Sri Lanka rebuilds trust after years of civil war

Recent News reported that the government of Sri Lanka claims to have defeated the Tamil rebels, effectively ending one of the world's bloodiest modern civil wars. The 26 years of conflict have been punctuated by only short ceasefire agreements between the majority Sinhalese (about 74 percent) and the minority Tamils (about 8.5 percent), and the fighting has been characterized by brutal tactics on both sides, leaving tens of thousands of innocent civilians dead and millions internally displaced.

The roots of the conflict are in co lonial rule in the early 1800s, when the predominantly Hindu Tamils reacted to Christian missionaries by solidifying their own unique cultural, religious, and linguistic identity. This strong sense of ethnic belonging would later from the basis of a national identity opposed to rule by the majority, which are Buddhist Sinhalese. After Sri Lanka gained independence from Great Britain in 1948, Tamils resisted what they argued was unfair representation in the government and pro-Sinhalese policies. By the mid-1970s, the combination of population explosion, discriminatory policies, and failed power sharing led the Tamil political parties to join forces and demand an independent state.

Parallel to this political process, disaffected youth created militant organizations such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE. Over the next 26 years, the LTTE fought Sri Lankan government forces, Indian peacekeeping forces, and rival Tamil militants in an effort to secure an independent Tamil nation. The Sri Lankan government, for its part, has been accused of violating cease-fire agreements and engaging in ethnic cleansing.

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July 20, 2009

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