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Religious intolerance

Religiously motivated conflicts in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka, formally called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island state located immediately south of India. Before independence in 1948, it was called Ceylon. It is a multi-faith state composed of about 69% Buddhists, 15% Hindus, 8% Christians and 8% Muslims. Hindus form the majority in the northern and eastern coast of the island. They had agitated for greater authonomy. In 1973, they asked for an independent state in their area.

As a result of oppression by the ruling majority Sinhalese community -- who are mostly Buddhist -- a Hindu fighting group, the LIberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (a.k.a. Tamil Tigers) was organized. A vicious civil war broke out. Conflict escalated in 1983 resulting in the death of 65,000 people over the next 19 years. 1 One innovation introduced by the Tamil Tigers was the suicide vest, later used with such success during terrorist attacks in the Middle East.

The Tamil Tigers and the Sinhalese had agreed to three truces, but the former violated the terms of each one and returned to a condition of civil war. A successful unilateral ceasefire was declared by the rebel force in late 2001 and a fourth truce was signed by both sides in 2002-FEB. Norway had been brokering negotiations between the two sides. Talks between the two sides were scheduled for the week of 2003-MAR-16.

The truce had been a relatively peaceful one, except for some tense stand offs. However, on 2003-MAR-11, a Sri Lankan navy gunboat tracked a Tamil Tiger merchant ship which they believed was carrying "warlike material." The ship was sunk with the probable loss of all lives. Although the vessel was in international waters, Sri Lanka regards its territorial waters extend for 200 miles off of its coast. A rebel political wing leader, SP Thamilselvan, wrote:

"Eleven of our cadres, including the ship’s captain, were killed when the vessel caught fire and sank after being attacked by the Sri Lanka navy. The incident occurred in international waters beyond the jurisdiction of the Sri Lanka navy... We wish to emphasize that this grave incident will have far-reaching implications for the peace process." 2

The tsunami in late 2004 caused massive devastation, particularly in the Tamil areas of the island. The hopes that the disaster might inspire both sides to cooperate were dashed when both sides argued over the distribution of international aid. There were allegations by UNICEF that the Tamil Tigers were recruiting soldiers from among the children orphaned by the tsunami.

A major push by the Sri Lankan Army ended hostilities in 2009-MAY after "... almost the entire civil and military leadership of the LTTE were killed. Tens of thousands of LTTE cadres surrendered to government troops." 3 There were rumors of atrocities.

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  1. Amy Zalman, "Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam),, at:
  2. "Tamil Tiger ship sunk in gun battle," The Scotsman, 2003-MAR-11, at:
  3. "Tamil Eelam," Wikipedia, as on 2011-SEP-27, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious intolerance & conflict > here

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Copyrighted © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAR-11
Latest update: 2011-OCT-01
Portions written by B.A. Robinson

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