Sri Lanka: Background and U.S. Relations

Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Sri Lanka is a constitutional democracy with relatively high educational and social standards.
Political, social, and economic development has, however, been seriously constrained by ethnic
conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic groups. Since 1983, a
separatist war costing at least 70,000 lives has been waged against government forces by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a rebel group that seeks to establish a separate state or
internal self-rule in the Tamil-dominated areas of the North and East. The United States
designated the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997 and demands the Tigers lay
down their arms and foreswear the use of force before that status can change.
A Norwegian-brokered peace process begun in the late 1990s produced a February 2002
“permanent” ceasefire agreement. The Colombo government and the LTTE held their first peace
talks in seven years in 2002, with the rebels indicating they were willing to accept autonomy
rather than independence for Tamil-majority regions. The two sides agreed in principle to seek a
solution through a federal structure. Yet the period 2004-2005 witnessed increasing instability
within the ranks of both the Colombo government and the LTTE. This was exacerbated by
wrangling over administration of foreign aid in response to a massive December 2004 tidal wave
that killed up to 35,000 citizens in Sri Lanka’s worst-ever natural disaster.
Political rivalry between the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party
(UNP) has long hindered peace efforts. The United People’s Freedom Alliance, a coalition of the
SLFP and the staunch Marxist People’s Liberation Front (JVP), won a slim majority in 2004
parliamentary elections and defeated the UNP to replace its then-Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe with perceived hardliner Mahinda Rajapaksa, who himself went on to win the
presidency in a narrow 2005 electoral victory. Rajapaksa stabilized his position by enticing the
defection of several UNP and Muslim party parliamentarians in early 2007, but his government
has faced constant pressure from the JVP and from hardline Buddhist-nationalist parties that are
part of the ruling coalition. Meanwhile, the LTTE suffered a major schism in 2004 when a top
commander in the East known as Colonel Karuna broke away with up to 6,000 cadres and began
collaborating with government forces.
Ethnic violence spiked in mid-2006 and, with major government military offensives in 2007 and
Colombo’s formal withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement in January 2008, full-scale civil war
again appears to be at hand. U.S. policy supports peaceful efforts to reform Sri Lanka’s
democratic political system in a way that provides for full political participation of all
communities; it does not endorse the establishment of another independent state on the island.
Since Sri Lankan independence in 1948, the United States has provided more than $3.6 billion in
assistance funds, about two-thirds of this in the form of food aid. Direct non-food aid for FY2007
is estimated at $9.4 million. Serious human rights problems in Sri Lanka are blamed on all major
parties to the ethnic conflict and have led to some limited U.S. and international aid sanctions.
This report will be updated periodically.

Most Recent Developments.............................................................................................................1
Historical Setting.............................................................................................................................4
Political Setting...............................................................................................................................5
2003 Political Crisis............................................................................................................5
2004 Parliamentary Elections.............................................................................................6
2005 Presidential Election..................................................................................................6
LTTE Schism......................................................................................................................7
Ethnic Conflict and Civil War.........................................................................................................8
Parties to the Military Conflict..................................................................................................9
Sri Lankan Security Forces.................................................................................................9
The Tamil Tigers...............................................................................................................10
Peace Initiative Falters, Civil War Resumes............................................................................11
Peace Talks Progress, 2002-2003.......................................................................................11
Peace Process Stalemated, 2004-2005..............................................................................14
Civil War Resumes in 2006...............................................................................................14
Government Military Successes in 2007..........................................................................16
Current Status....................................................................................................................17
Obstacles to Peace...................................................................................................................18
December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.........................................................................................20
Economic Issues............................................................................................................................21
U.S. Relations and Policy Concerns..............................................................................................23
Trade, Investment, and Aid.....................................................................................................24
U.S. Trade and Investment................................................................................................24
U.S. Assistance.................................................................................................................25
Security Relations...................................................................................................................26
Human Rights Concerns.........................................................................................................27
Proposed Human Rights Commission..............................................................................29
Child Abductions..............................................................................................................30
Internally Displaced Persons.............................................................................................30
“Disappeared” Persons......................................................................................................31
Figure 1. Map of Sri Lanka...........................................................................................................33
Table 1. Selected 2004 Parliamentary Election Results..................................................................6
Table 2. Direct U.S. Assistance to Sri Lanka, FY2000-FY2008...................................................31

Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................33

his report provides historical, political, and economic background on Sri Lanka and
examines U.S.-Sri Lankan relations and policy concerns. Congressional interest in Sri
Lanka focuses on renewed and serious violent ethnic conflict in a quarter-century-old civil T

war, an attendant humanitarian emergency, and efforts to revive a moribund peace process.
Terrorist activity, human rights, and U.S. appropriations for food, economic, and military
assistance are further congressional interests. A Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka and Sri
Lankan Americans, established in 1998, had two dozen members at the close of 2007.
U.S. attention to Sri Lanka in the late 20th century focused mainly on efforts to resolve the
country’s ethnonational conflict, which centers on an armed struggle between majority Buddhist
Sinhalese and a Hindu Tamil minority clustered in the island’s north and east. During this time
Washington largely deferred to India as the major external actor in Colombo. The Cold War’s end
served to reduce U.S. interest in both Sri Lanka and in the region more generally. However, in the
new century, U.S. engagement with Sri Lanka deepened. As explained by Jeffrey Lunstead, who
served as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2003 to 2006,
The enhanced engagement that commenced in 2001 occurred despite the absence of
significant U.S. strategic interests in Sri Lanka. Political-military interests are not high, and
the U.S. has no interest in military bases in Sri Lanka. From an economic and commercial
standpoint, Sri Lanka is unlikely to be a major U.S. trading partner in the near future. There
is not a large enough Sri Lankan-origin community in the U.S. to have an impact on U.S.
domestic politics. The main U.S. strategic interest in Sri Lanka is in ensuring that a terrorist 1
organization does not obtain its goals through the use of terror.
Lunstead’s reference is to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the militant separatist
group at war with the Colombo government and designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization
under U.S. law since 1997.

Renewed Civil War and Attendant Human Rights Abuses. Sri Lanka’s new year opened with
yet another political assassination when an ethnic Tamil member of the opposition in Parliament
was shot dead outside a Hindu temple in the capital city of Colombo. On January 2, the
government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced its formal (and unsurprising) withdrawal
from a February 2002 ceasefire agreement (CFA). The president’s cabinet was unanimous in its
decision to withdraw; a spokesman insisted that the move did not mark a declaration of war
against the Tigers and came in response to more than 10,000 alleged ceasefire violations by the
LTTE. The country’s Defense Ministry claimed the withdrawal was necessitated “to protect the
territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka” in the backdrop of LTTE terrorism and the
Tigers’ “unwavering intention” to “establish a mono-ethnic, mono-political separate state” on the 2
island’s north and east. Colombo rejected subsequent Tiger offers to renew the ceasefire.
Despite a renewal of heavy fighting beginning in 2006, both sides to the conflict had continued to
claim adherence to the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire. Government forces saw major success

1 Jeffrey Lunstead, “The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process 2002-2006, Supplement to the Asia
Foundation Sri Lanka Strategic Conflict Assessment 2005 Series, 2006, at
2 “Sri Lanka Ends Truce,BBC News, January 2, 2008;

against rebel positions in the island’s eastern region in mid-2007 and, by July, they had retaken
and pacified areas previously under LTTE control for many years. The Tigers—with a base now
almost wholly limited to the Tamil-majority northern region where they retain significant military
assets and an administrative structure—appear weakened, but unbowed. They continue to attack
the country’s economic infrastructure and to make efforts to bring the fight to the country’s
Sinhalese-majority South and the capital of Colombo. With President Rajapaksa’s July vow to
“restore democracy to the East and all Sri Lanka,” most observers expected major combat and the
associated humanitarian crisis to continue, which it did in the latter half of 2007.
The four “Tokyo Donor” members (including the United States, the European Union, Japan, and
Norway)—each Co-Chairs of a 2003 donor conference held in the Japanese capital—had in mid-
2007 urged parties to the conflict to end violence and re-engage negotiations. Upon Colombo’s
abrogation of the CFA, the Co-Chairs responded by expressing “strong concerns,” and reiterating
their consensus view that Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict cannot be settled through military means and
requires a negotiated settlement. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed being “deeply 3
worried” about increasing violence in Sri Lanka and the need to protect civilians there. The
government of neighboring India has maintained a studied distance from Sri Lanka’s internal
difficulties after New Delhi’s armed 1987 intervention to assist in enforcing a peace accord
resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 Indian troops and led to the 1991 assassination of
former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by Tamil militants. New Delhi has stated that it is
“acutely conscious” of the need for a political-constitutional solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife 4
and has echoed the widespread international belief that there can be no military solution.
Almost immediately upon Colombo’s announcement, Norwegian ceasefire monitors began
leaving and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said Oslo’s post-CFA role would be
“redefined.” International human rights groups warned that the CFA’s annulment would lead to 5
increased hostilities and more serious human rights abuses. Of particular concern to observers
has been an upsurge in reported human rights violations committed in the course of the civil war,
along with unlawful killings, “disappearances,” and the internal displacement of hundreds of
thousands of civilians victimized by the fighting. Independent observers hold all parties to the
fighting responsible for such abuses.
U.S. Policy. During a May 2007 visit to Colombo, the lead U.S. diplomat for the region, Assistant
Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher, outlined key U.S. concerns about
“the way things have been heading” in Sri Lanka, concentrating especially on rampant human 6
rights abuses there. In June 2007, H.Res. 516, expressing serious concern regarding the
worsening situation in Sri Lanka, was introduced in the House (the resolution has not moved out
of committee to date). In August 2007 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a
State Department official offered that Sri Lanka’s long-standing ethnic conflict, fragile peace
process, and deteriorating human rights conditions continued to cause concern for the United 7

3Sri Lanka Donors Voice Concern as War Toll Climbs,” Reuters, January 12, 2008;
4 See the January 4, 2008, External Affairs Ministry statement at
5 “Peace Group is Leaving Sri Lanka, Reuters, January 5, 2008;
6 See
7 Statement of Steven Mann, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, August

The Bush Administration was “troubled” by the government’s decision to withdraw from the CFA
and reiterated its calls for a political solution:
The United States is troubled by the Sri Lankan Government’s January 2 decision to
terminate the 2002 cease-fire agreement. Ending the cease-fire agreement will make it more
difficult to achieve a lasting, peaceful solution to Sri Lankas conflict. We call on both the
government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to avoid an escalation of hostilities
and further civilian casualties. All parties to the conflict share the responsibility to protect the
rights of all of Sri Lankas people. We urge them to work toward the goal of a just, political
solution that ensures the rights of minority communities and benefits all Sri Lankans. Only a
peaceful political solution, not a military one, offers a way out of the current cycle of 8
escalating violence.
U.S. assistance to Sri Lanka, already modest in scale, has been conditioned in response to reports
of escalating human rights abuses there: An amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act,
2008 (P.L. 110-161) halted Foreign Military Financing funding, the issuance of defense export
licenses, and the transfer of military equipment or technology to Sri Lanka unless the Secretary of
State certifies to Congress that the Colombo government has undertaken a series of actions
related to human rights protection there. The provision does not apply to assistance for maritime
and air surveillance and communications, which has continued.

1, 2007, at
8 Statement by Spokesman Sean McCormack, January 3, 2008.

