Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) has two main communities. The
Sinhalese, speaking an Indo-European language derived from Sanskrit
and practicing Buddhism, occupy the south and west of the island.
The Hindu Tamils, speaking a Dravidian language, occupy the north,
nearest to India from which they migrated in the distant past.
Before the Island was controlled by the British there were separate
kingdoms for the two ethnic groups. The British formed a unified
administration which since independence in 1948 has been controlled
by the majority Sinhalese. The Tamils are demanding a separate
state. They have had some support from Tamil speaking people
in India and possibly from the state government of Tamil Nadu.
An Indian Peace Keeping Force entered northern Sri Lanka at the
request of the Sri Lankan President Jayawardene but his successor
asked them to leave. The Indians failed to disarm the Tamil guerrilla
groups. There are similarities with Northern Ireland, also a
In December 2008-February 2009 government forces gained control
of most of the rebel area, suggesting that the military phase
of the struggle might be coming to an end.
The government announced in May 2009 that the war was over
when the whole of the Tamil Tiger area had been conquered by
government forces and the leaders killed. Thousands of civilian
refugees were displaced with an unknown number of deaths. However,
the fate of the Tamil population as whole remains uncertain.
The original cause of the conflict - the unitary state left by
the British - remains unresolved.