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Research Report

Political Economy of Internal Conflict in Sri Lanka

S.W.R. de A. Samarasinghe
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2003
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 122

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[ii])
  2. (pp. 1-4)
  3. (pp. 7-8)

    This paper is part of a larger research project, 'Coping with Internal Conflict' (CICP), which was executed by the Conflict Research Unit of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael' for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The CICP, which was finalized at the end of 2002, consisted of three components: 'Political Economy of Internal Conflict': 'Managing Group Grievances and Internal Conflict; and 'Security Sector Reform'. This paper was written in the framework of the research component 'Political Economy of Internal Conflict'.

    Addressing the political economy of internal conflict calls for policies on the basis of good analysis. The purpose...

  4. (pp. 9-12)
  5. (pp. 13-18)

    This paper is an analytical study of the political economy of Sri Lanka’s violent civil conflict that has lasted over twenty years.¹ The widely accepted generic definition of the term ‘political economy’ means ‘the political basis of economic decision making and economic basis of political decisionmaking.² Pyt Douma in a paper specifically prepared for the project under which the present paper is written has provided a more focused definition of the of the political economy of war as:

    ‘the way in which economic resources are generated and exploited by participating factions and actors, internal and external, located in specific areas...

  6. (pp. 19-24)

    We divided the actors involved in the conflict or have some association with the conflict into two broad categories, local and international. However, the distinction can be blurred in some instances. For example, the multi-national corporations and the international NGOs that operate in Sri Lanka are international in origin but function locally, usually with local partners. Subject to this grey area the local/international distinction is a useful typology for our analysis.

    From an ethnic perspective the principal actors in the current conflict are the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils. This basic division is not without its own complications. The...

  7. (pp. 25-42)

    In the fifty years since independence Sri Lanka has failed to build an all-inclusive state to accommodate its multi-ethnic polity. The Sinhalese in general view the state and the role that it plays as the natural outcome of the exercise of the rights of a democratic majority. At Independence in 1948 the then Tamil leaders demanded parity of status for the minorities in the legislature - 50% of the seats for the Sinhalese and the balance 50% for the minorities. The Sinhalese viewed this demand as not only unreasonable but also as an example of Tamils wanting more than fair...

  8. (pp. 43-52)

    A field investigation was conducted as a component of this study with the objective of detailed probing into the impact of the on-going armed confrontations between the security forces of the government and the secessionist militants on the economy at the level of the individual household and that of the communities from which the combatants are drawn. In addition, the investigation was aimed at gaining an understanding of the prevailing perceptions at the grassroots of society on the micro-economic impact of the war. For reasons relating to difficulties of access to areas that are under the control of the militants,...

  9. (pp. 53-64)

    Insurgencies must achieve certain goals to grow and prosper. These include:





    The LTTE has achieved a high degree of cohesion by recruiting to its fighting cadres and other ranks exclusively from one ethnic group, the Tamil community. They have a shared grievance to motivate them and a shared ideology to guide them. The LTTE has also successfully propagated this culture among large sections of the Diaspora community. Interestingly, the LTTE also did not tolerate any rivals who challenged them or had the potential to challenge them. Such individuals or groups have been largely eliminated or silenced....

  10. (pp. 65-72)

    There are two major sets of actors in civil society that are relevant to the political economy of the Sri Lankan war. They are the business community and NGOs/PVOs (Private Voluntary Organizations, and CBOs (Community-Based Organization).68 We do not include overtly political organizations such as political parties in the second category although they are also a part of civil society. Only those that are engaged in social welfare, humanitarian relief, and advocacy and research related to human rights and related subjects are considered in this discussion.

    The privates sector has been declared as the ‘engine of growth’ in the post-1977...

  11. (pp. 73-82)

    Attempting to assess the impact of development aid on internal/regional conflict is a task made more challenging by the complex nature of countries/regions involved in the conflicts and the very complexity of the conflicts themselves. It is difficult if not impossible to isolate and demonstrate a chain of causality or quantify impacts when so many factors enmesh and intertwine: history, politics, economics, ethnicity and culture.

    Recent years have seen a growing interest in the donor community as to the potential intended and unintended consequences of development aid in situations of violent conflict. Mary Anderson’s simple yet powerful dictum ‘Do No...

  12. (pp. 83-86)

    India has had a special role in Sri Lanka’s conflict. It stems from several factors. First, it is the regional power of South Asia and thus exerts a considerable influence on the activities of its immediate neighbours. The rest of the international community, especially the sole super power USA and western countries in general, tacitly acknowledge this hegemonic role, at least in regard to the affairs of Sri Lanka, especially the war.

    Second, India has arrogated to itself the right to insist that the smaller countries in the region do nothing that would jeopardise India’s own security interests. In regard...

  13. (pp. 87-90)

    The changes in the political economy of a country caused by a war could have an impact on governance. In principle two major avenues can be identified to impart such impact. One is the growing strength of the military as an institution. Second, war expenditure and war-related incomes redistribute economic power within society leading to new sources of political influence.

    Two abortive military coups have taken place in the fifty-four year history of independent Sri Lanka. However, both took place in the 1960s when the country’s army was a little more than a ceremonial outfit. In the past two decades...

  14. (pp. 91-94)

    Commentators are sharply divided on the appropriate development strategy that should be followed in Sri Lanka to resolve the conflict in the context of a plural society that has been ravaged by a brutal protracted war. Some argue a political-economy model of development and governance that explicitly factors in ethnic pluralism and devolution. Others are strongly opposed to devolution. Many advocate power sharing at the centre as an economically more efficient and politically less divisive solution. This probably is the most important question in political economy that needs to be answered if Sri Lanka is to move towards peace. For...

  15. (pp. 95-104)

    In December 2001 the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire. In the same month in parliamentary elections the People’s Alliance (PA) government of Chandrika Kumaratunga was replaced by a United National Front (UNF) administration led by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

    Wickremesinghe campaigned on a peace platform that promised negotiations with the Tigers as an alternative to the two-pronged strategy of war-for-peace and constitutional change that president Kumaratunga followed. The change of government saw the Norwegians return as facilitators of the peace process. On February 22, 2002 the government of Sri Lanka and LTTE signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlined a program...

  16. (pp. 105-114)

    In this concluding chapter we address three major questions and seek answers to them based on the previous discussions in this paper. The questions are:

    How did the different actors sustain and protect their own interests during the war and what sort of alliances, if any, were formed and for what reason?

    Why did the conflict move towards a ceasefire and peace talks in 2002?

    What are the political economy considerations for peace and reconstruction?

    All three issues involve a complex of factors. However, in this analysis we shall largely limit ourselves to political economy factors as defined in Chapter...

  17. (pp. 115-120)