The Sri Lankan Civil War was a conflict fought on the island of Sri Lanka. Beginning on July 23, 1983, there was an on-and-off insurgency against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a separatist militant organization which fought to create an independent Tamil state named Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island. After a 30-month-long military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.
For over 25 years, the insurgency caused significant hardships for the population, environment and the economy of the country, with over 80,000 people officially listed as killed during its course. The tactics employed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam resulted in them being branded as a terrorist organization in 32 countries, including the United States, India, Australia, Canada and the member nations of the European Union.
After two decades of fighting and three failed attempts at peace talks, including the unsuccessful deployment of the Indian Army,the Indian Peace Keeping Force from 1987 to 1990, a lasting negotiated settlement to the conflict appeared possible when a cease-fire was declared in December 2001, and a ceasefire agreement signed with international mediation in 2002. However, limited hostilities renewed in late 2005 and the conflict began to escalate until the government launched a number of major military offensives against the LTTE beginning in July 2006, driving the LTTE out of the entire Eastern province of the island. The LTTE then declared they would "resume their freedom struggle to achieve statehood".
In 2007, the government shifted its offensive to the north of the country, and formally announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement on January 2, 2008, alleging that the LTTE violated the agreement over 10,000 times. Since then, aided by the destruction of a number of large arms smuggling vessels that belonged to the LTTE, and an international crackdown on the funding for the Tamil Tigers, the government took control of the entire area previously controlled by the Tamil Tigers, including their de-facto capital Kilinochchi, main military base Mullaitivu and the entire A9 highway, leading the LTTE to finally admit defeat on May 17, 2009.
Origin and evolution
The root of modern conflict goes back to British colonial rule when the country was known as Ceylon. A nationalist political movement from Sinhalese communities arose in the country in the early 20th century with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually granted by the British after peaceful negotiations in 1948. Disagreements between the Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic communities flared up when drawing up the country's first post-independence constitution.
After their election to the State Council in 1936, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) members N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena demanded the replacement of English as the official language by Sinhala and Tamil. In November 1936, a motion that 'in the Municipal and Police Courts of the Island the proceedings should be in the vernacular' and that 'entries in police stations should be recorded in the language in which they are originally stated' were passed by the State Council and referred to the Legal Secretary. However, in 1944, J.R. Jayawardene moved in the State Council that Sinhala should replace English as the official language. In 1956 Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike's passage of the "Sinhala Only Act" led to ethnic riots. The civil war is a direct result of the escalation of the confrontational politics that followed.
The formation of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) with its Vaddukkodei (Vattukottai)) resolution of 1976 led to a hardening of attitudes.
In 1963, shortly after the nationalisation of petroleum by the Sri Lanka government, documents relating to a separate Tamil state of 'Tamil Eelam' began to circulate. At this time, Anton Balasingham, an employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, began to participate in separatist activities. He later migrated to Britain, where he became the chief theoretician of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In the late 1960s, several Tamil youth, among them Velupillai Prabhakaran also became involved in these activities. These forces together formed the Tamil New Tigers in 1972. This was formed around a racist ideology which looked back to the 1st Millennium Chola Empire (the Tiger was the emblem of that empire) and an action program based on the film persona of Clint Eastwood, who was Prabhakaran's hero.
A further movement, the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students, formed in Manchester and London; it became the backbone of the Eelamist movement in the diaspora, arranging passports and employment for immigrants and levying a heavy tax on them. It became the basis of the eelamist logistical organisation, later taken over entirely by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The TULF supported the armed actions of the young militants of the TNT who were dubbed "our boys." These "boys" were the product of the post-war population explosion. Many partially educated, unemployed Sinhala and Tamil youth fell for simplistic racist and violent revolutionary solutions to their problems. The leftist parties had remained "non-communal" for a long time, but the Federal Party (as well as its off-shoot, the TULF), deeply conservative and dominated by Vellala casteism, did not attempt to form a national alliance with the leftists in their fight for language rights.
Following the sweeping electoral victory of the UNP in July 1977, the TULF became the leading opposition party, with around one sixth of the total electoral vote winning on a party platform of secession from Sri Lanka.
In August 1977, Junius Richard Jayawardene's new UNP government followed its attack on the Left with a well organised pogrom against Tamils living in majority Sinhalese areas. In August the government granted only the educational rights demanded by the Tamils. But to the Tamil leadership that was losing the control it had on the Tamil militants after not being able to follow through with the election promise of seceding from Sri Lanka to form Tamil, it was too little too late.
