Sri Lankan Civil War

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Conflict and Peace

Sri Lankan civil war

Sri Lankan Army Airborne Commandos
Date July 1983 – present
Location Sri Lanka
Result Ongoing
Sharp disagreements between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities
Military of Sri Lanka
Indian Peace Keeping Force
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Junius Richard Jayawardene (1983-89)

Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-93)
Dingiri Banda Wijetunge (1993-94)
Chandrika Kumaratunga (1994-2005)
Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-present)

Velupillai Prabhakaran (1983-present)
111,000 11,000
Sri Lankan Civil War
First – IPKF - Second - Third – Fourth

Battles & operations – Bombings and terrorist attacks – Massacres

The Sri Lankan Civil War is an ongoing conflict on the island-nation of Sri Lanka. Since the year 1983, there has been on-and-off civil war, predominantly between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a separatist militant organization who fight to create an independent state named Tamil Eelam in the North and East of the island. It is estimated that the war has claimed the lives of more than 68,000 people since 1983 and it has caused significant harm to the population and economy of the country, as well as leading to the ban of the LTTE as a terrorist organization across much of the developed world including in the United States, the European Union and Canada. Hopes of a lasting peace were raised when a cease-fire was declared in December 2001, and a ceasefire agreement was signed with international mediation in 2002. However renewed hostilities broke out in late 2005 and have continued to escalate, resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 people since November 2005.

Officially, both sides continue to reaffirm their commitment to the ceasefire agreement, although the government has launched a number of military offensives in recent months and driven the LTTE out of virtually the entire Eastern province of the island, and on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the agreement the LTTE declared they would "resume their freedom struggle to achieve statehood".


Outbreak of civil war

Frustrated by the ongoing politics in Sri Lanka, Tamil youth started to form militant groups, some funded by bank robberies. The most prominent of these was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE. The LTTE initially carried out a campaign of low intensity violence against the state, particularly targeting policemen. Their first major operation was the assassination of the mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah in 1975.

In July 1983, the LTTE launched a deadly attack on the military in the north of the country killing 13 soldiers and sparking riots in Colombo, the capital, and elsewhere (see Black July). Between 400 and 3,000 Tamils were estimated to have been killed, and many more fled Sinhalese-majority areas. This is usually considered the beginning of the civil war.

Apart from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, there initially was a plethora of militant groups. The LTTE's position, adopted from that of the PLO, was that there should be only one. Initially the LTTE gained prominence due to devastating attacks such as the massacre of civilians at the Kent and Dollar Farms in 1984 and the Anuradhapura massacre of 146 civilians in 1985. Over time the LTTE merged with or largely exterminated almost all the other militant Tamil groups. As a result, many Tamil splinter groups ended up working with the Sri Lankan government as paramilitaries, and there remain legitimate Tamil-oriented political parties opposed to LTTE's vision of an independent state.

Peace talks between the LTTE and the government were begun in Thimphu in 1985, but they soon failed, and the war continued. In 1987, government troops pushed the LTTE fighters to the northern city of Jaffna. In April 1987, the conflict exploded with ferocity, as both the government forces and the LTTE fighters engaged each other in a series of bloody operations.

In July 1987, the LTTE carried out their first suicide attack: " Captain Miller" of the Black Tigers drove a small truck with explosives through the wall of a fortified Sri Lankan army camp, reportedly killing forty soldiers. Since then they have carried out over 170 suicide attacks, more than any other organization in the world, and the suicide attack has become a trademark of the LTTE, and a characteristic of the civil war.

Indian involvement

Sri Lankan Conflict

Sri Lanka History of Sri Lanka
Origins of the Civil War
Origins of the Civil War
Black July • Riots and pogroms
Human rights • State terrorism
Tamil militant groups
LTTE • Notable attacks Terrorist attacks • Attributed assassinations • Child soldiers
Expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna
Major figures
Mahinda Rajapakse
Velupillai Prabhakaran
Karuna Amman
Sarath Fonseka
Indian Involvement
Operation Poomalai
Indo-Sri Lanka Accord
Indian Peace Keeping Force
Rajiv Gandhi • RAW
See also
Military of Sri Lanka
Notable assassinations

India became involved in the conflict in the 1980s for a number of reasons including its leaders' desire to project India as the regional power in the area and worries about India's own Tamils seeking independence. The latter was particularly strong in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where ethnic kinship led to strong support toward the calls for independence by Sri Lankan Tamils. Throughout the conflict, the Indian central and state governments have supported both sides in different ways. Beginning in the 1980s, India, through its intelligence agency RAW, provided arms, training and monetary support to a number of Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups, including the LTTE and its rival Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO). The LTTE's rise is widely attributed to the initial backing it received from RAW. It is believed that by supporting different militant groups, the Indian government hoped to keep the Tamil independence movement divided and be able to exert overt control over it.

