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Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (1916—2000) Sinhalese stateswoman


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A large ethnic minority in Sri Lanka consisting of Sri Lankan Tamils (12.6 per cent of the population) and Indian Tamils (5.5 per cent). The former group arrived from southern India centuries ago, and settled predominantly in the north and east of the country. They became involved in agriculture, although many moved into the cities (especially Jaffna) and became professionals or engaged in commerce. By contrast, the Indian Tamils were brought in by the British colonial regime in the nineteenth century, to work on the tea plantations. The latter group did not mix either with the Sri Lankan Tamils or with the island's predominant Sinhalese population.

 Both Tamil groups began to cooperate gradually from the 1950s, when Tamils considered themselves threatened by Sinhalese discrimination under the various Bandaranaike governments. Their fears were aggravated by the introduction of Sinhalese as the official language, the promotion of Sinhalese in official government jobs, and official disregard for Tamil educational institutions. This led to growing violence between the Tamil and the Sinhalese communities, and resulted in the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers), a guerrilla group that plunged the country into civil war in 1983. Peace was restored briefly by Indian troops (1987–9). However, the Tamil Tiger leadership was increasingly radicalized, and continued with its intermittent attacks. In a civil war that claimed over 60,000 deaths by 2000, the Tamil Tigers launched their most successful offensive in 1999, when they encircled 25,000 Sri Lankan troops on the Jaffna peninsula. The Tamil Tigers were unable to force their surrender, however. A military stalemate ensued, and led to the conclusion of a peace agreement in Geneva in 2002.

 The government's architect of the peace deal, Ranil Wickramesinghe, was defeated in the 2003 elections, which produced a majority for the United People's Freedom Alliance. This opposed making more concessions to the Tamil Minority. Growing discrimination led to renewed fighting, with the LTTE initiating a number of bomb attacks, and facing open attacks by the Sri Lankan military.

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