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Sri Lanka Table of Contents

Sri Lanka


The most immediate threats to Sri Lankan national security in 1988 were internal rather than external. The Tamil insurgency was the most severe of these, involving a changing number of heavily armed terrorist groups that carried out attacks on military and civilian targets throughout the island and, for most of 1986, actually controlled the Jaffna Peninsula (see fig. 1). A second source of instability came from leftist nationalist Sinhalese groups opposed to Tamil autonomy. The chief among these, the JVP, launched a short-lived insurrection in 1971 that came close to toppling the government of Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike. After a period of open participation in the political system, the JVP resumed its violent antigovernment activities in the 1980s, and expanded its following considerably at the time of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987. The government also faced a growing problem of civil violence that seriously threatened the democratic process. This unrest stemmed not only from the continuing ethnic conflict but also from a general economic malaise that increasingly prevented young men from playing productive roles in society (see Labor , ch. 3). The problem of a restless, unemployed youth, although separate from the ethnic difficulties, was instrumental in providing a fertile recruiting ground for extremists in search of a following.

Throughout the 1980s, external threats to the nation's security were long term rather than immediate and tended to involve the rivalry between regional and world superpowers for influence over the Indian Ocean. The port of Trincomalee, one of the best natural harbors in the world, has long been attractive to foreign nations interested in Indian Ocean bases. India has expressed a determination to prevent either the United States or the Soviet Union from establishing a naval presence there, and the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord helped confirm the Indian claim of regional leadership.

Data as of October 1988