Outbreak of civil war
Supported by the on-going politics of conflict in Sri Lanka, politicized Tamil youth in the North and the East started to form militant groups. These groups developed independently of the Colombo Tamil leadership, and in the end rejected and annihilated them. The most prominent of these groups was the TNT, which changed its name to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE in 1976. The LTTE initially carried out a campaign of violence against the state, particularly targeting policemen and also moderate Tamil politicians who attempted a dialogue with the government. Their first major operation was the assassination of the mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah in 1975 by Prabhakaran.
However, until the pogrom of 1977 gave it added strength, the LTTE was able to achieve little more. The farmers of Jaffna were prosperous and not inclined to militant action.
In fact, the modus operandi of the early war was based on assassinations. The assassination in 1977 of a Tamil Member of Parliament, M. Canagaratnam, was carried out personally by Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE.
In July 1983, the LTTE launched a deadly attack on the military in the North of the country, killing 13 soldiers. Using the nationalistic sentiments to their advantage, the Jayawardena now organized massacres and pogroms in Colombo, the capital, and elsewhere (see Black July) - although several pogroms had been reported in rural areas prior to the LTTE attack. 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 LTTE, 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. The Anuradhapura massacre was apparently retaliated for by government forces with the Kumudini boat massacre in which over 23 Tamil civilians died. 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 or denounced violence and joined mainstream politics, and some legitimate Tamil-oriented political parties remain, all opposed to LTTE's vision of an independent state.
Peace talks between the LTTE and the government began in Thimphu in 1985, but they soon failed, and the war continued. In 1986 many civilians were massacred as part of this conflict. 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.
The Sri Lankan military launched an offensive, called “Operation Liberation” or “Vadamarachchi Operation”, during May–June 1987, to regain the territory in Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE's control. This offensive marked the Sri Lankan military's first ever conventional warfare in Sri Lankan soil since independence. The military offensive was successful and the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and the Sea Tiger leader Soosai narrowly escaped from advancing troops at Valvettithurai. The key military personnel who involved in the operation were Lt Col. Vipul Boteju, Lt Col. Sarath Jayawardane, Col. Vijaya Wimalaratne, Brig. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Maj Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
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.
The killings of Father Mary Bastian and George Jeyarajasingham, both human rights activists, have been attributed to the government forces. These deaths are examples of thousands murdered that happened in this period.
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 for independence for 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 R&AW, 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 R&AW. 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, including a devolution of power to the provinces, a merger—subject to later referendum—of the Northern and the Eastern provinces into the single province, and official status for the Tamil language (this was enacted as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka). India agreed to establish order in the North and East through a force dubbed the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), and to cease assisting Tamil insurgents. Militant groups including the LTTE, although initially reluctant, agreed to surrender their arms to the IPKF, which initially oversaw a cease-fire and a modest disarmament of the militant groups.
The signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, so soon after JR Jayawardene's declaration that he would fight the Indians to the last bullet, led to unrest in south. The arrival of the IPKF to take over control of most areas in the North of the country enabled the Sri Lanka government to shift its forces to the south (in Indian aircraft)to quell the protests. This led to an uprising by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in the south, which was put down bloodily over the next two years.
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 them. The three year long conflict was also marked by the IPKF being accused of committing various abuses of human rights by many human rights groups as well as some within the Indian media. The IPKF also 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. 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 IPKF from both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict grew, Gandhi refused to remove the IPKF from Sri Lanka. However, following his defeat in Indian 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 March 24, 1990. The 32 month presence of the IPKF in Sri Lanka resulted in the deaths of 1100 Indian soldiers and over 5000 Sri Lankans. The cost for the Indian government was estimated at over 20 billion rupees.
Rajiv Gandhi's assassination
Support for the LTTE in India dropped considerably in 1991, after the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber Thenmuli Rajaratnam. The Indian press has subsequently reported that Prabhakaran decided to eliminate Gandhi as he considered Gandhi to be against the Tamil liberation struggle and feared that Gandhi might re-induct the IPKF, which Prabhakaran 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 by many groups for an extradition of Velupillai Prabhakaran.