India became more actively involved in the late 1980s, and on June 5, 1987 the Indian Air Force airdropped food parcels to Jaffna while it was under siege by Sri Lankan forces. At a time when the Sri Lankan government stated they were close to defeating the LTTE, India dropped 25 tons of food and medicine by parachute into areas held by the LTTE in a direct move of support toward the rebels. Negotiations were held, and the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed on July 29, 1987, by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Jayewardene. Under this accord, the Sri Lankan Government made a number of concessions to Tamil demands, which included devolution of power to the provinces, a merger — subject to later referendum — of the northern and eastern provinces into a single province, and official status for the Tamil language (this was eventually enacted as the 13th Amendment). India agreed to establish order in the north and east through a peacekeeping force, and to cease assisting Tamil insurgents. Militant groups including the LTTE, although initially reluctant, agreed to surrender their arms to the IPKF.

At the time the Sri Lankan government, which was facing an unrelated uprising by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in the south, called in the Indian military immediately after the agreement was signed. A force dubbed the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was formed, and it initially oversaw a cease-fire and a modest disarmament of the militant groups. The Sri Lankan government pulled its troops south and put down the JVP rebellion as the IPKF took over control of most areas in the north of the country.

While most Tamil militant groups laid down their weapons and agreed to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, the LTTE refused to disarm its fighters. Keen to ensure the success of the accord, the IPKF then tried to demobilize the LTTE by force and ended up in full-scale conflict with the them. In the process Indian troops committed major human rights abuses in the north and were accused by many human rights groups of committing various atrocities. It soon met stiff opposition from the Tamils. Simultaneously, nationalist sentiment led many Sinhalese to oppose the continued Indian presence in Sri Lanka. These led to the Sri Lankan government's call for India to quit the island, and they allegedly entered into a secret deal with the LTTE that culminated in a ceasefire. However, the LTTE and IPKF continued to have frequent hostilities, and according to some reports, the Sri Lankan government even armed the rebels in order to see the back of the Indian forces. Although casualties among the IPKF mounted, and calls for the withdrawal of the IPFK from both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict grew, Gandhi refused to remove the IPKF from Sri Lanka. However, following his defeat in India parliamentary elections in December 1989, the new prime Minister V. P. Singh ordered the withdrawal of the IPKF, and their last ship left Sri Lanka on 24 March 1990. The 32 month presence of the IPKF in Sri Lanka resulted in the death of 1100 Indian soldiers and over 5000 Sri Lankans and cost over 20 billion rupees for the Indian government.

  • "India deliberately aggravated Sri Lanka's ethnic crisis", Velupillai Prabakaran

Rajiv Gandhi Assassination

Support for the LTTE in India dropped considerably in 1991, after the assassination of an ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, by an LTTE woman suicide bomber, Thenmuli Rajaratnam. The Indian press has subsequently reported that Prabhakaran decided to eliminate Gandhi as he considered him to be against the Tamil liberation struggle and feared that Gandhi might re-induct the IPKF, which Prabakaran termed the "satanic force", if he won the 1991 Indian elections. In 1998 a court in India presided over by Special Judge V Navaneetham found the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran responsible for the assassination. and in a 2006 interview, LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham stated regret over the assassination, although he stopped short of outright acceptance of responsibility for it.

India remains an outside observer to the ongoing peace process, with frequent demands to press for an extradition of Velupillai Prabhakaran, even if a peace deal is struck between the parties in the future. India's central government has been firmly against the LTTE, although it does still speak up for Tamils' rights. However, regional Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu have often discreetly spoken in favour of the LTTE.

Eelam War II

Bodies of young Buddhist monks who were massacred by the LTTE in Aranthalawa, Sri Lanka
Bodies of young Buddhist monks who were massacred by the LTTE in Aranthalawa, Sri Lanka

In the 1980s and 1990s, successive governments enacted a number of official acts to appease the Tamil community, including recognizing Tamil as an official language and merging the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country.

Yet the violence continued, as the LTTE took control of significant parts of the north when the IPKF withdrew, and established many government-like functions in the areas under its control. A tentative ceasefire held in 1990 as the LTTE occupied itself with destroying rival Tamil groups while the government cracked down on the JVP uprising. When both major combatants had established their power bases, they turned on each other and the ceasefire broke down. The government launched an offensive to try to retake Jaffna.

This phase of the war soon acquired the name Eelam War II. It was marked by unprecedented brutality. The LTTE massacred 113 Sinhalese and Muslim policemen after they had surrendered on promises of safe conduct. The government placed an embargo on food and medicine entering the Jaffna peninsula and the air force relentlessly bombed LTTE targets in the area. The LTTE responded by attacking Sinhalese and Muslim villages and massacring civilians. One of the largest civilian massacres of the war occurred when the LTTE massacred 166 Muslim civilians at Palliyagodella. The government trained and armed Home Guard Muslim units then took revenge on Tamil villages. The sight of burning bodies became a common sight along roadsides in the north and east. Throughout the country, government death squads hunted down, kidnapped, or killed Sinhalese or Tamil youth suspected of being JVP or LTTE sympathizers, respectively. In October 1990, the LTTE expelled all the Muslims residing in Jaffna. A total of 28,000 Muslims were forced to leave their homes taking nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The largest battle of the war was in July 1991, when the army's Elephant Pass base, which controlled access to the Jaffna peninsula, was surrounded by 5,000 LTTE troops. More than 2,000 died on both sides in the month-long siege, before 10,000 government troops arrived to relieve the base.

