Conflict Mediation: Ethnic Conflict and War
SINCE THE LATE 1970s, no issue has dominated Sri Lankan society as much as the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government. The conflict grew out of a long-standing sense of deprivation felt by the Tamil population of the country. During the British era the Tamils adapted to the English language and British cultural mores more readily than the Sinhalese. As a result, the British rewarded them with important places in the colonial bureaucracy. However, after independence, the Sinhalese attempted to assert a dominant role in the society, and conflict resulted.
At first the Tamil leadership sought more control over their affairs. The emergence of the Federal Party as the dominant party in the Sri Lanka Tamil areas was the result of their strong advocacy for federalism and regional autonomy for the Tamils. Its success in replacing the Tamil Congress as the dominant Sri Lanka Tamil party can be attributed to this advocacy. Until the 1970s the Federal Party demanded a federal system of government in Sri Lanka so that the Tamils could control their own affairs. In the mid-1970s, with the creation of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the Federal Party escalated its demands to include the creation of an independent state for the Tamils.
The Federal Party's demands for greater autonomy were fueled by several concerns. The first was the language issue. As long as the British ruled Sri Lanka, an alien language--English--was imposed on the people. As soon as the British left the island, the issue emerged as an important point of contention. When the Official Language Act of 1956 specified Sinhala as the sole official language of Sri Lanka, the Tamils feared that they would be denied employment in government jobs, which would now require proficiency in Sinhala; that they would be unable to understand government legal proceedings, which would now be held in Sinhala; and that they would be left out of the commercial life of the society, which would now be conducted in Sinhala. The government responded