In 2008, the central coalition in India was rocked by threats, resignations, and arrests based on Tamil nationalism, and hence support to Tamils in Sri Lanka. Following the historically pro-Tamil DMK party's accession to power in Tamil Nadu and the centre, it was seen as though there would be more political support from India. In 2008, party chief and TN CM Karunanidhi accepted the resignation of multiple MP's of his party in protest against an increasing casualty count of Tamil civilians in the war. Following this, MDMK founder and general secretary, Vaiko, courted arrest on charges of sedition in saying he would take up arms to fight on the side of the Tamils. He then charged the Indian Government with abetting the Sri Lankan Government in order to eliminate the Tamils there. He added that Sri Lanka would heed a request for a ceasefire if India imposed economic sanctions on the country.
In a rare show of unanimity, all the parties in Tamil Nadu assembly unanimously demanded a ceasefire in conflict, while appealing to the Centre to make efforts to stop the Sri Lankan military offensive.
Even the Congress party, which had seen the issue as an untouchable subject for more than a decade, said there could be no two opinions on the need for a ceasefire. To this, party floor leader, D Sudarsanam, said that the Centre was making efforts to stop the war and the results would soon be known. Congress whip, Peter Alphonse, denied that his party was acting against the interests of the Sri Lankan Tamils and said he was ready to list his party's efforts for the welfare of the said Tamils. The deputy leader of the opposition and senior AIADMK leader, O Panneerselvam, made a charge that the "intransigent attitude" of the Sri Lankan government was the reason for the continuation of the war. He added that the Sri Lankan army was bombing schools and public places that had resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including children.
In response to the actions of the Indian Tamils, the LTTE was said to have responded positively to the CM's appeal for a ceasefire.
Eelam War II
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 the Eastern Provinces of the country.
Yet the violence continued, as the LTTE took control of significant parts of the North when the Indian Peace Keeping Force 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. There was also significant massacre of Tamil civilians attributed to government forces, especially in the Eastern Province. Notable international jurist Neelan Thiruchelvam, in a speech at the ICES-Colombo, indicated that the appropriate investigations into massacres and disappearances of civilians including many children in the Sathurukondan, Eastern University, Mylanthanai and the mass murder and burial of school children at Sooriyakanda were hampered by the adoption of emergency regulations which were contributing to a climate of impunity. Along roadsides in the North and East, burning bodies became a common sight. 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 (Alimankada) base, which controlled access to the Yapanaya (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. Lt. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa together with Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne and Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha, died on August 8, 1992, at Araly (Aeraella) point Jaffna due to a land mine blast, which badly affected military morale.
The LTTE, for its part, scored a major victory when one of their suicide bombers killed Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1993. In November 1993 the LTTE succeeded in the Battle of Pooneryn.
Eelam War III
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 St. Peter's church at Navali (Naavaella), 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. Many civilians were killed as part of this conflict such as the Navaly church bombing in which over 125 civilians died. 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.
The LTTE responded by launching Operation Unceasing Waves and decisively won the Battle of Mullaitivu in July 1996.
The government launched another offensive in August 1996. Another 200,000 civilians fled the violence. The town of Kilinochchi (GiraaNikke) 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 (Mahanuvara), 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.
On September 27, 1998 the LTTE launched the Operation Unceasing Waves II and after heavy fighting captured Kilinochchi, thus winning Battle of Kilinochchi.
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 (Oththan-thuduva) 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 the Operation Unceasing Waves III 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 (Puranthaenna) Chemicals Factory base and the Kurrakkan Kaddukulam (kurakkan-kaela vaeva) base. Thousands were killed in the fighting. The rebels also advanced north towards Elephant Pass (Alimankada) and Jaffna (Yapanaya). The LTTE was successful in cutting all land and sea supply lines of the Sri Lankan armed forces to the south, west and north of the town of Kilinochchi. 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.
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.
Early peace efforts
Exhaustion with the war was building as casualties mounted and there appeared to be no end in sight. 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 organizations 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 peace 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 (Alimankada) military complex that housed 17,000 troops of the Sri Lankan forces.
In July 2001 the LTTE carried out a devastating suicide attack on Bandaranaike International Airport, destroying eight of the air force's planes (2 IAI Kfirs, 1 Mil-17, 1 Mil-24, 3 K-8 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
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 Memorandum of Understanding
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, but only after paying a tax to the LTTE. 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 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 dropped 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 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 by smuggling in arms and ammunition, recruit child soldiers, and engage in killings of members of rival Tamil groups and government intelligence agents. During this time the LTTE also succeeded in setting up a series of vital bases around the Trincomalee (Gokanna) harbour (see Eelam War IV) and the Eastern Province.
