Nestling off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has beguiled travellers for centuries with its palm-fringed beaches, diverse landscapes and historical monuments.
But the island has been scarred by a bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions. After nearly two decades of violence, a ceasefire was signed in 2002, but it broke down in January 2008, leading to renewed fierce fighting.
Known as "Serendip" to Arab geographers, the island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence and finally came under British rule when it was called Ceylon.
NATION AT WAR
Army and Tamil separatists are engaged in conflict involving air raids, roadside blasts, suicide bombings, land and sea battles
More than 50,000 killed
1983 - start of war
2002 - ceasefire is signed but violence escalates in 2006
2008 - Ceasefire ends, renewed fighting erupts
2009 - Government says army offensive has left the Tamil Tigers close to defeat and cornered in a small area of the north-east
There is a long-established Tamil minority in the north and east. The British also brought in Tamil labourers to work the coffee and tea plantations in the central highlands, making the island a major tea producer.
But the majority Buddhist Sinhalese community resented what they saw as favouritism towards the mainly-Hindu Tamils under British administration.
The growth of a more assertive Sinhala nationalism after independence fanned the flames of ethnic division until civil war erupted in the 1980s between Tamils pressing for self-rule and the government.
Most of the fighting took place in the north. But the conflict also penetrated the heart of Sri Lankan society with Tamil Tiger rebels carrying out devastating suicide bombings in Colombo in the 1990s.
The violence killed more than 60,000 people, damaged the economy and harmed tourism in one of South Asia's potentially prosperous societies.
A ceasefire and a political agreement reached between the government and rebels in late 2002 raised hopes for a lasting settlement. But Norwegian-brokered peace talks stalled and monitors reported open violations of the truce by the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.
Escalating violence between the two sides in 2006 killed hundreds of people and raised fears of a return to all-out war. In January 2008, the government said it was withdrawing from the 2002 ceasefire agreement. The ceasefire expired a fortnight later.
Following a renewal of fighting, in January 2009 government troops captured the northern town of Kilinochchi, held for ten years by the Tigers as their administrative headquarters.
The government said a sustained army offensive had left the Tigers close to defeat and cornered in a small area of the north-east.
International concerns have been raised about the fate of the estimated 70,000 to 200,000 civilians caught up in the conflict zone.
Eventhough the Tamil Tigers are apparently close to defeat, this may still be of interest to people.