In February 1992, another series of government offensives failed to capture Jaffna. The LTTE, for its part, scored a major victory when one of their suicide bombers killed Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1993.

The Kumaratunga era

In the 1994 parliamentary elections, the UNP was defeated and, amidst great hope, the People's Alliance, headed by Chandrika Kumaratunga, came to power on a peace platform. Chandrika Kumaratunga won the presidential elections as well after the LTTE assassinated the opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake. A ceasefire was agreed in January 1995, but the ensuing negotiations proved fruitless. The LTTE broke the ceasefire on April 19 and thus began the next phase of the war, dubbed Eelam War III.

The new government then pursued a policy of "war for peace". Determined to retake the key rebel stronghold of Jaffna, which was occupied by 2,000 rebels, it poured troops into the peninsula. In one particular incident in August 1995, Air Force jets bombed Navali's St. Peter's church, killing at least 65 refugees and wounding 150 others. Government troops initially cut off the peninsula from the rest of the island, and then after 7 weeks of heavy fighting succeeded in bringing Jaffna under government control for the first time in nearly a decade. In a high profile ceremony, Sri Lankan Defense Minister Anurudda Ratwatte raised the national flag inside the Jaffna fort on December 5, 1995. The government estimated that approximately 2500 soldiers and rebels were killed in the offensive, and an estimated 7,000 wounded. The LTTE and more than 350,000 civilians, compelled by LTTE pressure to leave Jaffna, fled to the Vanni region in the interior. Most of the refugees returned later the next year.

Aftermath of the LTTE suicide bombing of the Sacred Buddhist Shrine Sri Dalada Maligawa which killed 7 civilians and resulted in the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organization in Sri Lanka
Aftermath of the LTTE suicide bombing of the Sacred Buddhist Shrine Sri Dalada Maligawa which killed 7 civilians and resulted in the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organization in Sri Lanka

The government launched another offensive in August 1996. Another 200,000 civilians fled the violence. The town of Kilinochchi was taken on September 29. On May 13, 1997, 20,000 government troops tried to open a supply line through the LTTE-controlled Vanni, but failed. Civilians were regularly killed and wounded by both sides

As violence continued in the North, LTTE suicide and time bombs were exploded numerous times in populated city areas and public transport in the South of the country, killing hundreds of civilians. In January 1996, the LTTE carried out one of their deadliest suicide bomb attacks at the Central bank in Colombo, killing 90 and injuring 1,400. In October 1997 they bombed the Sri Lankan World Trade Centre and, in January 1998, detonated a truck bomb in Kandy, damaging the Temple of the Tooth, one of the holiest Buddhist shrines in the world. In response to this bombing, the Sri Lankan government outlawed the LTTE and with some success pressed other governments around the world to do the same, significantly interfering with their fund-raising activities.

In March 1999, in Operation Rana Gosa, the government tried invading the Vanni from the south. The army made some gains, taking control of Oddusuddan and Madhu, but could not dislodge the LTTE from the region. In September 1999 the LTTE massacred 50 Sinhalese civilians at Gonagala.

The LTTE returned to the offensive with "Operation Unceasing Waves" on November 2, 1999. Nearly all the Vanni rapidly fell back into LTTE hands. The LTTE launched 17 successful attacks in the region which culminated in the overrunning of the Paranthan Chemicals Factory base and the Kurrakkan Kaddukulam base. Thousands were killed in the fighting. The rebels also advanced north towards Elephant Pass and Jaffna. The LTTE was successful in cutting all land and sea supply lines of the Sri Lankan armed forces in the town of Kilinochchi and surrounding areas. In December 1999 the LTTE attempted to assassinate President Chandrika Kumaratunga in a suicide attack at a pre-election rally. She lost one eye, among other injuries, but was able to defeat opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the Presidential election and was reelected for her second term in office.

Early peace efforts

Exhaustion with the war was building. By mid-2000, human rights groups estimated that more than one million people in Sri Lanka were internally displaced persons, living in camps, homeless and struggling for survival. As a result, a significant peace movement developed in the late 1990s, with many organisations holding peace camps, conferences, trainings and peace meditations, and many other efforts to bridge the two sides at all levels. As early as February 2000, Norway was asked to mediate by both sides, and initial international diplomatic moves began to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Hopes for peaced gained ground as the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire in December 2000, but they canceled it on April 24, 2001 and launched another offensive against the government. After securing a vast area controlled by the military, the LTTE further advanced northwards. This advancement of the LTTE was posing a serious threat to the Elephant Pass military complex that housed 17,000 troops of the Sri Lankan forces.