Once a port of call on ancient maritime trade routes, Sri Lanka is located in the Indian Ocean off
the southeastern tip of India’s Deccan Peninsula. The island nation was settled by successive th
waves of migration from India beginning in the 5 century BCE. Indo-Aryans from northern
India established Sinhalese Buddhist kingdoms in the central part of the island. Tamil Hindus
from southern India settled in the northeastern coastal areas, establishing a kingdom in the Jaffna th
Peninsula. Beginning in the 16 century, Sri Lanka was colonized in succession by the
Portuguese, Dutch, and English, becoming the British crown colony of Ceylon in 1815. In the late th
19 century, Tamil laborers were brought from India to work British tea and rubber plantations in
the southern highlands. Known as Indian
Tamils, the descendants of these workers SRI LANKA IN BRIEF
currently comprise 5% of Sri Lanka’s Population: 20.9 million; growth rate: 1.0% (2007 est.)
population and are clustered in the south-Area: 65,610 sq. km. (slightly larger than West Virginia)
central “tea country.” Descendants of earlier Capital: Colombo
Tamil arrivals, known as Sri Lankan or Ceylon
Tamils, constitute up to 12% of the country’s Head of Government: President Mahinda Rajapaksa
population and live predominantly in the (Sri Lankan Freedom Party)
North and East. Moorish and Malay Muslims Ethnic Groups: Sinhalese 82%; Tamil 9.4%; Moors
(largely Sunni) account for another 8% of the 7.9%; other 0.7% (2001 government census)
population. The majority of Sri Lankans Languages: Sinhala (official and national language) 74%;
(about three-quarters) are ethnic Sinhalese, 9Tamil (national language) 18%; English widely used
most of them Buddhist. In 1972, Ceylon was Religions: Buddhist 69%; Muslim 8%; Hindu 7%;
renamed Sri Lanka (“resplendent land”), as it Christian 6%; unspecified 10% (2001 census)
was known in Indian epic literature. Life Expectancy at Birth: female 77 years; male 73
years (2007 est.)
Although Ceylon gained its independence Literacy: female 90%; male 95% (2003 est.)
from Britain peacefully in 1948, succeeding
decades have been marred by ethic conflict Gross Domestic Product (at PPP): $92.1 billion; per
between the country’s Sinhalese majority capita: $4,770; growth rate 6.1% (2007 est.)
clustered in the densely populated South and Currency: Rupee (100 = $0.93)
West, and a largely Hindu Tamil minority Inflation: 17% (2007 est.)
living in the northern and eastern provinces. Military Expenditures: $686 million (2.5% of GDP;
Following independence, the Tamils—who 2006)
had attained educational and civil service
predominance under the British—increasingly U.S. Trade: exports to U.S. $2.1 billion; imports from
found themselves discriminated against by the U.S. $228 million (2007 est.)
Sinhalese-dominated government, which made Sources: CIA World Factbook; U.S. Commerce
Sinhala the sole official language and gave Department; Government of Sri Lanka, Economist Intelligence Unit; Global Insight, Military Balance

preferences to Sinhalese in university
admissions and government jobs. The
Sinhalese, who had deeply resented British favoritism toward the Tamils, saw themselves not as
the majority, however, but as a minority in a large Tamil sea that includes 60 million Tamils just
across the Palk Strait in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.

9 U.S. Department of State,Background Notes: Sri Lanka, November 2007, at

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has a working multi-party democratic system
despite relatively high levels of political violence. The country’s political life has long featured a
struggle between two broad umbrella parties—the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the
United National Party (UNP)—both dominated by prominent family clusters. Since
independence, the two parties have frequently alternated in power. In the simplest terms, the
SLFP may be viewed as more Sinhala nationalist, statist, and social democratic, while the UNP 10
may be viewed as more Western-oriented, liberal, and open to free market economics. Initially,
Sri Lanka followed the Westminster parliamentary model. In 1978, however, the UNP instituted a
strong executive presidential system of government. Under this French-style system, the
popularly elected president has the power to dissolve the 225-member unicameral parliament and
call new elections, as well as to appoint the prime minister and cabinet. The Colombo 11
government operates a Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process. The LTTE maintains its 12
own Peace Secretariat.
Chandrika Kumaratunga—longtime leader of the SLFP and daughter of two former prime
ministers—was re-elected to a second six-year term in December 1999, three days after she lost
vision in one eye in a Tamil separatist suicide bombing that killed 26 people. Although
Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA) coalition went on to win a narrow victory in the 2000
parliamentary elections, a year later she was forced to dissolve parliament and call for new
elections in order to avoid a no-confidence vote. In the resulting 2001 parliamentary elections, the
UNP won 109 seats (to 77 for the PA) and formed a majority coalition—called the United
National Front (UNF)—with the much smaller Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress. UNP leader and new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged to open talks with 13
the Tamil rebels and to resuscitate the ailing Sri Lankan economy.
A year-long political crisis began in November 2003, when President Kumaratunga suspended
Parliament, declared a state of emergency, and dismissed key ministers responsible for peace talks
with the LTTE. Kumaratunga’s ongoing feud with then-Prime Minister Wickremesinghe—she
believed his conciliatory approach toward the rebels was allowing them to consolidate their 14
positions and rearm—likely spurred her surprise move. The shakeup undermined existing peace
efforts by the prime minister and cast doubt on his ability to follow through on peace negotiations
with the LTTE. Kumaratunga’s ensuing February 2004 dismissal of Parliament, and the LTTE’s
claim that this was a “grave setback” to negotiations, cast a further pall on the future of the peace

10 David Rampton and Asanga Weilikala,The Politics of the South, Asia Foundation Sri Lanka Strategic Conflict
Assessment 2005 Series, 2005, at
11 See
12 See
13 “New Sri Lanka Premier Sworn In Pledging Peace,Reuters, December 9, 2001.
14Woman Behind Sri Lankas Turmoil,” Christian Science Monitor, November 7, 2003.

As UNP leader Wickremasinghe, who served as prime minister from 2001 to 2004, was relatively
more open to talks with the Tamil rebels, his bitter personal rivalry with President Kumaratunga
reportedly hampered progress in peace negotiations. An April 2004 national election was held to
restore the Parliament dissolved by Kumaratunga. In those polls, the United People’s Freedom
Alliance (UPFA) coalition, composed of the populist SLFP and the staunch Marxist-Leninist,
Sinhalese nationalist People’s Liberation Front (JVP), took a plurality of the seats in parliament
and so ousted the UNP. The UPFA won 105 seats and nearly 46% of the vote as compared to the
UNP, which won 82 seats and about 38% of the vote. The UNP’s defeat was attributed in part to a
perception among voters that too many concessions were being made to the LTTE in peace
negotiations. An EU Election Observation Mission noted some problems with the conduct of the 15

2004 polls, but called them a “vast improvement” in comparison to past exercises.

A November 2005 presidential poll saw SLFP stalwart Mahinda Rajapaksa barely defeat
Wickremasinghe in an election marked by an LTTE-engineered boycott affecting much of the
Tamil community (the LTTE was accused of using intimidation tactics to enforce the boycott).
The United States expressed “regret” that many Tamil voters were deprived of the opportunity to 16
make their views known and it condemned LTTE “interference in the democratic process.”
Unlike Rajapaksa, Wickremasinghe was not beholden to Sinhala nationalist parties, and many 17
analysts believe he would have won the election with the votes of a large majority of Tamils.
Table 1. Selected 2004 Parliamentary Election Results
Total Percentage change
Party/Coalition Total votes won Percentage of total vote seats from previous
won Parliament
United People’s Freedom Alliance
(mainly the Sri Lankan Freedom Party and the 4,223,970 45.6 105 +12
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or People’s
Liberation Front)
United National Front (mainly the United 3,504,200 37.8 82 -27
National Party)
Tamil National Alliance (backed by Tamil 633,654 6.8 22 +22
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU or National 552,724 6.0 9 +9
Heritage Party, led by Buddhist monks)
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress 186,876 2.0 5
Other 136,353 1.5 2 -15
Total 9,262,732 225
Source: International Foundation for Election Systems

15 See
16 Adam Ereli, “Sri Lanka - Presidential Election,State Department Press Statement, November 18, 2005.
17 Chandra de Silva,Sri Lanka in 2005,” Asian Survey 46, 1, January 2006, p. 116.

Separatist-related violence escalated during 2006 and, as the October date for renewed peace
negotiations approached, President Rajapaksa sought to find common ground with the country’s
main opposition UNP. A resulting three-page memorandum of understanding signed by Rajapaksa
and opposition leader Wickremesinghe gave the peace process a boost with the two leaders
agreeing to adopt a bipartisan approach to conflict resolution. The pact represented a rare
expression of political unity, especially among the fractious Sinhalese of the country’s Sinhala-18
dominated South. Rajapaksa also at this time constituted an All Party Representative Committee
(APRC) as part of an effort to create constitutional proposals that would represent a political
consensus on power-sharing between the island’s majority and minority ethnic communities.
After the October peace talks with the rebels talks failed to make progress, President Rajapaksa
changed his political strategy and in January 2007 was able to secure a simple (113-seat)
parliamentary majority for his coalition by offering ministerial positions to lure 19
parliamentarians from the UNP and another 6 from the Muslim Congress into defection from the
opposition benches. The cross-overs put a damper on bipartisanship in Colombo by spurring the
UNP’s withdrawal from the APRC and served to further deepen the SLFP-UNP rift. The
adjustment did, however, ease Rajapaksa’s previous dependence on his hardline and oftentimes
unpredictable Marxist JVP and Buddhist JHU allies, potentially making a deal with the rebels
more attainable. The JHU, in particular, has been at the forefront of a resurgent Sinhalese
Buddhist nationalism that adamantly opposes Tamil autonomy in the North and that has played a 19
role in some recent human rights violations. By the end of 2007, some senior members of
Rajapaksa’s cabinet were openly calling for a blanket ban on the LTTE and a formal end to the 20

2002 truce. JVP leaders, convinced that a UNP administration would only deepen the country’s 21

woes, have rejected opposition efforts to bring down the SLFP-led coalition government.
The Rajapaksa government vowed to hold local-level elections by the end of 2007 as part of a
controversial devolution plan. However, the preference of President Rajapaksa and his party is to
devolve power at the district level only, not at a higher level as demanded by the Tigers. In the
absence of compromise by the ruling coalition on this key point, a cross-party effort to forge
consensus is unlikely to succeed. Moreover, serious doubt has been cast on the ability of the
APRC, which has not included representatives of the Tamil National Alliance, to reach consensus
on any proposals that could win the requisite two-thirds parliamentary majority for passage. An
APRC report due in January 2008 is expected to call for a unitary Sri Lanka state “in the sense ...
it shall be deemed to be an undivided, integrated, and interdependent state structure” with power 22
shared between Colombo and the provinces and among those provinces.
Like the Colombo government, the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel
group has experienced its own instability and factional disagreements. In March 2004 there was a
major rupture within the LTTE ranks: Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, alias Colonel Karuna (who,
as Special Commander, Batticaloa-Amparai District, was in charge of the LTTE’s military

18 “S. Lanka Parties in Unity Pact Ahead of Peace Talks,Reuters, October 23, 2006.
19Buddhist Nationalism Behind Sri Lankas Violent Surge, Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2007.
20 “Ban LTTE, End Truce,Daily News (Colombo), December 29, 2007.
21JVP Won’t Support Govt Ouster,”Daily News (Colombo), August 31, 2007.
22Political Battles,” Frontline (Chennai), February 1, 2008.

operations in the Eastern Province) split with the Northern command of the LTTE headed by the
supreme commander of the LTTE (Veluppillai Prabhakaran) and took an estimated 6,000 soldiers
with him. Colonel Karuna then called for a separate truce with the government. Factional fighting
ensued between Karuna’s splinter group and the Northern faction of the LTTE, resulting in
Prabhakaran’s reassertion of control over the eastern areas where Karuna had previously
operated. The Karuna faction’s ongoing influence has done significant damage to the
longstanding LTTE claim to be the sole representative of Sri Lanka’s Tamil people.
Since the 2004 schism, Colonel Karuna and those loyal to him apparently have fought in
cooperation with government forces, although Colombo continues to deny any link with the 23
breakaway faction. Karuna himself was arrested in London in November 2007 while traveling 24
on a forged passport possibly supplied by the Colombo government. The Karuna group (along
with the LTTE and sometimes government forces) is widely accused of abusing human rights in
the course of its struggle, especially through the recruitment of child soldiers. The United States
has called on Colombo to exert control over paramilitary groups such as Karuna’s that are 25
believed to commit human rights abuses against the Sri Lanka people.

