Sri Lanka, whose name means "resplendent land," is a tropical island nation just 20 miles off the southern coast of India. Sri Lanka's natural beauty belies the ethnic conflict that plagued the nation for nearly 20 years. The Sinhalese, who are primarily Buddhist and represent 74 percent of the population, have been involved in a civil war with the minority Tamil people, who are Hindu and represent 9 percent of the population.
A cease-fire agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in January 2002 brought hopes for a peaceful resolution of the 20-year conflict. Once one of the most promising developing nations in Asia, today Sri Lanka is a poor country. Its economy is based largely on agriculture, but the predominantly hilly terrain does not yield enough to feed the population. Sri Lanka imports such basic foods as rice,
wheat and sugar while vast tea, coconut and rubber plantations export their products.