The teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka is separated from India by the Palk Strait. Ethnic Tamil rebels – the Tamil Tigers – were defeated in 2009, after a brutal 26-year civil war.
Geography: The main island is dominated by rugged central highlands. Fertile northern plains are dissected by rivers. Much of the land is tropical jungle.
Climate: Tropical, with breezes on the coast and cooler air in highlands. Northeast is driest and hottest.
People and Society: The Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist, while Tamils are mostly Hindu. Moors are the Muslim descendants of Arab traders. Tamils were the minority group favoured by the British colonists. Majority-Sinhalese power since independence in 1948 fuelled tensions, erupting into civil war in 1983. The eventual government victory in 2009 made this the only rebel insurgency ever defeated in modern times.
The Economy: Garment industry. Remittances. Major tea exporter. Civil war drained government funds, deterred investors and tourists. Tsunami damage in 2004.
Insight: Sri Lanka elected the world’s first woman prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in 1960
Official Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Date of Formation: 1948
Population: 20.2 million
Total Area: 25,332 sq. miles (65,610 sq. km)
Density: 810 people per sq. mile
Languages: Sinhala*, Tamil*, English
Religions: Buddhist 69%, Hindu 15%, Muslim 8%, Christian 8%
Ethnic Mix: Sinhalese 82%, Tamil 9%, Moor 8%, other 1%
Government: Parliamentary system
Currency: Sri Lanka rupee = 100 cents