The talks broke down on April 21, 2003, when the Tamil Tigers announced they were suspending any further talks due to their "displeasure" at the handling of some "critical issues". Among the reasons the Tigers gave were their exclusion from reconstruction talks in Washington DC on April 14 and a more general insinuation that they were not receiving the full economic rewards of peace. They cited the failure, as they saw it, of peace-dividends to transfer to security withdrawals on the ground and the disparity, as they saw it, between the relative calm of the government-held northeast 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 fully 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 Prime Minister 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 the 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
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 Prabhakaran's trusted lieutenants, pulled 5,000 eastern cadres 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 (formerly known as Gokanna) led to a rapid retreat and capitulation of Karuna's group, their leaders eventually going into hiding including Karuna himself, who was helped to escape by Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana, a powerful politician from the ruling party. However the "Karuna faction" maintained a significant presence in the East and continued 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, with over 3000 infractions by the LTTE and some 300 by the SLA recorded by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) by 2005. The situation was further complicated by allegations that both sides were carrying out covert operations against each other. The government claimed that the LTTE was killing political opponents, recruiting children, importing arms, and killing government security and intelligence officers. The rebels accused the government of supporting paramilitary groups against them, especially the Karuna group.
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 the JVP, who left the government in protest. The legality of P-TOMS was also challenged in the courts. President Kumaratunga eventually had to scrap 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.
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 instant when the LTTE lost much of its sympathy in the eyes of foreign nations. Hence the silence of the international community when the Sri Lankan government took military action against the LTTE in 2006, when the latter closed the Mavil Oya (Mavil aru) sluice.
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 the UNF candidate, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, 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. 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.
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 pro-LTTE journalist, and Joseph Pararajasingham, a pro-LTTE MP allegedly by the government of Sri Lanka.
At the beginning of 2008, the focus of the civil war turned to civilian targets, with commuter bus and train bombings carried out in most parts of the country, including a series of attacks against commuters in and around Colombo.
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. While the talks were going on there was violence targeted towards civilians such as massacre of 5 Tamil students on January 2, 2006, in Trincomalee when high school students playing by the beach were briefly detained and then shot dead.
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 11. 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.[dead link] 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.
After LTTE launched a suicide assault on a naval convoy in which 18 sailors died, the Allaipiddy massacre of May 13, 2006, happened in which 13 minority Tamil civilians were killed in separate incidents in three villages in the islet of Kayts (Uruthota) in northern Sri Lanka. 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 Kadiragamar 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 the 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 Vankalai massacre in which family of four minority Sri Lankan Tamils from the village of Vankalai in the district of Mannar in Sri Lanka on June 8, 2006, were tortured and killed. Both the mother and the nine year old daughter were allegedly raped before being killed. The gory images of the corpses published by the pro rebel Tamilnet news site created controversy in Sri Lanka and abroad. The Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels have blamed each other for the killings. There was also 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 Lanka's 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 Oya (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 Oya (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.
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 Oya) Mavil Aru, the violence spread to Gokanna (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 Mooduthara (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 Paluyaala (Palaly). Initially, the Tigers broke through army defense lines around Muhamalai (Mahakanda), 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 air strike
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.
Attack on the Pakistani High Commissioner
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 Sri Lankan government blamed the LTTE. The Pakistani High Commissioner, Bashir Wali Mohamed, claimed that India was 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. Pakistan had promised one shipload of the wherewithal every 10 days in coming months, it was Pakistan’s this assurance of solid support which prompted Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse to publicly state that Kilinochchi, the headquarters of the LTTE, would be liberated by the end of December.
Fall of Sampur
Since the resumption of violence, concerns were mounting among the military establishment that the strategically crucial Sri Lanka Navy base in Trincomalee 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 (Mavil Oya) and Muttur (Mooduthara), the LTTE had intensified attacks targeting the naval base in Trincomalee (Gokanna), 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 (Gaeta-bara-hena)and Thoppur (Thupapura) 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 (Somapura) 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.
The LTTE struck back in October. First, they killed nearly 130 soldiers in a fierce battle at Muhamalai (Mahakanda), 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 center of the country killing about 100 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 southern 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 offensives 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
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. On November 7, 2006, in the midst of conflicting claims over 45 Tamil civilians were killed in what is known as the Vaharai bombing.
