Lying off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka
has attracted visitors for centuries with its natural beauty.
But it has been scarred by a long and bitter civil war arising out of
ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in
After more than 25 years of violence the conflict ended in May 2009,
when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger
rebels. But recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.
The island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence after the 16th
century, and Britain began its conquest in the 1790s.
Workers prepare an elephant for the opening night of the annual Kandy
Esala Perahera festival in Kandy on 27 July 2009
Historic Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of Sri
Lankan Buddhism's most revered sites
There was a long-established Tamil minority in the north and east, and
Britain also brought in Tamil labourers to work the coffee and tea
plantations in the central highlands. This made the island, then called
Ceylon, a major tea producer.
The majority Buddhist Sinhalese resented what they saw as British
favouritism towards the mainly-Hindu Tamils.
The growth of assertive Sinhala nationalism after independence fanned
the flames of ethnic division, and civil war erupted in the 1980s
against Tamils pressing for self-rule.
Most of the fighting took place
in the north. But the conflict also penetrated the heart of Sri Lankan
society, with Tamil Tiger rebels carrying out devastating suicide
bombings in the capital Colombo in the 1990s.
The violence killed more than 70,000 people, damaged the economy and
harmed tourism in one of South Asia's potentially most prosperous
International concern was raised about the fate of civilians caught up
in the conflict zone during the final stages of the war, the confinement
of some 250,000 Tamil refugees to camps for months afterwards, and
allegations that the government had ordered the execution of captured or