Sri Lanka Table of Contents
After the assassination of Jaffna's mayor in 1975, the militant groups accelerated their campaign of violence and destabilization. Their early targets included policemen, soldiers, and a number of Tamil politicians who were seen as collaborators with the Sinhalese-dominated government. The attacks were sporadic, relying largely on hit-and-run tactics.
In July 1983, the LTTE ambushed a military convoy in Northern Province, killing thirteen soldiers. The attack sparked off a conflagration of communal violence in which approximately 350 Tamils were killed and as many as 100,000 were forced to flee their homes. Indiscriminate violence by Sinhalese mobs and members of the security forces led to insecurity and alienation among the Tamil population, and support for the insurgency grew dramatically. The year 1984 was marked by a substantial increase in terrorist attacks, and the militants turned increasingly against civilian targets. Major incidents included an armed attack against civilians in the ancient Sinhalese city of Anuradhapura (May 1985--146 dead); the detonation of a bomb aboard an Air Lanka jet at the Bandaranaike International Airport (May 1986--20 dead); and a massive explosion at the Pettah bus station in Colombo during rush hour (April 1987--110 dead).
As the Tamil movement grew and obtained more weapons, it changed tactics. A full-fledged insurgency that could confront the armed forces replaced the isolated terrorist incidents that had characterized the early period. By early 1986, the LTTE had won virtual control of the Jaffna Peninsula, confining the army to military bases and taking over the day-to-day administration of the city of Jaffna. In January 1987, the Tigers attempted to formalize their authority over the peninsula by establishing an "Eelam Secretariat." LTTE leaders claimed that this was intended simply to consolidate functions that the insurgents were already performing, i.e., collecting taxes and operating basic public services. Nonetheless, the government interpreted this move as a unilateral declaration of independence and thus a challenge to governmental authority.
In response, the government launched a major offensive against Jaffna in May and June 1987. The security forces succeeded in destroying major insurgent bases and regaining control of most of the peninsula, but at the cost of growing political pressure from India. Reports of army brutality and high civilian casualties among the Tamil population made the offensive increasingly unacceptable to the Indian government, which had its own substantial Tamil minority to worry about. In early June, Indian Air Force planes invaded Sri Lankan airspace to drop relief supplies into embattled Tamil areas, sending a message to the Sri Lankan government that the offensive would not be allowed to continue. Within a week, the Sri Lankan government announced the successful completion of its campaign.
On July 29, 1987, President Jayewardene signed an accord with India designed to bring an end to the more than ten years of violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil minority. The accord provided for the disarming of militant groups under the supervision of the Indian Peacekeeping Force and the granting of limited autonomy to the primarily Tamil regions in Northern and Eastern provinces. The terms of the accord provoked immediate criticism from a number of directions. For Sinhalese nationalists, including several high-level officials in Jayewardene's government, the agreement was a threat to the unitary nature of Sri Lanka, virtually sanctioning a separate Tamil nation within the island. Tamil militants questioned the basic validity of the accord; although prime participants in the conflict, they had not been included in the negotiations leading to the accord, and their later accession had been secured under extreme pressure from the Indian government. For the wider community of Tamils and Sinhalese, the presence of Indian troops, even in a peacekeeping role, represented an unacceptable compromise of sovereignty.
These criticisms became increasingly acute when, in October 1987, the Tamil militants and the Indian-Sri Lankan forces accused each other of violating the accord, and the fighting resumed. Indian forces were expanded from an initial 3,000 troops to more than 70,000, and the Indian Peacekeeping Force launched a major assault that succeeded in taking Jaffna in late October (see Foreign Military Presence , this ch.). Most of the insurgents managed to escape and, according to press reports, regrouped in Mannar in Northern Province and in Batticaloa and other areas of Eastern Province. Weakened and cut off from their original bases and sources of supply, the Tigers were no longer able to conduct positional warfare against the security forces, but they claimed that they would continue their struggle through terrorist attacks.
The intervention of Indian forces in the north allowed the Sri Lankan Army to concentrate on another crisis that was developing in the south; Sinhalese nationalist opposition to the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord had turned violent, breaking out in strikes and street demonstrations. In the midst of this disorder, an old Sinhalese extremist organization was gaining in support and threatened to launch its second bid for power.
Data as of October 1988
Sri Lanka Table of Contents