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 Vaakare to Government controlled areas fearing the imminent assault. The Army launched a new offensive in mid January, and Vaakarr fell to the advancing troops on January 19, 2007. While the offensive in the East was ongoing, the LTTE and others accused the government of murdering 15 civilians in the Padahuthurai bombing on January 2, 2007, when the Sri Lanka Air Force bombed what they claimed to be rebel LTTE naval base in Illuppaikadavai in Northern Sri Lanka. The Army launched assaults from three different directions, and the LTTE and Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella announced that "The people of Vaakare have been liberated from the clutches of the terrorists". The loss of Vaakare (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 aboard 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 Gokatugolla (Kokkadicholai) on March 28, and the strategic A5 highway on April 12, bringing 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 a 140 square kilometer pocket of jungle land in the Thoppigala area north-west of Madakalapuva (Batticaloa). The offensive had left nine soldiers dead along with 184 Tiger cadres, with no civilian casualties, according to military estimates.
Government offensive in the North. Targeting LTTE leadership
Sporadic fighting in the North had been going on for months, but the intensity of the clashes increased after September 2007. During clashes in the Forward Defence Lines, separating their forces, both sides exchanged heavy artillery fire, after which military incursions followed. By December 22, 2007, the LTTE defences at Uyilankulama and Thampanai were lost to advancing troops of the Sri Lanka Army. On December 29, 2007, the Army overran the LTTE stronghold at Parappakandal, in Mannar District.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka said that the Army had occupied the LTTE's Forward Defence Lines and surrounded the Wanni LTTE bases from all directions. He also said that there were around 3,000 Tigers remaining and that the military intended to annihilate them within the first six months of the next year. A day later there were less optimistic statements by Army, Air Force and Navy Commanders. The Army was to face an estimated 5,000 Tiger cadres in the Wanni. The Commander of the Army intended to shift the current battles in the Forward Defence Lines to a decisive phase in August 2008. In the Commanders' view, it was quite possible to defeat the LTTE in 2008.
The military of Sri Lanka claimed that the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was seriously injured during air strikes carried out by the Sri Lanka Air Force on a bunker complex in Jayanthinagar on November 26, 2007. Earlier, on November 2, 2007, S. P. Thamilselvan, who was the head of the rebels' political wing, was killed during another government air raid. The Sri Lanka Air Force openly vowed to destroy the entire leadership of the LTTE. On January 5, 2008, Colonel Charles, Head of LTTE Military Intelligence, was killed in a claymore mine ambush by a suspected Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit, according to a pro-LTTE website.
Timeline after Government's withdrawal from Ceasefire
On January 2, 2008, the Sri Lankan government officially pulled out of the Ceasefire Agreement. This was amidst the demands of the defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on December 29, 2007.
Donor countries such as the United States, Canada, and Norway have shown deep regrets on this decision by the Sri Lankan government. Neighboring India has also shown its dismay of Sri Lanka's abrogation of the ceasefire.
On January 10, 2008, the LTTE formally responded with the statement from the new head of the Tigers' political wing, B. Nadesan. According to him, the LTTE was shocked and disappointed, since the Government of Sri Lanka had unilaterally withdrawn from the ceasefire agreement without any justification. It was further stated that even then the LTTE was ready to implement every clause of the CFA agreement and respect it one hundred percent. The LTTE claimed that, taking into account the acts of the Government, the international community ought to immediately remove the bans it had placed on the LTTE.
It was reported that 185 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed on April 23, 2008, when troops manning the Muhamalai Forward Defence Line attempted to open a third front and advance towards Kilinochchi from Jaffna peninsula. The incident was a setback to military efforts to eliminate the rebels.
On May 9, 2008, the town of Adampan was captured by the Sri Lankan Army. On June 30, 2008, SLA troops linked up the Mannar battlefront with the Vavuniya battlefront, in the southwest of Periyamadhu. On July 16, 2008, SLA troops captured Vidattaltivu, the biggest town situated on the North-Western coast of the island and the main Sea Tiger base. On July 20, 2008, the Sri Lankan Army captured the town of Iluppaikkadavai.
On July 21, 2008, the LTTE announced that it would be declaring a unilateral ceasefire from July 28 to August 4, to coincide with the 15th summit of the heads of state of SAARC to be held in Colombo. However, the government of Sri Lanka dismissed the LTTE's offer as needless and treacherous.
