Chronicle of conflict
• Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948. The country has a population of 21 million, of whom about 3.2 million are of Hindu Tamil origin.
• Tamil is one of the principal languages of the Hindu Dravidian dialect, with more than 200 million speakers across India.
• Ceylon Tamils are ethnic Sri Lankans and constitute approximately half of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. They are concentrated in the north of the island, are relatively well educated, and many hold clerical and professional positions.
• Other Tamils, so-called Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka, were brought there by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries from southern India to work on the tea estates.
• Though both predominantly Hindu, Ceylon and Indian Tamil are organised under different caste systems and have little to do with each other.
• In the 1970s, growing tensions between the Hindu Ceylon Tamils and successive Sinhalese Buddhist majority governments broke out into a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the central government by Tamil militants demanding a separate state in the north-east.
• The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s conflict with the government has killed an estimated 70,000 people since it began, and left thousands more displaced.
• Violence increased in 2005 after President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign, when he ruled out autonomy for Tamils in the north and east and promised to review the peace process.
• Both the military and the Tigers have been regularly accused of gross abuses of human rights by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.