A combination of communal politics (as practiced by both Sinhalese and Tamil political leaders)
and deteriorating economic conditions created deep schisms in Sri Lankan society through the
early decades of independence. By the 1970s, the government was facing Tamil unrest in the
North and East, while the Sinhalese Marxist JVP waged a terrorist campaign against Tamils in the
central and southern regions. Periodic rioting against Tamils in the late 1970s and early 1980s,
culminating in the devastating communal riots of 1983, spawned the creation of several militant
Tamil groups that sought to establish by force a Tamil homeland to include the Northern and
Eastern provinces. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, led by its charismatic founder and chief
strategist Velupillai Prabhakaran, was established in 1976 and emerged as the strongest and best
organized of these groups.
A full-scale separatist war broke out in the North following July 1983 riots in which several
thousand Tamils were killed in retaliation for the slaying of 13 Sinhalese soldiers by separatist
Tamil militants. More than two decades of ensuing war have claimed some 70,000 lives and
displaced between 800,000 and 1.6 million people, most of whom remain in transit camps with
little hope of returning to their homes in the foreseeable future. Each of four major attempts at a
peaceful settlement has ended in failure and further violence. A ceasefire agreement (CFA)
brokered by the Norwegian government in February 2002 was formally abrogated by the
Colombo government in January 2008.
According to the Colombo government’s Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, nearly
4,200 ceasefire violations occurred from February 2002-April 2007 (when the list was most
recently updated), the great majority of these (about 92%) being committed by the LTTE. More 26
than half of all reported LTTE violations involve child recruitment and abduction of adults.

23 See “Colonel’s Control,Outlook (Delhi), March 27, 2007.
24Tamil Warlord Entered UK on Forged Passport,” Guardian (London), December 21, 2007.
25 See
26 See

However, international human rights groups have criticized both the government and the Tigers
for widespread abuses and, in 2006, the Norwegian general overseeing the ceasefire asserted that
he could distinguish “no significant difference in the gravity” of truce and human rights violations 27
by either side. According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense, the period December 2005 to
October 2007 saw a total of 5,888 Sri Lankans killed in the country’s ethnic conflict, including 28
3,696 LTTE members, 1,322 security forces, and 870 civilians. Determining the true situation
on the ground in conflict zones is difficult, given a fierce propaganda campaign being fought by
both the government and the rebels. Both sides routinely block ceasefire observers from 29
inspecting battle sites.
The Sri Lankan military, with a budget believed to exceed $1 billion in 2007, is comprised of
about 151,000 active personnel. The quality of equipment (mostly outdated Soviet- and Chinese-
made weaponry) and training has generally been poor. Morale has suffered with an inability to
decisively defeat a long-running insurgency and with sometimes embarrassing tactical level
defeats at the hands of tenacious Tamil Tiger forces. Since 2002, however, the Colombo
government has focused on efforts to improve its defense capabilities and levels of training have
improved. Morale, too, has been bolstered, likely contributing to battlefield successes in 2006 and
2007, which themselves further burnished the military’s self-image. Over the decades of Sri
Lankan independence, the country’s military has become increasingly dominated by ethnic
Sinhalese, meaning that in much of the northern and eastern provinces it is now widely regarded
as a foreign force. This perception is reinforced by reported human rights abuses against civilians
in these Tamil-dominated areas, a problem that the Colombo government has with only mixed 30
success sought to address.
A Sri Lankan army of nearly 118,000 active personnel is armed with 62 tanks, 217 armored
personnel carriers, and 157 towed artillery tubes. The navy operates 123 patrol and coastal
combatants, most of them inland and riverine, but also possesses 2 missile boats, along with a
very modest amphibious capability. The air force flies 2 fighter/ground attack squadrons—one
notable for its 4 MiG27s, another made up of 10 Israeli-made Kfir jets—as well as 14 Russian-
made Hind and attack helicopters and 28 American-made Bell utility helicopters. Paramilitary 31
forces include a 30,000-person active police force and a 13,000-person home guard. Sri Lanka’s

2008 defense budget is set to increase by nearly 20% over the previous year to about $1.5 billion 32

(overall government spending is to rise by 11%).

27Sri Lanka, Rebels As Bad As Each Other - Monitor, Reuters, September 26, 2006.
28 See
29Who’s Winning Sri Lankas War?,” BBC News, May 25, 2007.
30 “Executive Summary: Sri Lanka, Janes Sentinel Security Assessment - South Asia, April 26, 2007; “Armed Forces:
Sri Lanka,Janes Sentinel Security Assessment - South Asia, July 25, 2007.
31 The Military Balance 2007 (Institute for International and Strategic Studies, London, 2007).
32 “Sri Lanka Defense Budget to Soar, BBC News, October 10, 2007.

LTTE forces have been estimated at up to 7,000-15,000 armed combatants, roughly half of them
trained in combat. The actual number could be considerably lower, especially given significant
battlefield losses in 2007. Arms include long-range artillery, mortars, antiaircraft weaponry, and
captured armored vehicles. A small but effective naval contingent, known as the Sea Tigers,
includes speedboats, fishing vessels, mini-subs of indigenous construction, and underwater
demolition teams. The LTTE air wing also reportedly has constructed an airstrip at Iranamadu in
the North and acquired at least two light aircraft to go along with a few pre-existing helicopters 33
and gliders.
The LTTE’s weapons reportedly have been obtained through illegal arms markets in Burma,
Thailand, and Cambodia, and from captured Sri Lankan forces. Financial support for the LTTE
reportedly comes from the worldwide diaspora of some 600,000-800,000 Tamil emigres
(especially the Tamils in Canada and Western Europe), as well as from smuggling and legitimate
businesses. There are numerous reports that the government of North Korea has provided arms 34
and possibly training to Tiger forces. The LTTE has been criticized for alleged campaigns to
extort and coerce funds from overseas Tamils, especially in Canada and Britain. International
efforts to restrict financial flows to terrorist groups have contributed to a reported 70% decline in
overseas fund-raising by the LTTE. Still, current estimates have the Tigers able to raise $200-300 35
million per year from various licit and illicit businesses.
The Bush Administration has continued efforts to restrict overseas funding sources for the Tigers,
including by banning contributions to and freezing the assets of international charitable 36
organizations determined to have links with the LTTE. Successful U.S. efforts to interdict aid to
the LTTE have included the arrest and conviction of Sri Lankan and Indonesian nationals who
sought to transfer defense supplies to the terrorist group. In April 2007, authorities in New York 37
reported having arrested a “senior U.S. representative” of the LTTE.
The United States designated the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under U.S. law in
1997. The European Union followed suit in 2006, thus depriving the rebels of funds collected
from members and supporters in Europe. The move also made untenable the position of
Norwegian and Danish truce monitors who could no longer maintain neutrality.
According to the U.S. State Department’s Counterterrorism Office,
LTTE has integrated a battlefield insurgent strategy with a terrorist program that targets key
personnel in the countryside and senior Sri Lankan political and military leaders in Colombo
and other urban centers. It also has conducted a sustained campaign targeting rival Tamil
groups and figures.... LTTE is most notorious for the Black Tigers, its cadre of suicide

33 “Kumaratunga’s Dilemma on Joint Mechanism,Asian Tribune, April 23, 2005.
34 See CRS Report RL30613, North Korea: Terrorism List Removal?
35Expert Criticizes Canada for Not Banning LTTE,” Island (Colombo), September 15, 2003; Human Rights Watch,
“Tamil Tigers Extort Diaspora for ‘Final War’ Funds, March 15, 2006; “Feeding the Tiger,Janes Intelligence
Review, September 1, 2007; “LTTE Crippled Financially, Fund Raising Activities on Decline, Press Trust of India,
October 22, 2007;Sri Lanka rebel Arms - Buying Goes Global,” Associated Press, November 5, 2007.
36 See, for example,
37 See

bombers. Political assassinations and bombings were commonplace tactics prior to the cease-38
fire and have increased again since mid-2005.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has listed the Tamil Tigers “among the most dangerous
and deadly extremists in the world,” crediting the rebels with inventing the suicide belt and
perfecting the use of suicide bombers, murdering some 4,000 people since 2006, and being the 39
world’s only terrorist organization to assassinate two world leaders.
The LTTE has been a prolific employer of suicide bombing, with one report calling it responsible 40
for fully half of all suicide attacks worldwide in the early years of this century. Tamil Tiger
suicide bombers are believed responsible for the assassination of numerous Sri Lankan political
leaders, including Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1993, and many moderate
Tamil leaders who opposed the LTTE. Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi—whose
efforts to assist Colombo in enforcing a peace accord with the Tamils in 1987 ended in the deaths
of about 1,200 Indian troops—was assassinated in May 1991 by a suspected LTTE suicide
bomber. Many Indians insist that top LTTE leaders, including Prabhakaran, be extradited to India
to stand trial for Rajiv Gandhi’s death.
The Norwegian-brokered peace effort, which began in 1999, produced notable success after then-
Prime Minister Wickremasinghe revived the process upon taking office in late 2001. A permanent
ceasefire agreement (CFA) was reached in February 2002 and, despite incidents of alleged
violations, was for several years generally observed by both sides. In addition, confidence-
building measures called for under the ceasefire were implemented. A Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM) comprised of members from Nordic countries was created to investigate
reported violations of the CFA. In April 2002, LTTE leader Prabhakaran emerged from hiding for
his first press conference in 12 years and made the unprecedented suggestion that the LTTE
would be willing to settle for less than full Tamil independence. Five months later, Sri Lanka
lifted its 1998 ban on the LTTE, a move which the Tigers had demanded as a pre-condition for
peace talks. However, Buddhist clerics and their political party, the JHU, have staunchly and 41
consistently opposed negotiating with the LTTE.
In September 2002, at a naval base in Thailand, the Colombo government and the LTTE held
their first peace talks in seven years. The meeting, which resulted in an agreement to establish a
joint task force for humanitarian and reconstruction activities, was deemed successful by both
sides. On the third day, the LTTE announced that it would settle for “internal self-determination”
and “substantial regional autonomy” for the Tamil population rather than full independence—a
major shift in the rebels’ position. A second round of talks brought another breakthrough when the
two sides agreed on a framework for seeking foreign aid to rebuild the country (officials
estimated that repairing the war-damaged infrastructure in the island’s northeast could cost as

38 See
39Taming the Tamil Tigers,” January 10, 2008, at
40 Cited inSuicide Bombing Masters: Sri Lankan Rebels,” New York Times, January 14, 2003.
41 “Sri Lanka Lifts Ban on Tigers Ahead of Thai Talks,Agence France Presse, September 4, 2002.

