Sri Lanka, formally the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is the island nation located in southern Asia, in the Indian Ocean, south of India. Slightly larger than the U.S. state of West Virginia, it has a land area of 64,740 sq km with a coastline of 1,340 km.
The island's contact with the outside world began early. Roman sailors called the island Taprobane. Arab traders knew it as "Serendip," the root of the word "serendipity." Beginning in 1505, Portuguese traders, in search of cinnamon and other spices, seized the island's coastal areas and spread Catholicism. The Dutch supplanted the Portuguese in 1658. Although the British ejected the Dutch in 1796, Dutch law remains an important part of Sri Lankan jurisprudence. In 1815, the British defeated the king of Kandy, last of the native rulers, and created the Crown Colony of Ceylon. They established a plantation economy based on tea, rubber, and coconuts. In 1931, the British granted Ceylon limited self-rule and a universal franchise. Ceylon became independent on February 4, 1948.
In 1972 Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in the ethnic conflict. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formalized a cease-fire in February 2002. Violence between the LTTE and government forces intensified in 2006 and the government regained control of the Eastern Province in 2007. In January 2008, the government officially withdrew from the ceasefire, and by late January 2009, the LTTE remained in control of a small and shrinking area of Mullaitivu district in the North.
Sri Lanka's climate is mostly tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October). Its terrain is low, flat to rolling plains with mountains in the south-central interior. Sri Lanka's natural resources include: limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, and hydropower. In July 2009 it was estimated that Sri Lanka's population was about 21 million. The capital city of Colombo lies on the southwestern coast of the island.
CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 9/2009;9/2008