The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka: Terrorism, Ethnicity, Political Economy

by Asoka Bandarage

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London: Routledge, 2008.   ISBN-10: 0415776783   ISBN-13: 978-0415776783

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“The indispensable book for our confused times”- Sri Lanka Daily Mirror

The book provides a detailed historically-based analysis of the origin, evolution and potential resolution of the civil conflict in Sri Lanka over the struggle to establish a separate state in its Northern and Eastern provinces. This conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the secessionist LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is one of the world’s most intractable contemporary armed struggles. The internationally banned LTTE is considered the prototype of modern terrorism. It is known to have introduced suicide bombing to the world, and recently became the first terrorist organization ever to acquire an air force.

The ‘iron law of ethnicity’ – the assumption that cultural difference inevitably leads to conflict – has been reinforced by the 9/11 attacks and conflicts like the one in Sri Lanka. However, the connections among ethnic difference, conflict, and terrorism are not automatic. This book broadens the discourse on the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka by moving beyond the familiar bipolar Sinhala versus Tamil ethnic antagonism to show how the form and content of ethnicity are shaped by historical social forces. It develops a multipolar analysis which takes into account diverse ethnic groups, intra-ethnic, social class, caste and other variables at the local, regional and international levels. Overall, this book presents a conceptual framework useful for comparative global conflict analysis and resolution, shedding light on a host of complex issues such as terrorism, civil society, diasporas, international intervention and secessionism.


In a very thorough and scholarly text, the author brilliantly combines two objectives: (a) a detailed discussion of the civil conflict in Sri Lanka and (b) the application of associated issues and perspectives common to major insurrections occurring elsewhere in the world.

Dr. Robert H. Stoddard, Geography Program, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE

The indispensable book for our confused times. …With meticulous research and substantial evidence…she has surveyed the broad spectrum of issues befuddling the Sri Lankan conflict and dissected the tangled tissues to expose the realities behind them dissected the tangled tissues to expose the realities behind them…her alternative perspective incorporates the many different dimensions of the conflict at the local, regional and international levels including majority Sinhala Buddhist concerns, divergent Tamil concerns, Muslim concerns, South Indian nationalism, international community agendas and so on. In other words, she is not advancing a narrow Sinhala-Buddhist perspective to counter the dominant Tamil elitist perspective. She has presented a very objective analysis based on historical and contemporary ground realities, taking in the latest national and international currents, which needs to be considered in policymaking, particularly in peacemaking which is the next step in the Sri Lankan conflict…

H.L.D.Mahindapala, Sri Lanka Daily Mirror

Overall, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka provides a frank and detailed account of the civil war between Colombo and the LTTE. The text is well structured and thankfully devoid of excessively complex language. …[Bandarage]sets out a lucid argument and for the most part advances a reasoned analysis to support her case…it can be recommended as a useful and relatively accessible reference volume, both on the LTTE separatist campaign as a whole as well as on key events relevant to this conflict and Sri Lankan political violence in general.

Dr. Peter Chalk, Rand Corporation, USA and University of Queensland, Australia

…a unique and timely contribution…proving that the conflict needs to be looked as “multipolar in nature.” Any solution of the problem needs to underscore this dimension…the local conflict has been influenced by the socio-economic political impact of globalization and therefore has worldwide consequence. …Conflicts…emerge in the context of … economic and political structures and unequal distribution of wealth and power between groups at local, regional and international levels. An important contribution…Congratulations.

Dr. Bishnu Poudel, National Advisory Council – South Asian Affairs, U.S.A.

Dr. Bandarage’s wide-ranging analysis of the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka demonstrates the complex historical and contextual roots of the ongoing power struggle, but it also suggests that no easy solutions are emerging through globalization processes.…Globalization is raising the applicability of universal human rights principles in Sri Lanka and other conflicts around the world, but globalization is also resulting in more outside factors interfering in local conflicts – with consequences that are not always positive.

Prof. Fathali Moghaddam, Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at Georgetown University

…an immensely readable book that relates a gripping tale to the lay reader…takes the reader through the historical underpinnings of the conflict, its British colonial history, the background events that led to the 1983 riots, the Indian intervention and its failure, and into the current internationalization of the conflict with its ramifications. …Most importantly, Dr. Bandarage has brought into the equation the new factors that have serious impact on the political resolution of the conflict. Policy makers need to take into account the more complete story presented by her.…It is a book for every student of Sri Lankan politics and history, and in fact is one that Sri Lankans should have on their bookshelves as an information resource and reminder of a segment of history that must never be allowed to repeat.

Dr. Mahes Ladduwahetty, The Island

Asoka Bandarage’s “The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka: Terrorism, Ethnicity, Political Economy” is the best book on the events that led to the ending of Sri Lanka’s protracted fight with the LTTE. Bandarage meticulously chronicles the cycles of war and peace between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

Unlike most other books on Sri Lanka, Bandarage discuss the international dimension of the Sri Lankan conflict. She covers both the role of foreign governments and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, including the segments infitrated by the LTTE. The discussion on Indian intervention, where India signed an accord with Sri Lanka and dispatched an Indian Peace Keeping Force is exceptionally good. Bandarage’s book is invaluable as it discusses in detail the role of Norway, begining as a facilitator and a mediator and eventually ending up as a participant. Bandarage also discuss the role of civil society organizations, an area that has not been adequately covered in other comparable publications.

Rohan Gunaratna, Professor of Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1. Conceptual Frameworks: Broadening the Discourse
  • 2. Prelude: The British Colonial Period and Early Years of Independence
  • 3. From Class Struggle to Ethnic Separatism, 1971-1977
  • 4. Liberalization, Authoritarianism, and Communal Violence, 1977-1983
  • 5. Internationalization of the Secessionist Struggle, 1983-1987
  • 6. Indian Intervention, Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and Intensification of Violence, 1987-1994
  • 7. A ‘Peace Package’, War, and the International Community, 1994-2002
  • 8. Norwegian Facilitated Peace Initiative, 2002-2008
  • 9. Globalization and Conflict Resolution: Separatism or Pluralism?
  • Notes
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index

288 pp.