Brussels, novembre 2007
Background of the Nation: Sri Lanka
Background notes for Sri Lanka, where NP started its first deployment.
Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948, and since then it has suffered violent wars with Sinhalese insurgents in the South and Tamil separatist rebels in the North and East. Even before independence there were early signs of political struggles between the Sinhalese, who make up a majority of the population and Tamils who are the largest minority. Successive laws and regulations regarding language, education, development and a host of other issues sharpened the political struggle. Nonviolent and Gandhian style struggles were undertaken and produced potential political solutions negotiated with successive governments, but the governments were unable to implement the agreements due to political pressure. By the 1970s, armed Tamil groups emerged and the ensuing civil war is usually dated as beginning in 1983, after wide spread attacks on Tamils around the country killed an estimated 3,000 Tamils and displaced thousands more, destroying homes and businesses as well. These riots followed an attack by an armed Tamil group on the Sri Lankan army that killed more than 10 soldiers, the highest death toll for one attack at that time. For the next 18 years there was almost constant warfare between armed groups and the Sri Lankan armed forces, interspersed with periods of short-lived cease fires. The Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE) became the dominant rebel group by the late 1980s. Simultaneously in the 1970s and again late 1980s, there were two significant violent rebellions amongst the Sinhalese lead by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party. These rebellions were focused on issues of class, land and political power within the Sinhalese communities and tens of thousands of people were killed and disappeared in the south during these times.
In February 2002 another cease fire was signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE, and this on held longer, though it was been violated at times. It is monitored by a Scandinavian-staffed “Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission”, the SLMM. In the period since then there were several rounds of peace negotiations, which were interrupted in April 2003. From that time a stalemate exist, neither moving toward peace nor back to war. By late 2005, even that stalemate was shaky with escalating violence and human rights abuses.
While the primary focus is on the struggle for Tamil rights and autonomy, there are other critical divisions. Muslims are a significant ethnic minority and there has been a great deal of tension between Muslim and Tamil communities. For instance, the LTTE drove Muslims from Jaffna and Mannar during the 1990’s and communal violence has flared up between these groups particularly in the northeast after the ceasefire. There are many tensions within the Sinhalese ethnicity, which has led to various kinds of political violence involving elections, unions, schools, etc… And as mentioned above during the 1970s and again the late 1980s/early 1990s the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party (JVP) led armed insurrections of Sinhalese in the south, including in the capital Colombo.