much as $500 million).42 A multilateral “donor conference” in Oslo in late November brought
numerous pledges of external assistance, with the United States promising to “play its part” 43
toward implementation of a peace plan.
In what appeared to be yet another meaningful breakthrough, talks in the final month of 2002
ended with the issuance of a statement that “the parties have agreed to explore a solution founded
on the principle of internal self-determination in the areas of historical habituation of the Tamil-44
speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.” This language marked
a significant concession from both parties: the Colombo government for the first time accepted
the idea of federalism and the rebels, in accepting a call for internal self-determination, appeared
to have relinquished their decades-old pursuit of an independent Tamil state.
A fifth round of negotiations took place in Berlin in February 2003, but made no notable progress.
Renewed armed conflict had the potential to disrupt the engagement: the meetings began only
hours after three LTTE rebels incinerated themselves at sea when Norwegian truce monitors
boarded their weapons-laden craft. Although an apparent violation of the ceasefire, the incident
did not derail the peace process; it did, however, serve to erode international confidence,
especially among potential donor nations. The United States called the Tigers’ arms smuggling
effort “highly destabilizing” and urged the LTTE to “commit itself fully to peace and desist from 45
arms resupply efforts.”
Talks in Japan in March 2003 produced no major breakthroughs on political or human rights
issues. A Japanese participant suggested that the promise of major external assistance—
anticipated at some $3 billion over three years—is all that kept the disputing parties at the 46
negotiating table. As with earlier talks, violence again threatened to derail the process: On
March 10, 2003, a Sri Lankan Navy vessel sank what the Colombo government described as an
attacking Tiger boat, killing 11. The Tigers condemned the attack, claiming that their unarmed
“merchant vessel” was not a threat. Norwegian truce monitors criticized both sides while 47
refraining from ruling who was at fault.
In the spring of 2003 the Colombo government said it was considering holding an island-wide
non-binding referendum to endorse its current peace negotiations with Tamil rebels. A public
opinion poll found that 84% of all Sri Lankans believed peace could be achieved through 48
dialogue, including more than 95% of Tamils. Yet the LTTE pulled out of the peace negotiations
in April, just days before a seventh round of peace talks was set to begin in Thailand. The Tigers

42Sri Lankans in Reconstruction Talks, BBC News, November 18, 2002. Large numbers of Tamil refugees began
returning to the war-torn region after the 2002 ceasefire (“100,000 Refugees Return to Sri Lanka, Associated Press,
September 20, 2002).
43 “Transcript: U.S. Prepared toPlay Its Part’ to Further Peace in Sri Lanka,” U.S. Department of State Washington
File, November 25, 2002.
44 “Sri Lanka to Explore a New Government, New York Times, December 6, 2002.
45 “Sri Lankan Peace Talks Start in Berlin, Reuters, February 7, 2003; “Suicide Bomb Blunts Sri Lanka’s Peace
Momentum,” Agence France Presse, February 10, 2003; “U.S. Criticizes Tamil Tiger Smuggling, BBC News,
February 12, 2003.
46Sri Lanka Negotiators Leave Japan With Little Progress, But Cash Hopes Alive, Agence France Presse, March 22,
47 “Sri Lanka Monitors Chide Both Sides Over Sea Clash,Reuters, March 17, 2003.
48 “Sri Lanka Ponders Peace Vote, BBC News, April 4, 2003; “Overwhelming Support for Peace Talks - Poll, Daily
News (Colombo), March 24, 2003.

issued a statement protesting their exclusion from a scheduled June 2003 donor conference in
Japan and expressing unhappiness with slow progress in efforts to improve the quality of life for 49
the country’s Tamil minority.
In September 2003, Norway and Japan led an effort to revitalize the peace process and prevent its
devolution back into further conflict. These initiatives followed a meeting of the Tigers with
constitutional experts in Paris, a meeting that was part of the Tigers’ effort to respond to a Sri
Lankan government proposal for an interim administration in the northeast of Sri Lanka (a major 50
concession by the government to Tiger demands which were a prerequisite for further talks). For
their part, the LTTE had previously made the key concession that it would settle for an autonomy
agreement rather than its previous goal of a separate state. Despite such concessions by both
sides, a peace agreement was not guaranteed. The LTTE indicated that it would once again seek
secession and an independent state if substantial autonomy was not achieved through the 51
negotiation process.
The Colombo government was at that time split between a more conciliatory faction represented
by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and a more hardline faction represented by the JVP. The
UNP opposition was regarded as the major party most willing to negotiate with the LTTE in order
to end the conflict. Many observers believed this was due to the fact that a large portion of UNP
political support comes from Sri Lanka’s business classes, whose success in turn depends on
limiting the impact of uncertainty and instability which the conflict creates.
It was hoped that the LTTE would respond to the government’s offer and rejoin peace
negotiations by the end of September 2003. An earlier proposal for an interim administration was
rejected by the LTTE. The government continued having difficulty making offers as some
observers noted that a constitutionally viable solution would require the consent of the more
hardline faction in the government led by the JVP, which was on record as opposed to further 52
concessions to the LTTE.
The international community made an effort to support the dialogue process by offering
inducements for peace. The international donors conference held in Tokyo in June 2003 obtained
aid pledges for Sri Lanka totaling $4.5 billion (nearly one-quarter of the package was pledged by
Japan). Some 51 nations and 20 international institutions participated in the conference, though it 53
was boycotted by the LTTE. At the same time, the World Bank approved a loan of $125 million
to assist Sri Lankan poverty reduction and reconstruction in the northeast, and to support the 54
peace process. Then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage expressed support for the peace
process at the Tokyo conference by asking the LTTE to end its boycott of the talks and offering 55
$54 million in U.S. aid. Yet both the government and the rebels remained intransigent in their
positions, and the LTTE refused to rejoin Norwegian-sponsored peace negotiations.

49 “Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers Pull Out of Peace Talks,Reuters, April 23, 2003.
50 “Norway to Make Fresh Bid to Revive Sri Lanka Peace Process,Agence France Presse, September 3, 2003.
51 “Sri Lanka to Explore a New Government, New York Times, December 6, 2003.
52 “Sri Lanka Peace,” Voice of America Federal News Dispatch, June 20, 2003.
53 See the Tokyo Conference Declaration at
54World Bank Gives $125 Million,” Agence France Presse, June 18, 2003.
55U.S. Asks Tamil Tigers to Resume Talks with Sri Lankan Government,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, June 13,

Despite international inducements, the peace process remained deadlocked for more than two
years, with the LTTE continuing to insist on interim self-rule in the Tamil northeast as the basis of
resumption of negotiations. The government expressed a desire that the LTTE restate its
willingness to explore a federal solution to the conflict, and Colombo also requested that
discussion of an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) be part of a comprehensive peace
discussion and not a precondition of such negotiations. Moreover, divisions within both the
government and the LTTE cast pervasive doubt on the eventual outcome of the peace talks.
The crisis continued beyond the April 2004 elections and was exacerbated in 2005 by a number of
factors, including tensions between the SLFP and its JVP coalition partners over the privatization
of the university educational system and the petroleum sector; the possibility of a joint
government-LTTE distribution mechanism for foreign aid (to LTTE controlled areas) in response
to the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; and the prospect of a peace agreement that would
grant greater autonomy to the Tamil-controlled North and East. The JVP strongly opposes each of
these options and has made numerous threats to withdraw from the United People’s Freedom 56
Alliance, a move that would deprive the ruling coalition of its parliamentary majority.
Following the mid-2004 LTTE schism there were numerous instances of political and military
operatives being killed by each side as they jockey for power in the East. The LTTE accuses
Colonel Karuna and those loyal to him of cooperating with Sri Lankan Army (SLA)
paramilitaries and special forces in raids and targeted killings of forces under their command,
which the SLA denies. Karuna later withdrew to a fortified base in the jungles of eastern Sri 57
Lanka where his forces were able to repel LTTE attacks. During the first half of 2005 there were
several reported instances of serious ceasefire violations. First was the February death of a high-
level LTTE political officer, followed by an increase in targeted, politically-motivated killings 58
throughout the eastern provinces.
April 2005 saw a much-publicized incident when a Sea Tiger unit attacked a Sri Lankan Navy
vessel carrying a peace monitor, slightly wounding him. This led to a formal censure of the LTTE
by the ceasefire monitoring group, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), and marked a
particularly brazen attack as the Sri Lankan Navy vessel was flying the SLMM flag to indicate 59
that monitors were aboard. By the middle of 2005, politically-motivated killings reportedly
were taking one life per day and, following the LTTE’s August 2005 assassination of Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil, Parliament passed a state of emergency 60
regulation that has been renewed every month since.
The narrow November 2005 election victory of perceived hardliner President Rajapaksa led to a
further escalation of violence between government security forces and LTTE cadres. One month

56 “JVP Threatens to Bring Down Lanka Govt. Over LTTE Tsunami Deal, Hindu (Chennai), April 20, 2005.
57 Press Trust of India, March 21, 2005.
58Batticaloa LTTE Leader Killed,” Hindu (Chennai),February 7, 2005.
59 “Tamil Tiger ‘Breached Ceasefire,’” BBC News, April 8, 2005.
60Sri Lanka: Political Killings Escalate, Human Rights Watch, August 16, 2005.

later, a pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian was assassinated inside a government
high security zone in the eastern town of Batticaloa. In February 2006, Colombo and the LTTE
voiced renewed commitment to the CFA and violence waned until April, when an explosion at a
Sinhalese market in Trincomalee led to a limited backlash against Tamils. Shortly after, an LTTE
suicide bomber attacked a major army compound in Colombo, killing eight soldiers and seriously
wounding the army’s top general. The government retaliated with air strikes on Tiger positions. In
June 2006, an LTTE suicide bomber succeeded in killing the army’s third highest-ranking general
in a suburb of Colombo. Mutual animosities intensified.
A dramatic surge in violence in early August 2006 was sparked by a water dispute: the Sri Lankan
military had moved to reopen a sluice gate in Tiger-controlled territory after negotiations failed to
resolve the quarrel (in closing the gate, LTTE forces had cut water supplies to thousands of
mostly Sinhalese farmers south of Trincomalee). Rather than employ a small force for the
operation, the government launched large-scale airstrikes on nearby Tiger positions in tandem 61
with a ground offensive. The LTTE’s political wing called the attacks a “declaration of war.”
The four Tokyo Donor countries (including the United States) issued a statement calling on both
sides to immediately end hostilities and re-engage negotiations, but the LTTE said that Colombo’s
military operations made further talks impossible.
By the late summer of 2006, the Sri Lankan army was pressing a major offensive in the area
around the Tiger stronghold of Trincomalee, the LTTE was declaring that the ceasefire appeared
to have ended, and human rights groups were demanding that both sides allow humanitarian
supplies to reach civilians who had been trapped in the crossfire and who were unable to obtain
food and other basic commodities. Hundreds of thousands of these civilians were displaced by the
fighting. Battles in August became so fierce that more than 800 rebels and security personnel
were reported killed in one week alone. Under heavy air bombardment, the Tigers retreated from
their positions near the strategic Trincomalee harbor in September, while their naval forces lost a 62
series of fierce battles off the northern Jaffna Peninsula. In displacing the Tigers from
Trincomalee’s environs, the government carried out the first major seizure of enemy territory by
either side since the 2002 ceasefire.
In a now weakened position, the LTTE changed course and agreed to engage in new and
unconditional negotiations with Colombo. Some observers opined that, as in the past, dwindling
financial resources were a primary motive for the government’s decision to re-engage the peace 63
process as called for by international aid providers. A new round of talks was set for October
2006 in Oslo, Norway, even as the government’s ongoing military offensives brought fierce
battles in the both the North and East. Possible overconfidence in the army ranks may have led to
serious reversals during the course of the month as their units were repulsed around Jaffna at 64
considerable cost. The Tigers also retaliated with a series of suicide attacks, including a truck
bombing that left 99 Sri Lankan sailors and civilians dead in the north-central city of Harbrane;
and the detonation of “suicide boats” that left a sailor and 15 rebels dead near the Sri Lankan
Navy Headquarters in Galle, a major tourist destination some 70 miles south of Colombo.

