For almost thirty years, the Sri Lankan government has been engaged in a bloody civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). More commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE wants an independent state for the island's Tamil minority. In February 2002, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government reached a cease-fire agreement, but both sides repeatedly violated the truce. After several failed peace talks, the Sri Lankan government formally withdrew from the cease-fire in January 2008. Since then, the government has pursued a fierce military offensive against the rebels, and in February 2009, claimed to have come close to defeating the separatist group. But the rebels continue to pose a considerable challenge to the government. For a lasting peace, experts say the government will need to find a political solution to the ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils that has plagued the country since its independence. The European Union and Canada have joined the United States, India, and Australia in labeling the LTTE a terrorist organization, which has made it more difficult for the group to get financing from abroad. The civil war has killed nearly seventy thousand, and watchdog groups have accused both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military of human rights violations, including abduction, extortion, and the use of child soldiers.
Sri Lanka has been mired in ethnic conflict since the country, formerly known as Ceylon, became independent from British rule in 1948. A 2001 government census (PDF) says Sri Lanka's main ethnic populations are the Sinhalese (82 percent), Tamil (9.4 percent), and Sri Lanka Moor (7.9 percent). In the years following independence, the Sinhalese, who resented British favoritism toward Tamils during the colonial period, disenfranchised Tamil migrant plantation workers from...