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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Electronic Information and Publications Office > Photo Gallery > Photos by Regions and Topics > South and Central Asia > Sri Lanka

Post of the Month: Colombo

State Magazine
June 1, 2004

Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead and NGO Director K.S. Lankathilake open a USAID housing reconstruction project to build 100 homes in Deniyaya province.What’s been billed as "the best place in South Asia to live" is also the site of a brutal 20-year war that left approximately 64,000 dead. The country that spawned the word "serendipity" is also the home of some of the world’s most devastating suicide bomb attacks. The migration of people into and around the island has created today’s multilayered patchwork of Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Parsees, Dutch Burghers, Veddahs, expatriates and, increasingly, tourists.

Sri Lanka leads the region with strong development ratings in literacy, life expectancy, low infant mortality and per capita income. The population of Colombo, the capital, has the highest income and education levels in the nation. The capital is a lovely city with shady residential streets, busy commercial districts and a swath of green bordering the sea. Buildings are painted rainbow colors and the traffic congestion could be worse. Elephants and oxcarts are common. The roads, however, especially outside Colombo, need repair, as does much of the nation’s infrastructure. Now that peace has come, water and power projects are getting plenty of attention from donors, but progress is slow.

Sri LankaThe U.S. Embassy and American Center sit on the coast looking toward the Republic of Maldives, 400 miles to the west. The embassy is responsible for that island nation as well, requiring officers to travel there frequently. While providing relief from the tropical heat, salty sea breezes degrade facilities and keep the maintenance staff busy. Buddhist and Hindu temples sit next to mosques and churches. New stores, restaurants and coffee shops have opened with no sign of the curfews and wartime roadblocks. Shopping remains a favorite pastime of the local and expatriate population.

After years of conflict, a ceasefire agreement signed in February 2002 brought peace between the Tiger terrorists and the government. Six rounds of peace negotiations were concluded before talks were suspended in 2003. Now, pending a final peace settlement, the Tamil Eelam exercises de facto control in parts of the North and East. During the war, much of the island was offlimits to residents and foreigners. After the ceasefire, many visited those areas for the first time in 20 years. In late 2001, a new Sri Lankan government emerged—one committed to resolving the conflict in a peaceful manner and promising to pursue major economic reforms. In response, the U.S. government increased its level of bilateral engagement, seeing a unique opportunity for early involvement in the resolution of a seemingly intractable situation. If Sri Lanka could settle its conflict peacefully, it could be a model for the region and the world. Read more in the June 2004 issue of State magazine.


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