61 “Strategic Questions in Sri Lanka,BBC News, August 4, 2006.
62 “Fighting Escalates in Northern Sri Lanka,Associated Press, August 17, 2006; “Sri Lanka Battles a Weakened
Tamil Tigers, Christian Science Monitor, September 5, 2006.
63 “Lack of Cash Pushes Sri Lanka to Peace Talks: Analysts, Agence France Presse, September 13, 2006.
64 “Tigers Strike Back, Outlook (Delhi), October 14, 2006; “Sri Lanka Clashes Kill 129 Troops,” BBC News, October
12, 2006.

In the lead up to October peace talks, President Rajapaksa moved to establish a common
negotiating position that would include the country’s main opposition UNP. A resulting pact was
widely hailed as a rare expression of political unity, especially in the country’s Sinhala-dominated 65
South. However, and despite low expectations, the talks were a conclusive failure: The
government rejected a key rebel demand to reopen the strategically vital A-9 highway that crosses
LTTE-controlled territory leading to Jaffna, and the two sides failed even to agree on a timetable 66
for future meetings. Renewed exchanges of artillery fire began hours after the talks adjourned.
Fighting continued during the final months of 2006. LTTE leader Prabhakaran blamed President
Rajapaksa for the conflict’s resurgence and he called the CFA “defunct.” The U.S. State
Department expressed being “disturbed” by such claims, and it condemned the Tigers for “fueling 67
violence and hostility,” and urged both sides to honor the CFA and return to negotiation. The
LTTE disregarded the admonition and declared a renewed struggle for independence. Tiger cadres
subsequently attempted to assassinate the defense secretary—who is also President Rajapaksa’s
brother—by bombing his motorcade, but he escaped unharmed.
Government forces took control of the LTTE’s eastern stronghold of Vakarai in January 2007,
resulting in up to 20,000 more internally displaced persons (another 15,000 Tamil civilians were
described as being “trapped” by the fighting). From Colombo’s perspective, the “liberation” of 68
Vakarai saved these civilians from being used as “human shields” by the rebels. Although the
Norwegian government insisted that its effort to end the civil war had not failed—and the British
government offered to play a greater role in the peace process, including a willingness to talk
directly with the terrorist-designated LTTE—there developed a growing consensus among
independent observers that full-scale civil war had returned to the island.
By March 2007, the government was claiming to have completely cleared LTTE forces from the
island’s east coast. Later that month, Tiger rebels launched an unprecedented air attack, using two
crude planes to bomb an air force base adjacent to Colombo’s main airport. While damage
reportedly was light, the ability of the Tigers to penetrate Sri Lankan air defenses and return
safely to their base 250 miles away was a major embarrassment to the Colombo government.
Further Tiger air raids in April—one killing at least six soldiers at the main army base in Jaffna,
another destroying fuel facilities in Colombo—spurred acute security concerns among
commercial airline companies serving the island, and caused analysts to identify an even greater 69
threat perception among residents of the southern provinces.
The Tigers appeared to have been evicted from their last major bastion in the Eastern Province in
July 2007 and the Colombo government claimed to be in full control of the region for the first
time in 13 years. Following its military victories in the East, the government vowed to devote
more than $50 million toward infrastructure programs designed to win hearts and minds in the

65 “S. Lanka Parties in Unity Pact Ahead of Peace Talks,Reuters, October 23, 2006.
66Heavy Shelling In North Sri Lanka After Talks Fail,” Reuters, October 30, 2006.
67 Daily Press Briefing, November 28, 2006.
68Sri Lanka Says Captures Tiger Lines, Kills 30 Rebels,” Reuters, January 16, 2007; “Forces Liberate Vakarai
Civilians,” Daily News (Colombo), January 20, 2007.
69Sri Lankan Separatists Take Fight to the Air,” Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2007; “Airlines Cancel Sri
Lanka Flights, BBC News, April 30, 2007.

region and to establish a credible civil administration there by holding local elections before 70
2008. The LTTE responded to government declarations with threats to cripple the country’s
economy with attacks on military and economic targets. The Rajapaksa government asserted
openness to resuming negotiations with the rebels even as it pressed ahead with military
operations in the North.
An October 2007 attack by 21 rebel “suicide commandos” caused serious damage to the
Anuradhapura air force base in the Northwest province and was a major embarrassment for
government and military officials. Eight Sri Lanka air force planes were reported destroyed,
including an expensive surveillance platform. Fourteen soldiers died battling the rebel force.
Retaliatory government air strikes on LTTE training camps reportedly killed dozens of rebels in
the country’s north. Still, the Anuradhapura attack was viewed as a stunning short-term
psychological victory for the rebels which served to boost their morale following debilitating 71
military losses of the previous summer.
Colombo was not deterred, however, and pressed ahead with offensive military operations.
Among those killed in November 2007 government airstrikes was S.P. Tamilselvan, the leader of
the Tigers’ political wing widely believed to be Prabhakaran’s topmost deputy. This was followed
by the violent death of the purported chief of the Tigers’ intelligence wing, alias “Colonel
Charles,” in a January 2008 government military ambush on his vehicle at the island’s far
northern tip. Some observers view these apparent targeted killings as further evidence of a new 72
government intent to decisively defeat the rebels through use of force. Sri Lankan military
officials claim that their operations in the latter months of 2007 destroyed about half of the 73
Tigers’ forces and that the “remaining 3,000” were in complete disarray and near to final defeat.
During a March 2007 visit to Washington, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama
told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Colombo was committed to a negotiated solution to
the conflict and to constitutional reforms that would enable an enduring settlement and address 74
the “concerns of the minorities.” President Rajapaksa himself repeatedly insists that ongoing
military operations are aimed only at combating terrorism. His government claims to seek only a
“negotiated and sustainable” settlement through the All Party Representative Committee. Yet, in
late December 2007, the Sri Lankan president reportedly stated that military victories “will surely 75
pave the way to push the LTTE to seek a political solution to the problem.”
Faced with a choice between scaling back army operations and resuming peace negotiations or
pressing ahead with military offensives, President Rajapaksa appears to have concluded the

70With Tanks, Jets, Sri Lanka Fetes Fall of Rebel East,” Reuters, July 19, 2007.
71Sri Lanka Rebel Attack Further Detailed,”Associated Press, October 24, 2007; “Despair in the Air,Frontline
(Chennai), November 3, 2007.
72 See, for example, Ajai Sahni, “Shattered Haven,Outlook (Delhi), November 8, 2007.
73 “Sri Lanka Army Chief Says Rebel Force Halved, Bases Surrounded, Daily News (Colombo), December 31, 2007.
74 See Embassy of Sri Lanka Press Release, March 16, 2007, at
75Negotiated End to Conflict Govt’s Aim, Daily News (Colombo), September 27, 2007;Sri Lanka Open to
‘Negotiated’ Solution to Conflict, Agence France Presse, October 13, 2007; “Military Victories Will Pave the Way to
Political Solution - President, Daily News (Colombo), December 27, 2007.

Tigers could be decisively defeated on the battlefield. The risk of alienating key hardline coalition 76
supporters likely has played a central role in this calculation. Thus, despite heavy material and
political costs—including the alienation of more negotiation-minded political allies, severe
economic damage, cuts in foreign aid, and censure from foreign governments and international
human rights groups—Rajapaksa appears to be pursuing an all-out effort to defeat the LTTE by 77
use of force.
Increased strife has been costly for Sri Lanka on the world stage. In May 2007, the British
government cited human rights concerns in suspending about $3 million in debt relief aid to
Colombo. In the same month, a U.S. official cited like concerns in explaining why Millennium
Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding has not been forthcoming, saying the island’s security
circumstances continued to preclude finalizing a compact under that program (Sri Lanka
subsequently was “deselected” for MCC eligibility). The United States and other international
donors suspended aid or withheld new commitments for similar reasons in 2007. President
Rajapaksa has responded with defiance, saying his country is not dependent on foreign aid and
can go it alone, if necessary. Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, has 78
decried the “international bullying” on human rights.
Even during a period of relative peace from 2002 to 2005, peace negotiators have faced great
difficulty as they attempt to craft a political system that maintains Sri Lanka’s unity while 79
addressing the LTTE’s desire for substantive autonomy. A variety of federal models has been
put under consideration, including those that have seen success in Switzerland and Canada, 80
among others. In addition to questions of power-sharing, numerous other highly contentious
issues to be settled include geographical boundaries, human rights protection, political and
administrative mechanisms, public finance, law and order, and LTTE accountability for past
actions. Sinhala nationalism, rooted in the British colonial period, is seen to be a major, 81
overarching obstacle to resolution of the ethnic conflict. While sizeable majorities of Sri
Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim communities appear to favor a negotiated settlement to the civil war,
perhaps half of the country’s Sinhalese citizens are reported to favor the pursuit of the LTTE’s 82
military defeat.

76 “Sri Lanka’s President Poised Between War and Peace,Financial Times (London), January 9, 2007.
77 “Back to the Gun,India Today (Delhi), May 28, 2007.
78Sri Lanka President Shuns Aid Suspension by UK, US,” Reuters, May 16, 2007; “Aid Weapon Used Against Sri
Lanka,Financial Times (London), May 22, 2007;Sri Lanka AccusesBullying West,” BBC News, June 12, 2007.
79 A Tamil state in the northern areas is considered to be a fait accompli by many, given the LTTE’s establishment of
well-organized police, court, and prison systems, a law college, motor vehicle registry, tax and customs departments,
health clinics, and even a forestry division (In Some Ways, Rebels Without a Cause, Washington Post, January 14,
80 See Teresita Schaffer and Nisala Rodrigo,Sri Lanka: Finding the Start of a Long Road,” South Asia Monitor 54,
Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 1, 2003.
81 See International Crisis Group Asia Report No. 141,Sri Lanka: Sinhala Nationalism and the Elusive Southern
Consensus, November 7, 2007, at
82 See, for example, public opinion survey findings at

A key unresolved shorter-term issue under the CFA had been the decommissioning of LTTE
weapons, which the Tigers repeatedly stated will not occur until a permanent settlement is
reached. The SLFP had long claimed that the rebels must disarm as part of the negotiation 83
process. Also, there are reported to be many thousands of government troops controlling parts of
the Jaffna Peninsula at the island’s northern tip. The Tigers have refused to make peace while part
of the country remains under “army occupation,” but the Sri Lankan military is concerned that
any resettlement of civilians would be used as cover by the Tigers to better position themselves
should fighting resume. Colombo has refused to open up these “high security zones” until the 84
rebels lay down their arms, an action the Tigers have called “non-negotiable.” Some analysts
express certainty that the Tigers will be unwilling to disarm in the foreseeable future, and even
some Sinhalese intellectuals reportedly have sympathized with the rebels’ hesitation to disarm,
given their perceived need for “leverage” against a Sinhalese-dominated government that “has 85
given no reason to the LTTE to trust it.”
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the opposition UNP, views the
government’s January 2008 abrogation of the CFA as part of a politically expeditious decision to
placate hardline Marxist and Buddhist parties in return for their continued support of the ruling 86
coalition. A potential obstacle to any peace deal in the near- and middle-term is the continuing
political division between the JVP and the SLFP as regards any settlement of autonomy or self-
governing aspects of any eventual peace deal. The JVP has threatened to withdraw from the
current ruling coalition if any agreement is reached which they allege might impinge national
sovereignty, and the JHU represents an virulent and influential form of Sinhalese majoritarianism:
The capacity of these nationalist actors to mobilize Sinhala nationalist sentiments poses deep
problems for the future of the peace process as it threatens to draw mainstream political
actors back into more nationalist strategies for political survival. It also serves to challenge
the legitimacy of governing coalitions or, through the use of a coalitional veto, bring about 87
governmental collapse for those attempting to move the peace process forward.
Moreover, the SLFP has expressed concerns that the Norwegian mediators have exhibited bias in
favor of the rebels.
In seeking to explain the apparent collapse of the most recent peace process, many analyses are
critical of an allegedly narrow focus on two parties—the Colombo government and the LTTE—to
the exclusion and at the expense of other key stakeholders such as non-LTTE-affiliated Tamils
and the country’s sizeable Muslim minority. President Rajapaksa has been faulted by many for his
apparent belief that the LTTE is the chief source of the country’s ethnic strife and that only their
military defeat would open the space in which to effectively address Tamil grievances. Rather, 88
many analysts contend, the Tigers are only one manifest aspect of a greater ethnic problem.