Significant military gains by the Government
On August 2, 2008, Vellankulam town, the last LTTE's stronghold in Mannar District, fell to the advancing SLA troops. This marked the liberation of the entire Mannar district by the Army, which took eight months. Two days earlier the Army crossed the Mannar-Kilinochchi boundary and entered the district of Kilinochchi. The defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa commented that the Army was on target to take the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi before the end of the year.[dead link]
Following weeks of heavy military confrontation, on September 2, 2008, the Army took complete control of the town of Mallavi.
On September 9, 2008, the LTTE launched a surprise attack on the Vavuniya air base. The Army claimed that the assault was repulsed, with heavy casualties on both sides, whereas the rebels claimed that the operation was a success.
On September 15, 2008, a fierce battle started in the area of Akkarayankulam, which is located in the proximity of Kilinochchi. On October 3, 2008, a UN aid convoy, consisting of 51 trucks carrying around 650 tonnes of food, managed to unload all its cargo in Kilinochchi District, whereas Kilinochchi town was reported to have been left by "nearly everyone".
On October 6, 2008, retired Major General Janaka Perera was killed in a suicide blast along with 26 other victims. The Government blamed the attack on the LTTE. Meanwhile, the head of the army said his troops were within 2 km (1.25 miles) of the Tigers' administrative headquarters in Kilinochchi.
On October 17, 2008, SLA troops cut off the Mannar-Poonaryn (A-32) road north of Nachchikuda, thus effectively encircling Nachchikuda, which was the main remaining Sea Tiger stronghold on the northwestern coast of the Island. At that point the situation of more than 200,000 civilians who had been displaced in the latest round of fighting was turning into a humanitarian disaster; however, due to a number of reasons including doubts regarding the sincerity of the LTTE's negotiations, neither Western governments nor India intervened to broker a new ceasefire.
On October 28, 2008, SLA troops on the Western Kilinochchi battlefront started a final assault on the LTTE's western coastal bastion at Nachchikuda, which fell the next day. After that the Army Task Force 1 continued their advance towards Pooneryn and captured Kiranchchi, Palavi, Veravil, Valaipadu and Devil's Point. On November 15, 2008, troops of the Army Task Force 1 entered the strategically important Tamil Tiger stronghold of Pooneryn.
On November 3, 2008, the newly created Army Task Force 3 was introduced into the area of Mankulam, with the objective of engaging the LTTE cadres in a new battlefront towards the east of the Jaffna–Kandy (A-9) road. SLA troops captured Mankulam and the surrounding area on November 17, 2008.
On the Eastern Mullaitivu battlefront SLA troops entered Alampil, 10 km (6 miles) south of Mullaitivu, on December 4, 2008.
Fall of Kilinochchi and subsequent events
According to the Sri Lankan Army, an attack on Kilinochchi started on November 23, 2008. Troops were attacking rebels' defences from three directions. However, the LTTE offered a stiff resistance, and the prolonged attack resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.
Not until January 1, 2009, were SLA troops able to capture Paranthan, which is located to the north of Kilinochchi along the A-9 route. According to unnamed defence observers, the fall of Paranthan isolated the southern periphery of the Elephant Pass LTTE foothold and also exposed the LTTE's main fortification at Kilinochchi.
On January 2, 2009, the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, announced that troops had captured Kilinochchi, which the rebels had used for over a decade as their de facto administrative capital. It was noted that the loss of Killinochchi had caused a substantial dent in the LTTE's image as a capable ruthless terrorist group. The fall of Kilinochchi to the Sri Lankan troops was celebrated by fire crackers throughout the island. It was also stated that after the fall of Kilinochchi the LTTE was likely to collapse before long under unbearable military pressure on multiple fronts.
As of January 8, 2009, the Tigers were abandoning their positions on the Jaffna peninsula to make a last stand in the jungles of Mullaitivu, their last main base. The entire Jaffna peninsula was captured by the Sri Lanka Army by January 14, 2009.
On January 25, 2009, SLA troops captured Mullaittivu town, the last Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold.
On February 3, 2009, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway issued a joint statement urging the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and end hostilities, as there was just a short time before the Tigers lose all the territory still under their control.
On February 5, 2009, the military captured the last Sea Tiger base in Chalai, reducing the territory under rebel control to less than some 200 km2.
On February 20, 2009, two LTTE planes on a suicide mission attacked the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, killing 2 and wounding 45. Both planes were reportedly shot down before they could damage the intended targets which were the Army Headquarters and the main Airforce base.
