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Is peace possible for Sri Lanka?

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The year 2002 brings some reason for hope after 19 years of brutal civil war in the beautiful island nation of Sri Lanka. The South Asian country is home to one of the longest and bloodiest ongoing conflicts in the world as the armed separatist Tamil Tigers fight to establish an independent state for the country's Tamil minority. In this 2002 report from CBC-TV's Special Assignment, Bill Cunningham explores the recent and bloody history of Sri Lanka, from the beginnings of its civil war to the present day and its possibility for peace.

Warning: this clip contains graphic images of violence.

• The Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a ceasefire agreement in February 2002 and began peace talks on Sept. 16, 2002, two weeks after this broadcast. The LTTE dropped its long-standing demand for a separate state and the two sides exchanged prisoners of war for the first time. Five more rounds of talks ensued before the LTTE pulled out of negotiations in April 2003. • Tensions rose after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004; Sri Lanka received $3 billion US in foreign aid, but questions arose over control and distribution of aid money to LTTE-held regions of the country. A resolution was reached in 2005, but violence between the two sides was increasing by that time. It began in earnest in early 2006 after a suicide bomber struck a military compound in the capital Colombo. The military launched retaliatory air strikes. The government officially pulled out of the ceasefire in 2008.

• The United Nations estimates that 3,000 civilians were killed between the resumption of hostilities in 2006 and January 2009.

• The Sri Lankan civil war has killed over 70,000 people, including civilians, as of January 2008, the 25th year of the conflict. Tens of thousands more have been injured and displaced from their homes.

• The LTTE, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, are classified as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including Canada and the U.S.

• According to 2006 census figures, there are over 138,000 Tamils living in Canada. More than half of that number (72,715) live in Toronto, meaning the city has the largest Tamil population anywhere outside of Sri Lanka.

• The name Sri Lanka means "resplendent land" in Sanskrit. The country was known in English as Ceylon until 1972.

Medium: Television
Program: Special Assignment
Broadcast Date: Sept. 6, 2002
Guest(s): Chandrika Kumaratunga, Teresita Schaffer, Matjit Singh
Host: Bill Cunningham
Duration: 23:00

Last updated: November 18, 2013

Page consulted on August 15, 2014

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