The island nation of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean just southeast of India. Ancient Sri Lanka was a center of Buddhist religion and culture. Today, the country is a melting pot of religions and cultures. The Sinhalese form the majority of the population and the Tamils are largest ethnic minority.
Sri Lanka has both a thriving industrial economy and the highest per capita income in the region. Sri Lanka has long drawn tourists from around the world, and the late famous writer Sir Arthur Clarke made his residence in the capitol city of Colombo.
Parts of Sri Lanka had been colonized by Portugal and the Netherlands from the 16th century, however the entire country won peaceful independence in 1948. Today, the terrorist organization the "Tamil Tigers" seek to maintain a shrinking stronghold in the country's northeast in a violent secessionist campaign aimed at an independent Tamil state. The resulting Sri Lankan Civil War, waged since approximately 1983, disrupts the island and has resulted in some 70,000 deaths.
The Tamil Tigers are recognized as a terrorist organization by virtually the entire West, and are notorious for atrocities against civilians and assassinations of several high-ranking Sri Lankan and Indian politicians. The group recruits child soldiers and is said to have invented the suicide belt.
From ABC News today
comes an Associated Press report noting the deaths of 1,000 civilians. While the terrorists are losing ground and may be facing a final defeat, for the time being fighting goes on in certain locales and portions of Sri Lanke remain a concern to travellers.
Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels said Tuesday that 1,000 civilians died in a government raid on their territory that the military says freed thousands of noncombatants from the war zone. The military denied the accusation.
As government forces have pushed the rebels into an ever-shrinking sliver of territory, both sides have accused the other of endangering civilians. Rights groups say the rebels are holding many against their will to use as human shields.
Tamil rebels in northern Sri Lanka faced another possible onslaught from government forces, as a mid-day deadline for them to surrender passed on Tuesday. There were no immediate reports from northern Sri Lanka where recent fighting has been taking place.
Sri Lanka's government has been battling the Tamil Tiger rebels in a civil conflict that has lasted nearly 25 years. The Tigers have been declared a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including the United States and the European Union. As many as 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict officially began in 1983.
There are an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 people trapped by the conflict in a 5-square-mile patch of land -- a government safe zone -- in the northeast of the country.