The Sri Lankan Civil War

When the European powers colonized the globe, they modified or replaced native governments and customs. They also redrew map boundaries to suit their narrow interests. When colonization was more or less abandoned between the 1850s and 1950s, the European rulers often left a power vacuum resulting in ethnic violence as old ways tried to re-assert themselves.

The civil war in Sri Lanka, begun in 1983, is yet another example of the leftovers of colonialism.

The island of Ceylon, located off the coast of India, traditionally was home to two ethnic groups, the Sinhala and the Tamils. The Sinhala call their country Sri Lanka, and the Tamils call theirs Tamil Eelam. The British took control of Ceylon in the early 1800s, and when they left in 1948, they installed a form of government that essentially gave the Sinhala control of the entire island.

The Tamils claim that the Sinhalese engage in harassment, persecution, and even torture. A group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam started a civil war in 1983 which continues today. The advantage in the war has changed several times, with one side gaining and later the other side recovering.

More than 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war. The government has imposed strict censorship on media coverage of the war.

A ceasefire that took effect Feb. 22, 2002, greatly lessened the amount of violence in the country -- but it did not eliminate it, and it is always in danger of breaking.

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