On April 22, 2000 the Elephant Pass military complex, which had separated the Jaffna peninsula from the Vanni mainland for 17 years, completely fell to the hands of the LTTE. The army then launched Operation Agni Khiela to take back the southern Jaffna Peninsula, but sustained losses. The LTTE continued to press towards Jaffna, and many feared it would fall to the LTTE, but the military repulsed LTTE offensives and was able to maintain control of the city.

In July 2001 the LTTE carried out a devastating suicide attack on Bandaranaike International Airport in July 2001, destroying eight of the air force's planes (2 IAI Kfirs, 1 Mil-17, 1 Mil-24, 3 K-7 trainers, 1 MiG-27) and four Sri Lankan Airlines planes (2 Airbus A330s, 1 A340 and 1 A320), dampening the economy and causing tourism, a vital foreign exchange earner for the government, to plummet.

2002 Peace Process

Approximate extent of area under the LTTE control, as of December 2001. Red areas are under full control, orange indicates partial control, yellow regions are claimed but not controlled.
Approximate extent of area under the LTTE control, as of December 2001. Red areas are under full control, orange indicates partial control, yellow regions are claimed but not controlled.

Beginning of the ceasefire

Towards the end of 2001, however, following the attacks of 9/11, the LTTE began to declare their willingness to explore measures for a peaceful settlement to the conflict. The LTTE are believed to have taken this action after fear of international pressure and even direct US support of the Sri Lankan Government as part of the War on Terror. In the south, the government was facing increasing criticism over its "war for peace" strategy, with peace nowhere in sight, and the economy in tatters. After losing a no-confidence motion, President Kumaratunga was forced to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections. The elections, held on December 5, 2001 saw a sweeping victory for the United National Front, led by Ranil Wickremasinghe, who campaigned on a pro-peace platform and pledged to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

On December 19, amidst efforts by Norway to bring the government and the Tamil Tigers to the negotiating table, the LTTE announced a 30 day ceasefire with the Sri Lankan government and pledged to halt all attacks against government forces. The new government welcomed the move, and reciprocated it 2 days later, announcing a month long ceasefire and agreeing to lift a long standing economic embargo on rebel-held territory.

Signing of MoU

LTTE Sea Tiger boat patroling during the peace.
LTTE Sea Tiger boat patroling during the peace.

The two sides formalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on February 22, 2002 and signed a permanent ceasefire agreement (CFA). Norway was named mediator, and it was decided that they, together with the other Nordic countries, monitor the ceasefire through a committee of experts named the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. In August, the government agreed to lift the ban on the LTTE and paved the way for the resumption of direct negotiations with the LTTE.

Following the signing of the ceasefire agreement, commercial air flights to Jaffna began and the LTTE opened the key A9 highway, which linked government controlled area in the south with Jaffna and ran through LTTE territory, allowing civilian traffic through the Vanni region for the first time in many years. Many foreign countries also offered substantial financial support if peace was achieved and optimism grew that an end to the decades long conflict was in sight.

The much anticipated peace talks began in Phuket, Thailand on the September 16 and 5 further rounds followed in Phuket, Norway and Berlin, Germany. During the talks, both sides agreed to the principle of a federal solution and the Tigers drooped their long standing demand for separate state. This was a key compromise from the LTTE, which had always insisted on an independent Tamil state and it also represented a compromise from the government, which had seldom agreed to more than minimal devolution. Both sides also exchanged prisoners of war for first time.

Political changes in the South

Following the elections of 2001, for the first time in Sri Lanka's history, the President and Prime Minister were of two different parties. This co-habitation was extremely uneasy, especially since Prime Minister Wickremasinghe and the UNP favoured a federal solution to the conflict, while hard-line elements within President Kumaratunga's party and other Sinhala Nationalist groups allied to her opposed one as they did not trust the LTTE, which continued to levy taxes, strengthen themselves militarily by smuggling in arms and ammunition, recruit child soldiers, and engage in killings of members of rival Tamil groups and government intelligence agents.

Government inaction in the face of continuing arms smuggling by the LTTE in vessels such as this led to growing opposition in the south to Wickramasinghe's policies
Government inaction in the face of continuing arms smuggling by the LTTE in vessels such as this led to growing opposition in the south to Wickramasinghe's policies

The talks broke down on April 21, 2003 when the Tamil Tigers announced they were suspending them due to their "displeasure" at the handling of some "critical issues". Among the reasons the Tigers gave for this were their exclusion from reconstruction talks in Washington DC on 14 April and a more general perception that they were not receiving the full economic rewards of peace, the failure, as they saw it, of dividends in peace talks to transfer to security withdrawals on the ground and the disparity, as they saw it, between the relative calm of the government-held north-east and continuing violence in Tiger-held areas. However the LTTE maintained it was committed to a settlement to the two-decade conflict, but stated that progress had to be made on the ground before the settlement proceeded.