83Tamil Tigers ‘Must Disarm,’” BBC News, December 13, 2002.
84 “Sri Lanka Talks Face Hurdle, BBC News, January 4, 2003.
85 “No to War Isnt Yes to Peace,Business Line (Chennai), April 8, 2003.
86All-Out War,” Frontline (Chennai), February 1, 2008.
87 David Rampton and Asanga Weilikala,The Politics of the South, Asia Foundation Sri Lanka Strategic Conflict
Assessment 2005 Series, 2005, at
88 See, for example, “Resting on Laurels,Frontline (Chennai), November 3, 2007.

Moreover, a process too heavily reliant on economic incentives may have been undermined by 89
political opposition to Colombo’s reform program.
The LTTE, for its part, has stated that peace is not possible so long as President Rajapaksa is in
power, and there are ongoing fears that the rebels will be successful in their efforts could again 90
seek to bring the war to the country’s capital. The Tigers reject new negotiations in the absence
of Colombo’s adherence to the terms of the now-defunct CFA. Yet the government is unlikely to
agree to such terms as doing so would require ceding control of territories taken from the LTTE in
2007. Excluded from international political fora due to their designation as a terrorist group, the
Tigers have sought creation of a formal venue in which to argue their case that the Colombo
government engages in ethnic cleansing and serious human rights violations and must be 91
pressured to accept a resolution based on the Tamils’ claimed right to self-determination.

The tsunami (tidal wave) that devastated much of coastal South and Southeastern Asia on
December 26, 2004, hit Sri Lanka particularly hard some 90 minutes after its launch by an
earthquake centered west of Sumatra, Indonesia. The massive wave caused some 35,000 deaths,
fully or partially destroyed at least 100,000 homes, and displaced nearly 600,000 Sri Lankans in
the country’s worst-ever natural disaster. The island’s east coast was most affected and there was
some evidence that the tsunami weakened the LTTE through the destruction of many of its naval 93
assets and the loss of at least 1,000 of its cadres. The Sri Lankan navy also saw significant
damage to some of its southern coastal facilities. The single most costly event in terms of human
lives was the complete destruction of a train traveling along a coastal railroad track. More than 94
2,000 people died in this single incident. Fortunately, a projected outbreak of disease following
the tsunami never materialized.
President Bush expressed condolences to the Sri Lankan people over the “terrible loss of life and
suffering,” and the U.S. government moved quickly to provide assistance to those nations most 95
affected. USAID oversaw a total of about $135 million in relief and reconstruction aid for Sri
Lanka, devoted especially to the provision of emergency relief supplies, transitional housing, 96
livelihoods restoration, and psychological and social support.
There were hopes that the human costs of the disaster would bring about an opportunity to
reinvigorate the stalemated peace process, but negotiations on how to disburse relief aid reflected
existing political obstacles. After much wrangling, in June 2005 the Colombo government and the
LTTE reached an agreement to share some $3 billion in international tsunami aid under a Post-

89 International Crisis Group, “Sri Lanka: The Failure of the Peace Process,” November 28, 2006, at See also reports from the Asia Foundation Sri Lanka Strategic
Conflict Assessment 2005 Series at
90 “Target Colombo,Outlook (Delhi), July 19, 2007.
91 “Sri Lanka Rebels DecryGenocide’ Before U.N. Address,Reuters, September 25, 2007.
92 See also CRS Report RL32715, Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami.
93 Chandra de Silva,Sri Lanka in 2005,” Asian Survey 46, 1, January 2006, p. 116.
94Sri Lanka: Railroad Line Closed by Tsunami Reopened” Associated Press, February 21, 2005.
95Bush Sends Condolences to Asia, Offers Aid,” Associated Press, December 27, 2004.
96 See

Tsunami Operational Management Structure (PTOMS). However, the agreement was challenged
in court and was never implemented, leaving both parties more distrustful than before. In the
words of one analysis, “Protracted negotiations about the institutional arrangements for delivering
tsunami assistance to the North-East mirrored earlier peace talks and exposed the deep underlying 97
problems of flawed governance, entrenched positions, and patronage politics.”

Formerly a colonial economy based on plantation crops (tea, rubber, coconut, sugar, and rice),
modern Sri Lanka’s manufactured products now account for about four-fifths of the country’s
exports, including garments, textiles, gems, as well as agricultural goods. Tourism and repatriated
earnings of Sri Lankans employed abroad are important foreign exchange earners. The first
country in South Asia to liberalize its economy, Sri Lanka began an ongoing process of market
reform and privatization of state-owned industries in 1977. Many observers attribute the ability of
the national economy to thrive even in the midst of civil war to these successful reforms.
Privatization efforts have slowed in recent years, however. Since 2001, both tourism and investor
confidence, previously on the rebound, have been negatively affected by major LTTE terrorist
attacks and renewed political instability. Sri Lanka’s entire economy has also suffered as a result
of a recent prolonged drought (the worst in two decades), related hydroelectric power shortages,
and the worldwide economic downturn around the turn of the century. The country experienced
its first ever recorded recession in 2001, with a negative GDP growth rate of -1.4%.
The UNP-led coalition government that came to power under then-Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe in late 2001 sought to institute a program of sweeping economic reforms and
liberalization. Stabilization efforts were based on reduced government expenditures, while
structural reforms included downsizing the bureaucracy, selling off state-owned businesses, and
reforming labor and land laws to encourage the freer operation of market mechanisms. The
United States and other external donor countries sought to support this reform effort with greatly
increased aid: according to one source, external aid rose more than four-fold from 2002 to 2003.
However, this same analysis is among those that fault the Wickremesinghe government for
pursuing this tack while failing to link it to the ongoing peace process. From this perspective, the
stalemating of that process—and the UNP’s 2004 election defeat—could be traced to an
economic reform program that “alienated many social classes within a short period of time, 98
without offering any benefits in return.”
Despite the existence of considerable obstacles, not least being renewed civil war, current
statistics show Sri Lanka’s economy to be performing relatively well. The economy grew by an
estimated 6.1% in 2007, led by a services sector that accounts for more than half of GDP. Short-
term projections are generally positive, but still mixed: optimistic analyses foresee further
expansion above 5% in 2008, with a rebounding agricultural sector and rapid growth in India (one
of Sri Lanka’s main trading partners) buoying the economy. Others stress that a winding down of
tsunami-related base effects, fragile export performance, and inflationary pressures will keep
annual GDP growth rates well below 5%, even as the middle- and longer-term potential is seen to

97 Jonathan Goodhand and Bart Klem,Aid, Conflict, and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka 2000-2005, Asia Foundation Sri
Lanka Strategic Conflict Assessment 2005 Series, 2005, at
98 Sunil Bastian,The Economic Agenda and the Peace Process,” Asia Foundation Sri Lanka Strategic Conflict
Assessment 2005 Series, 2005, at

be considerable. Another important future variable will be levels of U.S. and European demand
for textiles. Consumer price inflation has been a major burden at an estimated 17% for 2007.
Near-term inflation is likely to remain high, but is expected to ease somewhat in 2008. Sri Lanka
is highly dependent on foreign assistance, with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank,
Japan, and other donors disbursing loans totaling $912 million in 2006. Foreign grants amounted 99
to another $301 million during that year.
In November 2006, the Colombo government issued a discussion draft of its 10-year development
framework, Mahinda Chintana [Mahinda’s Thoughts]: Vision for a New Sri Lanka. According to
a January 2007 World Bank report,
The vision sets out ambitious growth targets (over 8% by 2010) aimed at reducing poverty
incidence to 12% of the population by 2015 (from 23% in 2002). The rapid growth scenario
assumes the continuation of a favorable external environment and implies improved security
conditions. A key target is to raise total investment from 28-30% of GDP in 2006 to 34% in
2010, with the largest contribution coming from the public sector. Public sector savings
(currently negative) are expected to contribute 5 percentage points of GDP to gross domestic
savings by 2010. FDI is projected at around 2% of GDP (compared to less than1% in the past 100
Nearly all commentators agree that continued escalation in ethnic violence will negatively impact
the economy, especially by reducing investor confidence and by further damaging the vital
tourism sector. The civil war continues to place a heavy burden on the country’s economy, as well
as to hinder its future potential. Defense expenditures as a percentage of GDP have doubled since
1980. Aside from defense spending, other costs of the war include damage to infrastructure and
expenditures for humanitarian relief. Several analyses have asserted that annual growth rates over
the past 24 years could have been 2-3 percentage points higher in the absence of protracted ethnic
conflict. International donors say the Mahinda plan for poverty reduction is dependent upon 101
Tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka plummeted by 24% during the first half of 2007. The tourism sector,
which accounts for about 3% of Sri Lanka’s total GNP, had been recovering from the December
2004 tsunami and its attendant massive infrastructural damage, but optimism was dashed
following October 2007 government military operations inside the country’s most popular
wildlife sanctuary—in a relatively pacific area of the island’s southeast—and a subsequent U.S. 102
State Department travel warning.
With its location on major sea-lanes, excellent harbors, and high educational standards, Sri Lanka
has long been viewed as a potential regional center for financial and export-oriented services. For
decades, Sri Lanka has invested heavily in education, health, and social welfare, maintaining high
living standards compared to much of South Asia. The U.N. Development Program ranked Sri th
Lanka 99 out of 177 countries on its 2007/2008 human development index (between Azerbaijan

99 U.S. State Department Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Background Notes: Sri Lanka, May 2007, at
100 See
101 “Sri Lanka: Executive Summary,” Global Insight, May 14, 2003;Sri Lanka Development Hostage to War, Say
Donors, Reuters, January 29, 2007.
102 “Sri Lanka Tourism a Casualty of Tamil Tiger War,Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 2007; travel warning

and Maldives), down from 93rd the previous year, but still higher than any other South Asian

According to the U.S. State Department, a history of cordial U.S.-Sri Lanka relations has been
based in large part on shared democratic traditions. U.S. policy supports efforts to reform Sri
Lanka’s democratic political system in a way that provides for full political participation of all
communities; it does not endorse the establishment of another independent state on the island.
The Bush Administration has vowed to play a role in multilateral efforts to settle the conflict and
to assist in the rebuilding of war-torn areas. The United States and Sri Lanka signed a new Trade
and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2002. However, the political instability of
subsequent years set back the time frame for any possible Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and
relevant negotiations were put on hold pending positive developments in peace negotiations. The
United States also maintains a limited military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lanka defense
In July 2002, President Bush met with then-Sri Lankan Prime Minister Wickremesinghe at the
White House and pledged U.S. support for peace and economic development in Sri Lanka. It was
the first visit to Washington by a Sri Lankan leader since 1984.
During a May 2007 visit to Colombo, the lead U.S. diplomat for the region, Assistant Secretary of
State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher, outlined key U.S. concerns about “the way
things have been heading” in Sri Lanka. First among these was the negative impact that armed
ethnic conflict was having on the people, both directly through terrorism and human rights
abuses, and indirectly by harming the country’s economy. In the area of human rights, Secretary
Boucher placed special emphasis on the increased incidence of abductions and unlawful killings,
as well as on widespread reports of government attempts to intimidate the press. He
acknowledged that the government of President Rajapaksa had voiced a commitment to
upholding human rights, but said “a lot more needs to be done” both in dealing with the behavior
of government security forces and in controlling “paramilitaries” (often a euphemism for the
Karuna faction, which broke away from the LTTE in 2004). He conveyed to Sri Lankan political
leaders of all stripes the U.S. position that consensus through the All Parties Representative
Committee—“a consensus that identifies for the Tamil community their role in the island, their
place, their control over various levels of government and their own lives”—represented the best 103
basis for future progress toward conflict resolution.
In August 2007 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a State Department
official offered that
Sri Lankas long-standing ethnic conflict, fragile peace process, and deteriorating human
rights conditions continue to cause concern for the United States and the international
community.... Our top policy priorities for Sri Lanka remain restoration of good governance
and respect for human rights leading to an eventual negotiated settlement. We believe that
finalizing a credible devolution of power proposal, together with ending human rights