This stage of the war has been marked by increased brutality against civilians and rapidly mounting civilian casualties. On February 19, 2009, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the Sri Lankan Army of "slaughtering" the civilians during indiscriminate artillery attacks (including repeated shelling of hospitals) and calling on the Sri Lankan Government to end its policy of "detaining displaced persons" in military-controlled internment camps. Human Rights Watch also urged the Tamil Tigers to permit trapped civilians to leave the war zone and to "stop shooting at those who try to flee". The UN was also concerned over the condition of internally displaced persons and estimated that some 200,000 people were being squeezed into a narrow 14 square kilometre patch of land on the coast in Vanni, which the Government had declared the 'no-fire zone'.
On March 26, 2009, the military claimed that there was only one square kilometre left in Tamil Tiger control outside the no-fire zone. Less than three years ago, the LTTE controlled 15,000 km2. Political pressure was placed on Mahinda Rajapaksa to find a political solution to the conflict and he called for a meeting with parliamentarians allied with the Tigers, but they refused until the government resolved the humanitarian crisis faced by civilians trapped in the fighting.
Fighting in the 'no-fire zone'
On April 20, 2009, the Sri Lanka Army captured the 3-kilometre (2 mi) long earth bund, built by the LTTE on the western border of the no-fire zone, and rescued over 30,000 civilians who had been trapped at the Puthumathalan and Amplalavanpokkani areas. Meanwhile, the LTTE accused the Sri Lankan government of killing about 1,000 civilians and injuring many more during its latest military offensive.
On April 21, 2009, Sri Lankan troops reportedly launched a ‘final assault’ against the LTTE, especially targeting its leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran. At the same time, a mass Tamil exodus from the 'no-fire zone' was under way.
On April 22, 2009, two senior LTTE members (LTTE media co-ordinator Velayuthan Thayanithi alias Daya Master and a top interpreter Kumar Pancharathnam alias George) surrendered to the advancing Sri Lankan army. This came as "a rude shock" and a major setback for the rebel leadership.
By April 25, 2009, the area under the LTTE was reduced to 10 km2. While the Tamil exodus from the 'no-fire zone' continued, the UN estimated that around 6,500 civilians may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded between January 2009 and April 2009. According to the BBC, the land recaptured by the Army from the rebels in the past few months is totally depopulated and the destruction is seen everywhere.
On April 29, 2009, the Ministry of Defence aired an interview called the Hidden Reality, with Daya Master and George, of their experience and time in the 'no-fire zone'. When asked why they had surrendered, both men stressed that rebels were shooting at the civilians and preventing them from escaping from the 'no-fire zone' to safety in government-controlled areas. They also confirmed that the LTTE were still abducting and conscripting children as young as 14 years old, and would fire at anyone who tried to resist. BBC news also reported that the Tigers are forcefully recruiting young children and are stopping people from moving out to government-controlled areas.
On May 8, 2009, a group of independent United Nations experts called on the Human Rights Council to urgently set up an international inquiry to address the “critical” situation in Sri Lanka amid fighting between the Army and Tamil rebels. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 196,000 people fled the conflict zone, a shrinking pocket of land on the north-east coastline, where clashes continued between Government troops and the LTTE, while at least 50,000 people were still trapped there.
Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, working in the makeshift hospital in the conflict zone, made a claim (which the BBC stated was "impossible to verify") that at least 378 civilians were killed and another 1,122 hurt during heavy and lengthy shelling overnight on May 9, 2009. The official stated that the shelling came from territory controlled by the Sri Lankan Army. The Ministry of Health denied that there was a government official with the BBC source's name in the conflict zone. The Sri Lankan military denied shelling the 'no-fire zone', and attributed it to the LTTE. Videos were released to the media of the site and the site was clearly impacted by the war. A UN spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, said more than 100 children died during the "large-scale killing of civilians" and described the situation in northern Sri Lanka as a "bloodbath". UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was appalled at the killing of hundreds of Sri Lankan civilians caught in the middle of hostilities between the army and separatist Tamil rebels over the weekend. He voiced deep concern over the continued use of heavy weapons in the conflict zone, but also stressed that the “reckless disrespect shown by the LTTE for the safety of civilians has led to thousands of people remaining trapped in the area”.