On October 31, the LTTE issued its own peace proposal, calling for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA). The ISGA would be controlled by the LTTE and would have broad powers in the north and east. (see the Full text of the proposals) This provoked a strong backlash among the hardline elements in the South, who accused Premier Wickremasinghe of handing the North and East to the LTTE. Under pressure from within her own party to take action, Kumaratunga declared a state of emergency and took three key government ministries, the Ministry of Mass Media, the Interior Ministry and the crucial Defense Ministry. She then formed an alliance with the JVP, called the United People's Freedom Alliance, opposed to the ISGA and advocating a harder line on the LTTE and called for fresh elections. The elections, held on April 8, 2004, resulted in victory for UPFA with Mahinda Rajapakse appointed as Prime Minister. Initial fears of a resumption of the conflict were proved unfounded when the new government expressed its desire to continue the peace process and find a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Split of the LTTE

The breakaway of Karuna from the LTTE significantly weakened it in the east
The breakaway of Karuna from the LTTE significantly weakened it in the east

Meanwhile, there was a major fracturing between the northern and eastern wings of the LTTE. Colonel Karuna, the Eastern commander of the LTTE and one of Prabakaran's trusted lieutenants pulled 5,000 eastern troops out of the LTTE, claiming insufficient resources and power were being given to Tamils of the eastern part of the island. It was the biggest expression of dissension in the history of the LTTE and a civil war within the LTTE seemed imminent. After the parliamentary elections, brief fighting south of Trincomalee led to a rapid retreat and capitulation of Karuna's group, their leaders eventually going into hiding including Karuna himself, who was helped by a Muslim politician from the ruling party to escape. However the "Karuna faction" maintains a significant presence in the East and continues to launch attacks against the LTTE. The LTTE accuses the army of covertly backing the breakaway group, which subsequently formed a political party named the TamilEela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) and hopes to contest in future elections.

The ceasefire largely held through all this turmoil, although the situation was complicated by allegations that both sides were carrying out covert operations against each other. The government claimed that the LTTE was killing political opponents and government intelligence officers, while the rebels accused the government of supporting paramilitary groups against them, especially the Karuna group.

Tsunami and aftermath

On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Sri Lanka, killing more than 30,000 people, and leaving many more homeless. Aid poured in from donor countries, but disagreements arose instantly over how it should be distributed to the Tamil regions under LTTE control. By June 24, the government and LTTE agreed on the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS), but it received sharp criticism from Muslims and from the JVP, who left the government in protest. President Kumaratunga eventually scrapped P-TOMS, which led to widespread criticism that sufficient aid was not reaching the North and East of the country. However, immediately following the tsunami there was a marked decrease in violence in the North.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signing the Condolence Book for Lakshman Kadirgamar
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signing the Condolence Book for Lakshman Kadirgamar

Then Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil who was highly respected by foreign diplomats and who had been sharply critical of the LTTE, was assassinated at his home on August 12, 2005, allegedly by an LTTE sniper. His assassination led to the marginalization of the LTTE from the international community, and is thought to be the instance when the LTTE lost all sympathy it enjoyed in the eyes of foreign nations. When the Sri Lankan government later took military action against the LTTE in 2006 violating the ceasefire agreement, one of the reasons cited towards the silence of the international community was LTTE's assassination of Kadiragama.

Further political change occurred when the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka declared President Kumaratunga's second and final term over and ordered her to hold fresh Presidential elections. The main candidates for the election, which was held in November, were former Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, the UNF candidate and who advocated the reopening of talks with the LTTE and the UPFA candidate, Prime Minister Rajapaksa who called for a tougher line against the LTTE and a renegotiation of the ceasefire. The LTTE openly called for a boycott of the election by the Tamils, but, believing the Tamils were getting ready to vote in large numbers, the LTTE used violence and intimidation to prevent a vast number of Tamils from voting. Many of them were expected to vote for Wickremasinghe, and the loss of their votes proved fatal to his chances as Rajapakse achieved a narrow win. Despite being seen as a hardliner, Rajapaksa promised to pursue peace and restart talks with the rebels.

Following the election, the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran stated in his annual address that the Tigers would "renew their struggle" in 2006 if the government did not take serious moves toward peace.

Resumption of hostilities

Just days after Prabhakaran's speech, a new round of violence erupted. Beginning in December 2005, there was increased guerrilla activity to the northeast, including Claymore mine attacks which killed 150 government troops, clashes between the Sea Tigers and the Sri Lanka navy, and the killings of sympathizers on both sides including Taraki Sivaram, a journalist, and Joseph Pararajasingham, a pro-LTTE MP. This violence left around 200 people dead. The LTTE denied responsibility for the attacks, blaming "armed civilian groups" for them, although the government held them directly responsible.

Talks and further violence

In light of this violence, the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donor conference called on both parties to return to the negotiating table. The co-chairs — the United States in particular — were heavily critical of the violence perpetrated by the LTTE. US State Department officials, as well as the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, gave warnings to the Tigers claiming a return to hostilities would mean that the Tigers would face a "more capable and more determined" Sri Lankan military.