103 See

violations and improving government accountability, are essential steps toward a lasting 104
He went on to review the ways in which the United States is supporting peace efforts, including
through the four-member Tokyo Conference mechanism, through USAID projects to promote
inter-ethnic dialogue, and by helping to fund humanitarian relief programs overseen by Save the
Children, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the World Food Program, and the International Committee of
the Red Cross.
The U.S. State Department first designated the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 105
1997. In 2003, then-Deputy Secretary of State Armitage reiterated that
if the LTTE can move beyond the terror tactics of the past and make a convincing case
through its conduct and its actual actions that it is committed to a political solution and to
peace, the United States will certainly consider removing the LTTE from the list of Foreign 106
Terrorist Organizations, as well as any other terrorism-related designations.
The LTTE has rejected calls that it renounce violence, saying it will do so only when the
aspirations of the Tamil people are met by a political settlement. The U.S.-led global anti-
terrorism campaign, which reportedly has resulted in the international withholding of several
billion dollars from the LTTE and made it more difficult for the group to acquire weapons, was a 107
likely factor in the rebels’ decision to enter into peace negotiations in late 2001.
The United States is by far Sri Lanka’s most important trade partner, accounting for more than
one-quarter of the country’s total exports. In 2007, U.S. imports from Sri Lanka were valued at an
estimated $2.1 billion (virtually unchanged from 2006). About two-thirds of this value came from
imports of apparel and household goods, most of them cotton. U.S. exports to Sri Lanka in 2007
were valued at an estimated $228 million (also roughly equal to the 2006 figure), led by drilling 108
and oil field equipment, which accounted for about one-third of the 2007 export value. Sri
Lanka’s Board of Investment reports that some 90 U.S.-based companies operate in Sri Lanka 109
with a total estimated investment of more than $500 million.
During Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s 2002 visit to Washington, the United States and Sri
Lanka signed a new Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to establish “a forum

104 Statement of Steven Mann, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs,
August 1, 2007, at
105 See the FTO list at
106Transcript: Armitage Says U.S., Other Nations Have Role in Ending Sri Lankan Conflict,” U.S. Department of
State Washington File, February 14, 2003.
107 “U.S. Seeks to Allay Sri Lanka Fears on Rebel Ban,Reuters, April 19, 2002; “Smiles That Conceal the Worries -
Sri Lankas Civil War, Economist (London), July 20, 2002.
108 U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics.
109 See

for Sri Lanka and the United States to examine ways to expand bilateral trade and investment.”
The agreement
creates a Joint Council to enable officials to consider a wide range of commercial issues, and
sets out basic principles underlying the two nations trade and investments relationship. The
Council also will establish a permanent dialogue with the expectation of expanding trade 110
and investment between the United States and Sri Lanka.
That year, several teams of U.S. officials traveled to Sri Lanka to explore avenues for
cooperation. During a November 2002 trip to Colombo, then-U.S. Deputy Trade Representative
Jon Huntsman asserted that the island must make its investment regime more transparent and
predictable if it was to attract greater U.S. private investment. One month later, then-Assistant
Secretary of Commerce for Trade Development William Lash was in Colombo to encourage
increased bilateral ties in the areas of information technology, education, and infrastructure. In
February 2003, then-Deputy Secretary of State Armitage asserted that “Sri Lanka is already a
solid exporter to the United States and has the potential with peace and the right reforms to 111
become a significant trade partner.” In March 2003, the second round of TIFA Joint Council
meetings were held in Washington. The tenor of these meetings was reportedly positive and 112
“progress was made on issues of concern to both countries.” In May 2003, then-U.S. Trade
Representative Zoellick stated that Sri Lanka showed potential as a future free trade partner of the 113
United States.
The U.S. government continues to urge Colombo to curb its large budget deficit, simplify the tax
code, and expand the tax base. It further urges the removal of non-tariff barriers and restrictive, 114
even discriminatory, import fees and levies to facilitate greater trade. A resurgence of violent
ethnonational conflict has precluded most major U.S.-Sri Lanka economic initiatives since 2006.
A total of nearly $3.7 billion in U.S. economic and military assistance went to Sri Lanka from
1947 through 2006, about two-thirds of this in the form of food aid. Direct U.S. non-food aid
included more than $14.5 million for FY2006 and an estimated $9.4 million in FY2007 (see
Table 2). About half of this was aimed at supporting the peace process through democracy and
governance programs. When funding for disaster relief, Food for Peace, and U.S. disbursements
to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
are included, total U.S. humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka exceeded $26 million in FY2007.
Other U.S. aid to Sri Lanka has focused on increasing the country’s economic competitiveness in
the global marketplace; creating and enhancing economic and social opportunities for
disadvantaged groups; promoting human rights awareness and enforcement; providing

110 “Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Between the U.S. and Sri Lanka,” at
111 U.S. Trade Representative, “United States and Sri Lanka Sign Trade and Investment Framework Agreement,” July
25, 2002; “U.S. Encourages Peacetime Sri Lanka to Diversify,Reuters, November 21, 2002; “U.S., Sri Lanka to Work
on Economic Ties,” Reuters, December 20, 2002.
112 Author interview with U.S. Trade Representative official, April 9, 2003.
113 “Thailand Near Top of U.S. List for Next Free Trade Pact, Bangkok Post, May 10, 2003.
114 Richard Boucher, “Remarks to the American Chamber of Commerce Colombo, Sri Lanka,” U.S. Department of
State, June 1, 2006.

psychological counseling to communities in the conflict zones; tsunami recovery efforts, and
demining (the FY2006 total included a significantly boosted demining fund).
From 2003 to 2005, USAID ran a two-year program intended to generate greater support for a
negotiated peace settlement to end the long-standing ethnic conflict. About three-quarters of the
FY2007 aid is to be used to support democracy, economic growth, and humanitarian assistance in
Sri Lanka. USAID works to “foster political reconciliation” and participates in “joint
reconstruction programs [with the Colombo government] that foster economic reintegration as 115
well as social reconciliation.” The Administration’s FY2008 request also included a modest,
but unprecedented INCLE program that would use $350,000 in U.S. aid to support law
enforcement reforms in Sri Lanka.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC, authorized by Congress in 2004) designated Sri
Lanka as an eligible country, and the country’s Finance Ministry has posted a $590 million, multi-
year proposal for poverty reduction and economic growth initiatives, but no compact was 116
signed. MCC eligibility largely is based on a country’s record measured by 17 performance
indicators related to the three categories of good governance, economic freedom, and investing in
people. Sri Lanka presently “passes” on 13 of the 17 indicators, with fiscal policy and education 117
expenditures being notable weak areas. The MCC previously reported an expectation that a
compact with Colombo could be signed for FY2008, but Sri Lanka’s deteriorating security
circumstances led to the country’s “de-selection” in 2007 and have thus far precluded U.S. aid 118
under this program. (See also CRS Report RL32427, Millennium Challenge Account).
The United States and Sri Lanka have maintained friendly military-to-military and defense
relations. According to the U.S. State Department, senior Sri Lankan military officers continue to
strongly support U.S. strategic goals and programs, and Sri Lanka continues to grant blanket
overflight and landing clearance to U.S. military aircraft, and routinely grants access to ports by
U.S. vessels. Modestly funded U.S. military training and defense assistance programs have in
recent years assisted in professionalizing the Sri Lankan military and provided the country with
basic infantry supplies such as boots, helmets, radios, flack vests, and night vision goggles, along
with maritime surveillance and interdiction equipment for the navy and communications and 119
mobility equipment to improve the army’s humanitarian and U.N. peacekeeping missions. The
Bush Administration insists that U.S. military assistance to Sri Lanka does not support Colombo’s
efforts to expand the country’s ethnic conflict, but rather is focused on bolstering the country’s 120
ability to defend itself against terrorism.

115 See
116 Proposal at
117 See
118 See During a May 2007 visit to Sri Lanka, Assistant Secretary of
State for South and Central Asia Boucher said thatthe security situation and the human rights situation” had cast
doubt on the ability to carry out planned road building projects, which remain on hold given “the current
circumstances (see
119 See annual Congressional Budget Justifications at
120 See

In 2002, a U.S. defense assessment team was sent to examine the training needs of the Sri Lankan
military, and then-State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Francis Taylor went to
Colombo to discuss ways to integrate “intelligence, law enforcement, legal and diplomatic efforts 121
against terrorism.” The two countries later signed an agreement to provide demining training to
the Sri Lankan military. The program cost roughly $2.2 million and ran for six months in 2003-122


The United States and Sri Lanka held their ninth consecutive joint military exercises in early
2003, with training focused on combined arms operations and medical techniques. The U.S. and
Sri Lankan navies also participated in a multilateral search and rescue exercise off the coast of 123
Madras. Also in 2003, Sri Lanka joined the U.S. Customs Container Security Initiative aimed
at preventing shipping from being used to transport weapons of mass destruction.
In June 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard transferred the donated USCG Cutter Courageous offshore
patrol vessel to the Sri Lankan Navy, which renamed it the SNLS P-621 Samadura and had it 124
retrofitted at the Newport News facility in Virginia. This was an important moment in U.S.-Sri
Lankan military relations, as it marked the first significant military hardware transfer between the
two nations. The ship has bolstered Sri Lanka’s ability to perform sea-borne interdictions.
The United States and Sri Lanka inked an Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement in March
2007. The pact, which creates a framework for increased military interoperability, allows for the
transfer and exchange of numerous logistics, support, and re-fueling services during joint
operations or exercises. A U.S. official visiting Sri Lanka during that month called it a “very
routine” and “fairly modest” barter arrangement that the United States has with 89 other 125
countries, and he emphasized that it has no wider applications beyond logistics.
In November 2007, the United States provided Sri Lanka with a radar-based maritime
surveillance system and several advanced inflatable boats under Section 1206 of the National
Defense Authorization. The Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Robert Willard,
visited Sri Lanka in mid-January to meet with his naval counterparts there and review ongoing
maritime cooperation. Adm. Willard noted for Sri Lankan officials that improvements in human 126
rights protection could lead to enhanced U.S.-Sri Lanka cooperation.
Human rights abuses in Sri Lanka largely have been associated with ethnic conflict and civil war;
they thus have increased in both number and severity since mid-2006. A June 2007 “donors’

