July, 2005) of its implementation. At the same time, there escalating Tamil attacks, and in August the foreign minister was assassinated. The government invoked emergency rule, and subsequently called for a renegotiation of the cease-fire agreement with the Tamil rebels to establish stronger sanctions for cease-fire violations.
In the 2005 presidential election, Prime Minister Rajapakse formed an alliance with the JVP and Buddhist nationalists and came out strongly against autonomy for the Tamils, while his main opponent, the UNP's Wickremasinghe, was supported by Muslim and Tamil parties. Rajapakse narrowly won the presidency, aided in part by violence and intimidation by the Tamil Tigers that kept Tamil voters from the polls in the north and east. Rajapakse named as prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, a Sinhalese nationalist who had served in the post during 2000–2001.
By the end of 2005 the cease-fire with the Tamils appeared more breached than honored. A new round of Norwegian-sponsored peace talks began in Feb., 2006, but even their continuation was subject to difficult negotiations. In April the breaches of the cease-fire escalated sharply, and the Tamil Tigers withdrew from the talks. By the fall the country had returned to civil war in all but name, but attempts to restart negotiations continued. By the end of 2006 the rebels had declared the truce defunct, and the government had readopted antiterror measures that it had abandoned in 2002.
Fighting in E Sri Lanka that began in July, 2006, led to a government offensive that was initially focused on the east; it continued into subsequent years and steadily succeeded in reclaiming territory from the rebels, who had controlled some 5,800 sq mi (15,000 sq km) in 2006. In Jan., 2008, the government officially ended the truce with the rebels, and in heavy fighting during 2008, the government made significant further advances into rebel territory. By Jan., 2009, Sri Lankan forces had reopened a land route to Jaffna, which had been closed since 2000.
The military continued to have successes in subsequent weeks, confining the Tamil rebels to a relatively small coastal strip, but as many as 330,000 civilians were also trapped in the area. Many civilians fled the fighting in Apr., 2009, when a breach in the Tamil defenses allowed them to escape. By late May the Tamil Tigers had been destroyed as an military force, Prabhakaran had been killed, and the government had ended rebel control of Sri Lankan territory. Since the 1980s more than 70,000 people had died as a result of the conflict; according to government figures, some 22,000 rebels and 6,200 government troops died in the last 34 months of fighting. It is unclear how many civilians died in the last weeks of the fighting when the rebels were using them as human shields. Government forces were accused of killing Tamils indiscriminately during its offensive in 2009, and some estimates place civilian deaths as high as 40,000 during 2008–9.
In Sept., 2009, some 265,000 Tamil refugees remained confined to government camps, leading to criticism from the United Nations and international human rights groups; the government said that 70% would be resettled by November and all of them by the end of Jan., 2010. By December, some 130,000 remained in the camps, with at least 11,000 of those suspected of being former Tamil Tigers. Roughly two years later, all but about 1,000 suspected former Tamil Tigers had been released.
Seeking to benefit from his government's victory over the rebels, Rajapakse called a presidential election two years early, and subsequently defeated (Jan., 2010) Sarath Fonseka, the general who had led Sri Lanka's forces but who had a falling out with the president. The campaign was marred by violence, mainly against the opposition, and by one-sided coverage by the government-controlled media, and the results were challenged by the opposition. Fonseka subsequently was arrested (February) by the military, accused of participating in politics while in uniform and other charges, and convicted later in the year after two trials. His trial by courts martial was questioned by legal experts, who said he should be tried in a civilian court, and his lawyer accused the army of assembling a group of prejudiced judges.
The events during the election, the arrest of Fonseka, and harassment of journalists and the opposition led the opposition and others to accuse the government of antidemocratic tendencies. Also in Feb., 2010, the president dissolved parliament; elections in April resulted in a landslide victory for the president's party against a divided opposition. Rajapakse subsequently named D. M. Jayaratne as prime minister, and in September secured amendments to the constitution that abolished presidential term limits and increased presidential powers. Record monsoon rains in Jan., 2011, led to severe flooding in parts of the country; some 300,000 people were forced from their homes. In Sept., 2011, the emergency rule in effect since 2005 was ended, but at the same time new antiterrorism regulations were adopted that preserved some of the government's emergency powers.
In late 2012, the government impeached and removed (2013) the chief justice; though appointed by Rajapakse, she had ruled against a government move to transfer control of the economic development budget from the provinces to the central government. The impeachment was seen as a further consolidation of power in Rajapakse and his family, which controlled the defense and economic development ministries as well as the parliamentary speakership.
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