Norwegian special envoy Erik Solheim addresses peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE at Chatueau de Bossey in Switzerland
Norwegian special envoy Erik Solheim addresses peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE at Chatueau de Bossey in Switzerland

In a last-minute effort to salvage an agreement between the parties, the Norwegian special envoy Erik Solheim and the LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham arrived in the island. The parties severely disagreed on the location of the talks; however, continued efforts produced a breakthrough when both parties agreed on February 7, 2006, that new talks could be held in Geneva, Switzerland on February 22 and February 23. These talks were reported to have gone "above expectations", with both the government and the LTTE agreeing to curb the violence and to hold further talks on April 19-21.

During the weeks after the talks, there was a significant decrease in violence. However the LTTE resumed attacks against the military in April beginning with a Claymore anti-personnel mine attack on military vehicles which killed 10 navy sailors on April 11th. The following day, coordinated bombings by rebels and rioting in the north-eastern part of the country left 16 dead. First, a Claymore anti-personnel mine exploded in Trincomalee, killing two policemen in their vehicle. Another blast, set off in a crowded vegetable market, killed one soldier and some civilians. Ensuing rioting by civilians left more than a dozen dead. Responsibility for these attacks was claimed by an organisation called the Upsurging People's Force, which the military accused of being a front for the LTTE.

In light of this violence, the LTTE called for a postponement of the Geneva talks until April 24-25, and the government initially agreed to this. Following negotiations, both the government and the rebels agreed to have a civilian vessel transport the regional LTTE leaders with international truce monitors on April 16, which involved crossing government-controlled territory. However, the climate shifted drastically when the Tamil Tigers canceled the meeting, claiming not to have agreed to a naval escort. According to the SLMM, the Tamil rebels had previously agreed to the escort. This led to Helen Olafsdottir, spokesperson for the SLMM saying "It was part of the agreement. The rebels should have read the clauses carefully. We are frustrated."

On April 20, 2006, the LTTE officially pulled out of peace talks indefinitely. While they stated that transportation issues had prevented them from meeting their regional leaders, some analysts and the international community held a deep skepticism, seeing the transportation issue as a delaying tactic by the LTTE in order to avoid attending peace talks in Geneva.

Violence continued to spiral and on April 23, 2006, six Sinhalese rice farmers were massacred in their paddy fields by suspected LTTE cadres in the Trincomalee district. The following day, two suspected Tamil Tiger rebels were shot dead in Batticaloa when caught planting mines after rebels reportedly hacked a young mother to death and kidnapped her infant.

International condemnation against the LTTE skyrocketed following the attempted assassination of the commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka by a pregnant LTTE Black Tiger suicide bomber Anoja Kugenthirasah, who blew herself up at the Sri Lankan Army headquarters in the capital, Colombo. Lt. Gen. Fonseka and twenty-seven others were injured, while ten people were killed in the attack. For the first time since the 2001 ceasefire, the Sri Lanka Air Force carried out aerial assaults on rebel positions in the north-eastern part of the island nation in retaliation for the attack.

This attack, along with the assassination of Lakshman Kadiragama a year earlier and an unsuccessful attack against a naval vessel carrying 710 unarmed security force personnel on holiday, proved the catalysts as the European Union decided to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation on May 19, 2006. It resulted in the freezing of LTTE assets in the member nations of the EU, and put an end to its efforts to raise funds its terror campaign in Sri Lanka. In a statement, the European Parliament said that the LTTE did not represent all the Tamils and called on it to "allow for political pluralism and alternate democratic voices in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka".

As north and east of the country continued to be rocked by attacks, new talks were scheduled in Oslo, Norway, between June 8-9. Delegations from both sides arrived in Oslo, but the talks were canceled when the LTTE refused to meet directly with the government delegation claiming its fighters were not been allowed safe passage to travel to the talks. Norwegian mediator Erik Solheim told journalists that the LTTE should take direct responsibility for the collapse of the talks.

Further violence followed, including the Kebithigollewa massacre on June 15, 2006 in which the LTTE attacked a bus killing at least 64 Sinhalese civilians and prompting more air strikes by the Air Force, and the assassination of Sri Lankas third highest-ranking army officer and Deputy Chief of Staff General Parami Kulatunga on June 26 by an LTTE suicide bomber. These events led the SLMM to question whether a ceasefire could still be said to exist. However most analysts continued to believe that the return to full-scale war was unlikely and the "low-intensity conflict" would continue.

Mavil Aru Water dispute

A new crisis leading to the first large-scale fighting since signing of the ceasefire occurred when the LTTE closed the sluice gates of the Mavil Aru reservoir on July 21 and cut the water supply to 15,000 villages in government controlled areas. After initial negotiations and efforts by the SLMM to open the gates failed, the Air Force attacked LTTE positions on July 26, and ground troops began an operation to open the gate. Following these moves, the political leader of the LTTE S Elilan announced an end to the cease-fire although Palitha Kohona, a government spokesman, stated that the government remained committed to the cease-fire.

