The island nation of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka gained independence from British rule on February 4, 1948. The country followed a nonaligned foreign policy and participated in various world bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank.
Sri Lanka also became a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). For 10 years the country was ruled by the United National Party (UNP) of Don Stephen Senanayake (1884–1952). After facing hardship under a socialist economy, Sri
Lanka became the first country in South Asia to liberalize its economy.
The government passed the 1956 Sinhala Only Act, which made Sinhala the official language. The onslaught of Singhalese nationalism marginalized the Tamils. The Tamils, living in the north and east, constituted about 18 percent of the population. They feared dominance by the Sinhala majority, who were 74 percent of the population. A separatist movement was launched, resulting in confrontation between the two communities.
The concept of Tamil Elam (homeland) was broached by several Tamil militant groups. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran, was emerging as the leading militant group. A large-scale riot broke out in 1977, and in the 1980s civil war broke out. Terrorist attacks by the LTTE and riots became common. Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Tamil militants in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. The president of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa, also was assassinated in Colombo.
After two decades of bloodshed, there was a formal cease-fire in February 2002 under the auspices of the government of Norway. Chandrika Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party became president. Meanwhile, the country was devastated by a tsunami in 2004. A lasting solution to the ethnic conflict had proved illusory, and large-scale human rights violations were committed by the army and the LTTE. Civil war began again in 2005, and violence continued in 2006. Peace talks were held in February and April 2006 in Geneva, but these did not produce any concrete results. In July and August 2006 there was heavy fighting in the Muslim-dominated Muttur region.
See also Tamil Tigers.