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Colonization and Ethnic Conflict in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka

  • Patrick Peebles


Sri lanka's inability to contain ethnic violence as it escalated from sporadic terrorism to mob violence to civil war in recent years has disheartened observers who had looked to the nation as a success story of social and political development. In retrospect, Sri Lanka lacked effective local institutions to integrate the society, and the Sinhalese elite relied on welfare and preferential policies for the Sinhalese majority to maintain power. These alienated the minorities and resulted in Tamil demands for a separate state. This article documents one of the more intractable areas in which ethnic conflict has arisen, land “colonization.” Both major parties competed for the votes of the Sinhalese, but the creation of agricultural settlements in the undeveloped interior of the island, or colonization, is associated primarily with the United National Party (UNP). During the UNP government of recently retired President Junius Richard Jayewardene (1977–88), both the level of violence and the pace of colonization in the Dry Zone between the Sinhalese and Tamil majority areas increased.



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