The sluice gates were eventually reopened on August 8, with conflicting reports as to who actually opened them. Initially, the SLMM claimed that they managed to persuade the LTTE to lift the waterway blockade conditionally. However a government spokesman said that "utilities could not be used as bargaining tools" by the rebels and government forces launched fresh attacks on LTTE positions around the reservoir. These attacks prompted condemnation from SLMM Chief of Staff, who stated "(The government) have the information that the LTTE has made this offer." "It is quite obvious they are not interested in water. They are interested in something else." The LTTE then claimed they opened the sluice gates "on humanitarian grounds" although this was disputed by military correspondents, who stated the water began flowing immediately after the security forces carried out a precise bombing of the Mavil Aru anicut. Eventually, following heavy fighting with the rebels, government troops gained full control of the Mavil Aru reservoir on August 15.

LTTE offensives in Muttur and Jaffna

As fierce fighting was ongoing in the vicinity of Mavil Aru, the violence spread to Trincomalee, where the LTTE launched an attack on a crucial Sri Lanka Navy base, and to the strategic government controlled coastal town of Muttur in early August, resulting in the deaths of at least 30 civilians and displacing 25,000 residents of the area. The clashes erupted on August 2, 2006 when the LTTE launched a heavy artillery attack on Muttur and then moved in, gaining control of some parts of the town. The military retaliated, and reestablished full control over the town by August 5, killing over 150 LTTE cadres in heavy fighting.

Soon afterwards, 17 persons working for the International French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF) in Muthur, were found executed. They were found lying face down on the floor of their office, with bullet wounds, still wearing their clearly marked T-shirts indicating they were international humanitarian workers. The murders prompted widespread international condemnation. The SLMM claimed that the government was behind the attack, but the government denied the allegation calling it "pathetic and biased", and stated that the SLMM had "no right to make such a statement because they are not professionals in autopsy or post-mortem" An official investigation launched by the government with the aid of international forensic experts is currently ongoing.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, some of the bloodiest fighting since 2001 took place after the LTTE launched massive attacks on Sri Lanka Army defence lines in the Jaffna peninsula on August 11. The LTTE used a force of 400 to 500 fighters in the attacks which consisted of land and amphibious assaults, and also fired a barrage of artillery at government positions, including the key military airbase at Palaly. Initially, the Tigers broke through army defense lines around Muhamalai, and advanced further north, but they were halted after 10 hours of fierce fighting. Isolated battles continued over the next few days, but the LTTE was forced to give up its offensive due to heavy casualties. The LTTE is estimated to have lost over 250 cadres in the operation, while 90 Sri Lankan soldiers and sailors were also killed.

Chencholai Airstrike

As ground battles were ongoing in the north and the east of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Air Force carried out an air strike against a facility in the rebel held Mullaitivu area, killing a number of Tamil girls. Although the LTTE claimed 61 girls were killed, the SLMM stated they were able to count just 19 bodies. The government stated that it was an LTTE training facility and that the children were LTTE child soldiers, although the LTTE claimed the victims were schoolgirls attending a course on first aid at an orphanage.

On the same day, a convoy carrying the Pakistani High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Bashir Wali Mohamed was attacked by a claymore antipersonnel mine concealed within an auto rickshaw. The High Commissioner escaped unhurt, but seven people were killed and a further seventeen injured in the blast. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the LTTE are strongly believed to have carried it out, in order to intimidate Pakistan, which is one of the main suppliers of military equipment to the Sri Lankan government.

Fall of Sampur

Since the resumption of violence, concerns were mounting among the military establishment that the strategically crucial Sri Lanka Navy base in Trinconmalee was under grave threat from LTTE gun positions located in and around Sampur, which lies across the Koddiyar Bay from Trincomalee. Artillery fired from LTTE bases in the area could potentially cripple the naval base, bringing it to a complete standstill and therefore cutting the only military supply chain to Jaffna. All movements of naval vessels were also under the constant surveillance of the LTTE. These fears were backed up by a United States military advisory team which visited the island in 2005.

Following the clashes in Mavil Aru and Muttur, the LTTE had intensified attacks targeting the naval base in Trincomalee, and in a speech on August 21, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse made clear the government intentions were to neutralize the LTTE threat from Sampur. On August 28, the Sri Lankan military launched an assault to retake the LTTE camps in Sampur and the adjoining Kaddaiparichchan and Thoppur areas. This led the LTTE to declare that if the offensive continued, the ceasefire would be officially over.

After steady progress, Sri Lankan security forces led by Brigade Commander Sarath Wijesinghe re-captured Sampur from the LTTE on September 4, and began to establish military bases there, as the LTTE admitted defeat and stated their cadres "withdrew" from the strategically important town. It marked the first significant territorial change of hands since the signing of the ceasefire agreement in 2002. The Sri Lankan Military estimated that 33 personnel were killed in the offensive, along with over 200 LTTE cadres.

