Jaffna (jăfˈnə) [key], peninsula, northernmost part of Sri Lanka, separated from India by Palk Strait. The peninsula is densely inhabited, largely by Tamil-speaking people. Jaffna suffered under the Portuguese and Dutch occupations of the 17th–18th cent. Tobacco, rice, coconuts, palmyra palm, and vegetables are grown; fishing is an important occupation. The main industries are salt, cement, chemical, and tobacco production. The city of Jaffna (1995 est. pop. 135,000), on the southwestern portion of the peninsula, on Jaffna Lagoon, is a regional trade center with a small port. The Univ. of Jaffna is there. The city includes Nallur, capital of the independent Tamil kingdom conquered by the Portuguese in 1617.
The center of an independent kingdom from the 13th to the 15th cent., Jaffna was occupied by the Portuguese (1617–1658) and the Dutch (1658–1795) until the British conquest. Since the 1980s it has been the center of violent Tamil resistance against Sinhalese dominance in Sri Lanka. Guerrilla groups, particularly the Liberation Tigers, which has controlled portions of the peninsula at various times since 1986, have tried to transform the peninsula and E Sri Lanka into an independent nation called Tamil Eelam. Indian troops occupied the peninsula from 1988 to 1990 in an attempt to help quell the rebellion. In 2009 Sri Lanka forces again reopened a land route along the peninsula to the city of Jaffna. The Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami caused destruction and loss of life on peninsula.