121United States Help to Modernize Sri Lanka Military,” Agence France Presse, August 30, 2002;U.S.
Counterterrorism Official to Visit Sri Lanka,Reuters, September 24, 2002.
122U.S. Government Provides Sri Lankan Army with Demining Training,” U.S. Department of State Press Release,
August 22, 2003.
123U.S., Sri Lankan Militaries Cooperate in ‘Balance Style,’” U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka Press Release, January 14,
2003; “U.S. Naval Ship to Take Part in Rescue Exercise,” Hindu (Chennai), July 9, 2003.
124 “Admiral Sandagiri Accepts Transfer of Former U.S. Coast Guard Vessel ‘Courageous,” Embassy of Sri Lanka
Press Release, June 24, 2004.
125 “U.S. & Sri Lanka Sign Mutual Services Pact, U.S. Embassy Colombo Press Release, March 5, 2007; “Sri Lanka:
Development and Domestic Prosperity,” March 9, 2007, at
126 See

conference” focused on the island’s increasingly dire human rights situation. Later that month,
H.Res. 516, expressing serious concern regarding the worsening situation in Sri Lanka, was
introduced in the House, but has not moved out of committee to date. In the summer of 2007, tens
of thousands of Sri Lankans took to the streets of Colombo in anti-government protests organized
by the opposition UNP. The demonstrators called for new national elections, an end to rife 127
corruption, and swift action against human rights violators. Some analysts see occasional large-
scale and apparently arbitrary Sri Lankan government detentions—including a December 2007
sweep in and near the capital during which more than 2,500 Tamils were rounded up and 128
questioned for links to the LTTE—doing great damage to its credibility. Nongovernmental Sri 129
Lankan organizations regularly document the scope of the country’s humanitarian crisis.
The U.S. State Department, in its Sri Lanka Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2006
(issued in March 2007), determined that the Colombo government’s respect for the human rights 130
of its citizens “declined” in 2006 due in part to the breakdown of the ceasefire agreement.
State’s Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006 (issued in April 2007)
provided an overview of the major human rights concerns:
As a result of the escalating hostilities between the government and LTTE and numerous
violations of the cease-fire agreement by both sides, overall respect for human rights
declined in the affected areas. There were numerous, credible reports that armed paramilitary
groups, suspected of being linked to the government and security forces, participated in
armed attacks during the year. Human rights monitors also reported arbitrary arrests and
detention by security forces, poor prison conditions, denial of fair and public trials,
corruption and lack of transparency, infringement of religious freedom and freedom of
movement, and discrimination against minorities. Trafficking in persons also remained a
serious issue affecting women, children and men for the purposes of commercial sexual
exploitation and forced labor. The LTTE engaged in politically motivated killings, suicide
attacks, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, interference with privacy,
denial of freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, and recruitment of child
soldiers. Since the August 2005 killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the
government has regularly renewed emergency regulations that permitted arrests without 131
warrants and unaccountable detentions.
International human rights groups have issued numerous reports echoing these concerns.132 On
the issue of religious freedom in Sri Lanka, the State Department again reported in September

2007 that,

The constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place,” but Buddhism is not recognized as
the state religion. The constitution also provides for the right of members of other faiths to
freely practice their religion. While the Government publicly endorses this right, in practice 133
there were problems in some areas.

127Thousands Protest in Sri Lanka, Associated Press, July 26, 2007.
128 See, for example, B. Muralidhar Reddy, “Colombo Crackdown,” Frontline (Chennai), January 4, 2008.
129 See, for example, Center for Policy Alternatives, “Policy Brief on Humanitarian Issues, December 2007, at
130 See
131 See
132 See and
133 See

Such perceived problems included proposed anti-conversion laws, and legal restrictions and
sporadic attacks on Christian churches. The U.S. government found no change in the status of
respect for religious freedom in Sri Lanka in 2007. With regard to human trafficking, the State
Department’s latest annual report (issued in June 2007) determined that Colombo “does not fully
comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making
significant efforts to do so,” and it placed Sri Lanka on the “Tier 2 Watch List” for its “failure to
provide evidence of increasing efforts to address trafficking over the previous year, especially in 134
its efforts to punish trafficking for involuntary servitude.”
During his August 2007 visit to Sri Lanka, a top U.N. humanitarian official noted that dozens of
aid agency staff had been reported killed on the island since January 2006, and he identified Sri
Lanka as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian workers. Colombo
condemned the remarks, calling them a contribution to forces devoted to discrediting the Sri 135
Lankan government. The worst such attack in recent years involved the August 2006 murder of
17 local aid workers employed by a French nongovernmental organization operating near
Trincomalee. Colombo vowed to pursue a full investigation of the massacre, but much suspicion
fell upon government security forces themselves as being complicit, given that such an attack was
seen to serve no tactical purpose for the Tigers. One year later, with no arrests made in the case
and rights groups demanding swifter government action, a top Colombo official appeared to lay 136
blame on the French NGO, itself, for sending its employees into a known combat zone.
In August 2007, New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a sharp critique of Sri Lanka’s
worsening human rights situation, focusing particular attention on a “dramatic increase” in abuses
by government forces since 2006 and on Colombo’s alleged responsibility for “unlawful killings,
enforced disappearances, and other serious human rights violations,” most of them affecting
members of the country’s Tamil and Muslim minorities. The Sri Lankan government rejected
most of the allegations as baseless and unsubstantiated, saying that its largely successful efforts to 137
resolve issues such as disappearances and internal displacement had been ignored. London-
based Amnesty International has called on the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to address
a growing number of reported human rights violations by all parties to the conflict, including
failures to protect civilians, attacks on journalists, and a “persistent climate of impunity” that it 138
said required systematic monitoring and urgent investigations.
In 2006, a U.N. Special Rapporteur recommended establishing an International Human Rights
Monitoring Mission for Sri Lanka. The European Union subsequently took the lead in pushing for
creation of such a body and human rights advocates argue forcefully that it could “make it harder 139
for those who commit serious human rights abuses to deny responsibility.” Sri Lankan officials

134 See
135 “Sri Lanka Anger at UN Aid Claims, BBC News, August 10, 2007.
136 “Sri Lanka Slides Back Into Civil War,Janes Terrorism and Security Monitor, January 17, 2007; “Sri Lanka
Blames Aid Group in Killings,” Reuters, August 13, 2007.
137 Human Rights Watch, “Return to War: Human rights Under Siege, August 6, 2007, at
srilanka0807; “HRW Report Based On Unsubstantiated, Outdated Information,” Daily News (Colombo), August 8,
138 Amnesty International Public Statement, September 4, 2007.
139EU Committee Criticizes Sri Lanka for Human Rights ‘Abuses,’” BBC Monitoring South Asia, June 8, 2007; “Why

have resisted the initiative, viewing it as a threat to the country’s sovereignty. Some have accused
the LTTE of playing a human rights card when they are under particularly strong military 140
pressure. The Rajapaksa government reportedly mounted an energetic campaign to stall any 141
UNHCR support for establishment of a monitoring office in Sri Lanka.
In June 2007, an international panel of experts issued a scathing criticism of a human rights
investigatory commission created by President Rajapaksa in late 2006. The so-called President’s
Commission of Inquiry—faulted for both inaction and for an appearance of bias given the
involvement of the country’s attorney general—was seen to be conducted in a way “inconsistent
with international norms and standards.” A team of international observers later warned that the
body had made “no significant progress” and was failing to comply with basic international
norms and standards. In October, four of the body’s ten members resigned, claiming the
government was not serious about human rights protection and that violations had only increased 142
since the committee’s inception.
Over the course of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, thousands of children have been abducted
and forcefully recruited as soldiers. The U.N. Children’s Fund had confirmed more than 6,400
child abductions in Sri Lanka’s North and East provinces as of early 2007, the great majority of 143
these perpetrated by the LTTE. The Karuna faction has come under especially harsh criticism
for involvement in child abductions and forced recruitments. Elements of Sri Lankan military and
police forces are accused of assisting in such abductions. Colombo has responded to criticisms
from international human rights groups by flatly denying any government complicity or “willful 144
blindness” toward forced recruitments.
As fighting in the Sri Lanka’s East and North intensified in 2006 and throughout 2007, several
hundred thousand civilians were displaced from their homes. The great majority of these are
Tamils and Muslims. One report had intense March 2007 battles in Batticaloa creating about
95,000 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in just one week. Another report had fighting
between government forces and the rebels forcing more than 20,000 Sri Lankans to flee their 145
homes in the latter months of 2007. International human rights groups have urged all parties to
the conflict to protect civilians and allow access by humanitarian aid agencies, which are often

a United Nations Monitoring Mission Will Benefit Sri Lanka, Daily Mirror (Colombo), March 22, 2007.
140Cornered Tigers Clinging to HR Lifeline, Daily News (Colombo), October 16, 2007.
141International Sanctions in Sri Lanka, NoticiasFinancieras, September 21, 2007.
142Sri Lanka Human Rights Panel Is Criticized,” New York Times, June 15, 2007; “Lanka Abuse ProbeSet to Fail,’
BBC News, September 21, 2007; Sri Lankan Human Rights Advisors Quit,” Associated Press, October 15, 2007.
143 See
144 Human Rights Watch press releases at and
english/docs/2007/01/24/slanka15141.htm.HRW Allegations Baseless - Peace Secretariat,Daily News (Colombo),
January 27, 2007.
145UN Warns of Sri Lanka Food Crisis,” BBC News, March 20, 2007;
slanka17509.htm. At the end of 2007, the United Nations reported that most of the more than 200,000 refugees from
spring fighting around Batticaloa had been able to return to their homes.

blocked from entering conflict zones.146 The United Nations counts more than 300,000 people as 147
having remained in a state of “protracted displacement” for two decades.
As in many ethnic conflicts, Sri Lanka’s civil war has led to the “disappearance” of many
thousands of people. According to one report, more than 1,000 people are believed to have been 148
“disappeared” during the year ending June 2007. One nongovernmental report acknowledged
severe abuses by the LTTE while also accusing the Colombo government of “using extra-judicial
killings and enforced disappearances as part of a brutal counter-insurgency campaign” and
predicted that such tactics would lead to “further embitterment of the Tamil population and a 149
further cycle of war, terrorism, and repression.”
Table 2. Direct U.S. Assistance to Sri Lanka, FY2000-FY2008
(in millions of dollars)
Program or Account 2007 2008
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
(est.) (req.)
CSH 0.7 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3
DA 3.7 3.4 5.2 6.2 4.8 6.8 3.7 3.5 4.0
ESF 3.0 4.0 12.0 9.9 4.0 3.0
FMF — — — — 2.5 0.5 1.0 1.0a 0.9a
IMET 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.6 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.6
INCLE — — — — — — — 0.4
NADR — 2.4 1.8 2.7 3.6 1.4 1.2
TI — — — — — — 1.7
Subtotal 4.6 4.0 8.7 13.1 21.8 20.7 14.5 9.4 7.0
Food Aidb13.9 8.7 3.1 3.6 10.8 8.9 14.0
Total 4.6 17.9 17.4 16.2 25.4 31.5 23.4 23.4 7.0
Sources: U.S. Departments of State and Agriculture; U.S. Agency for International Development.
FY2007 amounts are estimates; FY2008 amounts are requested. Columns may not add up due to rounding.
CSH: Child Survival and Health
DA: Development Assistance

146 See, for example, an Amnesty International press release at
147 UNHCR press release at
148 Amnesty International press release at
149 International Crisis Group, “Sri Lankas Human Rights Crisis,” June 14, 2007, at

ESF: Economic Support Fund
FMF: Foreign Military Financing
IMET: International Military Education and Training
INCLE: International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement
NADR: Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related (mainly humanitarian demining assistance, but
includes modest anti-terrorism assistance to be increased in FY2008)
TI: Transition Initiatives (temporary development programs for post-conflict states)
a. An amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161) halted FMF funding, the
issuance of defense export licenses, and the transfer of military equipment or technology to Sri Lanka unless
the Secretary of State certifies to Congress that the Colombo government has undertaken a series of
actions related to human rights protection in Sri Lanka. The provision does not apply to assistance for
maritime and air surveillance and communications.
b. P.L. 480 Title II (grants), Section 416(b) of the Agricultural Act of 1949, as amended (surplus donations), and
Food for Progress. Food aid totals do not include freight costs.

Figure 1. Map of Sri Lanka
Source: Map Resources. Adapted by CRS.
K. Alan Kronstadt
Specialist in South Asian Affairs, 7-5415