LTTE retaliation and further peace talks

The LTTE struck back in October. First, they killed nearly 130 soldiers in a fierce battle at Muhamalai, the crossing-point between government and LTTE controlled area in the north of the country. Just days later, a suspected LTTE suicide bomber struck a naval convoy in Habaraba, in the centre of the country killing about 100 unarmed sailors who were returning home on leave. It was the deadliest suicide attack in the history of the conflict. Two days later, LTTE Sea Tiger cadres launched an attack against the Dakshina naval base in the sothern port city of Galle. It was the farthest south any major LTTE attack had taken place, and involved 15 LTTE cadres who arrived in five suicide boats. The attack was repulsed by the government, and the damage to the naval base was minimum. All 15 LTTE suicide cadres are believed to have died in the attack, along with one Sri Lanka Navy sailor.

Despite these incidents, both parties agreed to unconditionally attend peace talks in Geneva on October 28-29. However the peace talks broke down due to disagreements over the reopening of the key A9 highway, which is the link between Jaffna and government controlled areas in the south. While the LTTE wanted the highway, which was closed following fierce battles in August, to be reopened, the government refused, stating the LTTE would use it to collect tax from people passing through and would use it to launch further offenses against government troops.

Following the dawn of the new year, suspected LTTE cadres carried out two bus bombings in the south of the country, killing 21 civilians. News reports stated that the attacks bore all the hallmarks of an LTTE attack. The Sri Lankan government condemned the attacks and blamed the LTTE for carrying them out, although the LTTE denied any involvement. Iqbal Athas, an analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly commented that the LTTE's targeting of civilians was a cause for concern, and that further attacks against civilians couldn't be ruled out. Other analysts too expressed fears that LTTE attacks, which had largely been confined to military and political targets during the ceasefire period, may now increasingly target civilians as in earlier stages of a conflict.

Government offensive in the East

Sri Lanka Army commandos in front of Vaharai hospital following its fall to Sri Lankan troops
Sri Lanka Army commandos in front of Vaharai hospital following its fall to Sri Lankan troops

In December 2006, the Commander of the Army and other senior government officials expressed their plans to initially drive the LTTE out of the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, and then use the full strength of the military to defeat the LTTE in the North of the country. Among the reasons cited by the military for the offensives in the east were the need to "free the civilians in the area from the LTTE", who the military stated was firing artillery towards civilian settlements and were using 35,000 people as human shields. These claims were later backed by the civilians who told reporters that they were held by force by the Tamil Tigers.

Subsequently, the Army began an offensive against the LTTE on December 8, 2006 in the Batticoloa district with the objective of taking Vakarai, the principle stronghold of the LTTE in the East, but temporarily aborted it after a week of fighting due to the large number of civilians in the area and the difficulty in conducting combat operations due to the ongoing Monsoon rain. Over the next few weeks, an estimated 20,000 civilians fled from Vakarai to Government controlled areas fearing the imminent assault. The Army launched a new offensive in mid January, and Vakarai fell to the advancing troops on January 19, 2007. The Army launched assaults from three different directions, and the LTTE and Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella announced that "The people of Vaharai have been liberated from the clutches of the terrorists". The loss of Vakarai has been predicted to cut off supply routes of the northern Tigers to their cadres in the east, thus weakening the Tigers' already diminishing grip on the east.

As the military offensive was ongoing, the LTTE continued to carry out attacks against civilians in government held territory. On April 1, 2007, the Sri Lankan military accused the LTTE of killing six Sinhalese tsunami aid workers in the Eastern district of Batticaloa. The next day, suspected LTTE cadres set off a bomb abord a civilian bus in Ampara which killing seventeen people, including three children.

Troops mostly operating in small groups of Special Forces and Commando units began a new operation in February to clear the last remaining LTTE cadres from the Eastern Province. As part of the operation, troops captured the a key LTTE base in Kokkadicholai on March 28th, and the strategic A5 highway on April 12, brining the entire highway under government control for the first time in 15 years. This meant the LTTE's presence in the east was reduced to 140 square kilometer pocket of jungle land in the Thoppigala area north-west of Batticaloa. The offensive had left nine soldiers dead along with 184 Tiger cadres, with no civilian casualties, according to military estimates.

LTTE Air Arm

An air strike by the LTTE happened in the first time in history on March 26th 2007. Its air arm, the Air Tigers, hit the Sri Lanka Air Force base at Katunayake, killing 3 SLAF personnel and wounding about 17 according to SLAF sources. On April 23, an air raid was flown by 1-3 LTTE planes which dropped bombs on targets in the Palali area. LTTE and government sources give conflicting but not mutually exclusive accounts of the event: One attack seems to have caused significant damage, and a possible second one was aborted; Jaffna-Palali Air Force Base seems to have been among the targets attacked.

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