Sri Lanka's South Rebuilds After Conflict

AS the north and east plunge into a Tamil-Sinhalese war, Sri Lanka's south emerges from a different guerrilla war fought among the majority Sinhalese. This saw the nation's youth carry out a massive uprising against the government under the Marxist banner of the People's Liberation Front or JVP. ``Things got so bad,'' says Ranjan Wijeratne, plantations minister and state minister of defense. ``People thought the government would fall any moment.''

Under Mr. Wijeratne's direction, the Sri Lankan security forces responded with ferocity and crushed the People's Liberation Front. But the conflict cost over 30,000 lives, mostly civilians.

Chief among the causes of the conflict, according to a government commission, were high rates of unemployment and inflation, coupled with a political patronage system that controlled nearly every job in the government sector.

The situation was aggravated by the high literacy rate - almost 90 percent of the 16 million population - and the estimated 400,000 students who enter the job market each year.

Acting on the commission's recommendations, President Ranasinghe Premadasa has moved to solve those problems. He now backs merit-based recruitment for government jobs and is establishing regional colleges to provide rural youth with employment closer to home.

The economy has bounced back. GNP growth is expected to top 5 percent in 1990 from a low of 1 percent last year. Foreign investors are renewing their interest in buying state-owned enterprises as Mr. Premadasa moves to further privatize industry. Tourists are flocking back to the island's pristine beaches.

All that, however, is threatened by the newest outbreak of violence in the northeast.

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