On May 13, 2009, Dr. T. Varatharajah in Mullivaikal told the BBC more than 50 people had died when two shells hit the zone's main hospital compound. Sources in the UN said they agreed with that figure and that 100 had been injured. A Sri Lankan technician working for the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed in shelling along with his mother, the organisation said. US President Barack Obama urged Sri Lanka to stop "indiscriminate shelling" of civilians and urged Tamil Tiger rebels to lay down their arms. In a unanimous statement the UN Security Council "strongly condemned the LTTE for its continued use of civilians as human shields and acknowledged the legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism”. At the same time, Council members “expressed deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expected the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitment in this regard”.
On May 16, 2009, Sri Lankan troops broke through LTTE defences and captured the last section of coastline held by Tamil Tiger rebels. The Army reported it was set to "clear" remaining rebel-held land within days. Later the military claimed, allegedly citing intercepted LTTE communication, that rebels are preparing for a mass suicide after being effectively cut-off of escape routes. Some rebels have been reported to be blowing themselves up.
The Times newspaper has reported, claiming a source within U.N. that as many as 20,000 civilians were killed in the Safe Zone. The paper further asserted that some of the deaths were caused by the Tamil Tigers but most were as a result of shelling by the Sri Lankan military. The UN had estimated that 6,500 civilians had been killed in the three months to the middle of April, while it has no official figure after that date. The Time's number assert that the death toll soared to 1,000 each day in the final two weeks of the war. The UN says it has no confirmed estimates of civilian casualties and the Sri Lankan government has denied the Times' allegations. The Guardian newspaper, quoting an another U.N. official, called the Times' figure as a "dangerous extrapolation". The Guardian also questioned many underlying assumption of the Time's figure.
The five doctors (Sivapalan, V. Shanmugaraja, Thurairaja Vartharaja, Sathyamoorthy and Ilancheliyan) who reported mass civilian casualties in the final phase of the civil war issued statements on 8 July 2009 recanting their reports. They said the causulaty figures they released were exaggerated and were handed to them by the Tamil Tigers. They stated that between January 2009 and the end of the war in May 2009 some 600-700 civilians were killed and twice that number had been injured. This contradicts the figures issued by international aid agencies: the United Nations says that 6,500 were killed between late January and early April; and the Red Cross evacuated 14,000 sick and injured people between mid-February and mid-May. The doctors also said that it wasn't true that a hospital had been shelled on 2 February. However, the UN and the Red Cross, both of whom had their own staff in the Safe Zone, say that the hospital was shelled and civilians were killed.
The United Nations says it stands by its casualty figures. Amnesty International says the doctors' recantation lacks credibility because they have been detained for two months by the Sri Lankan military without access to lawyers; they face torture, ill-treatment and other forms of duress; senior government officials have threatened the doctors with serious charges including treason; and because the doctors' recent statements contradict independently verified facts. Amnesty says it remains concerned about the doctors' safety. It has repeatedly called for an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by both sides. It has also urged all independent organisations, including the UN and Red Cross, who collected information about the final phase of the war to release that information so that the world knows the truth about casualty figures and war crimes.
End of the war
Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa declared victory on May 16, 2009. However, the war did not end until the following day. Sri Lankan troops raced to clear the last LTTE pockets of resistance. As the last LTTE strongpoints crumbled, Sri Lankan troops killed 70 rebels attempting to escape by boat. The whereabouts of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran and other major rebel leaders were not certain, however, Sri Lanka's government announced that Prabhakaran was dead on May 17, 2009. Several other important LTTE commanders committed suicide. Upon hearing news of the Sri Lankan victory, people celebrated in Colombo.
May 17: Tigers admit defeat
The LTTE finally admitted defeat on May 17, 2009, with the rebels' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, stating on the website that "This battle has reached its bitter end ... We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer".
The Sri Lanka Army forces confirmed that the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed in the morning of May 18, 2009. The announcement on state television came shortly after the military said it had surrounded Prabhakaran in a tiny patch of jungle in the north-east. The Daily Telegraph wrote that according to Sri Lankan TV, Prabhakaran was "...killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack as he tried to escape the war zone with his closest aides. Colonel Soosai, the leader of his "Sea Tigers" navy, and Pottu Amman, his intelligence chief were also killed in the attack."
The head of the Sri Lankan army, General Sarath Fonseka, said the military had defeated the rebels and "liberated the entire country". Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara confirmed Prabhakaran's death, saying 250 Tamil Tigers were also killed overnight. They were all hiding and fighting from within a zone that was designated for civilians only.