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South Asian Regional Conference on Violence Against Women In Politics [October, 2010]

Home » Resources » Country Profile » Sri Lanka


Nestling off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has beguiled travellers for centuries with its palm-fringed beaches, diverse landscapes and historical monuments.
But for nearly two decades, the island was scarred by a bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions.


Known as "Serendip" to Arab geographers, it was to fall under Portuguese and Dutch influence and finally came under British rule when it was called Ceylon.
The island has a long-established Tamil minority in the north and east. The British also brought in Tamil labourers to work the coffee and tea plantations in the central highlands, making the island a major tea producer.
But the majority Buddhist Sinhalese community resented what they saw as favouritism towards the mainly-Hindu Tamils under British administration.
The growth of a more assertive Sinhala nationalism after independence fanned the flames of ethnic division until civil war erupted in the 1980s between Tamils pressing for self-rule and the government.
Most of the fighting took place in the north. But the conflict also penetrated the heart of Sri Lankan society with Tamil Tiger rebels carrying out devastating suicide bombings in Colombo in the 1990s.
The violence killed more than 60,000 people, damaged the economy and harmed tourism in one of South Asia's potentially prosperous societies.
A ceasefire and a political agreement reached between the government and rebels in late 2002 raised hopes for a lasting settlement. Though both sides have by and large observed the truce, Norwegian-brokered peace talks stalled in 2003.
Sri Lanka suffered its worst disaster in late 2004 when giant waves generated by an undersea earthquake off Indonesia swept ashore, killing more than 30,000 people and devasting swathes of the coast.


Population: 19.4 million (UN, 2005)
Capital: Colombo (commercial), Sri Jayawardenepura (administrative)
Area: 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles)
Major languages: Sinhala, Tamil, English
Major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity
Life expectancy: 70 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: Sri Lankan rupee
Main exports: Clothing and textiles, tea, gems, rubber, coconuts
GNI per capita: US $930 (World Bank, 2003)
Internet domain: .lk
International dialling code: +94


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