Fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, Tamil Tigers) and Sri Lankan military flared up in April-July 2006, marking the start of “Eelam War 4.” Talks failed in Geneva in October. The Worldwatch Institute reported: Fighting between government troops and Tamil Tigers intensified in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The government’s decision to launch a ground offensive near Trincomalee may have been a turning point in the slide to renewed civil war. Fierce battles were reported not only around the eastern cities of Batticaloa and Trincomalee, but also in the Jaffna peninsula, where the Tigers started an attack. Unconfirmed reports suggest heavy Tiger casualties. [Source: Worldwatch Institute]

About 60,000 people sought refuge in temporary shelters in August, but another 30,000 or so were trapped by the fighting. Hundreds of civilians are feared to have perished, although precise numbers could not be verified. Reports indicate that 61 school girls were killed in a government air strike on the northern district of Mullaitivu. In the capital Colombo, Ketheesh Loganathan, the deputy head of the government’s peace secretariat (the liaison for the Norwegian-brokered 2002 cease-fire) and a veteran Tamil human rights advocate, was shot dead. Also in Colombo, a bomb blast killed seven people, but Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Bashir Wali Mohamed, escaped uninjured. He may have been targeted by the Tamil Tigers because Pakistan supplies arms to the Sri Lankan government.

Officially, both sides have maintained they are abiding by the cease-fire’s terms, a position increasingly difficult to reconcile with on-the-ground realities. The government said it was prepared to hold peace talks yesterday, but the Tigers dismissed the idea. Seevarathnam Puleedevan, a senior Tiger spokesman said “The Sri Lankan government's attacks make peace talks and the implementation of the ceasefire agreement impossible.” Adding to the confusing picture, the European ceasefire monitoring team in Sri Lanka said it was the Tigers that had suggested new peace talks — which the Tigers in turn denied.

Eelam War IV Battles and Military Events: July 2006 – May 2009 (Battle Date Location Deaths Result)
Battle of Point Pedro May 2006, Bay of Bengal near Point Pedro, Jaffna District 17, 54 dead, Sri Lankan Navy victory
Battle of Jaffna August – October 2006, Jaffna Peninsula, Jaffna District 300, 700-1,000 dead, Stalemate
Battle of Sampur August – September 2006, Sampoor (Sampur), Trincomalee District 33, 200 dead, Sri Lankam Army victory
Attack on Galle Harbour, October 2006, Galle, Galle District 1 9 1 dead, SLN victory
Battle of Thoppigala April – July 2007, Kudumbimalai (Thoppikkal), Batticaloa District 48, 700-800 dead, SLA victory
Battle of Point Pedro, June 2007 Bay of Bengal near Point Pedro, Jaffna District, 40 dead, SLN victory
Raid on Anuradhapura Air Force Base, October 2007, Sri Lankan Air Force Base, Anuradhapura, Anuradhapura District 14, 20 dead, Successful LTTE (Tamil Tiger) raid
Battle of Delft December 2007, Palk Strait near Neduntheevu (Delft) island, Jaffna District 4-40, Disputed
Battle of Vidattaltivu July 2008 Vidattaltivu, Mannar District 1 51 dead, SLA victory
Battle of Kilinochchi (2nd) November 2008 – January 2009, Kilinochchi, Kilinochchi District, SLA victory
Battle of Mullaitivu (2nd) January 2009, Mullaitivu, Mullaitivu District, SLA victory
Battle of Elephant Pass (3rd) 9 January 2009 Elephant Pass, SLA victory
Battle of Chalai February 2009 Chalai, Mullaitivu District 12, SLA victory
Battle of Puthukkudiyirippu Puthukkudiyirippu, Mullaitivu District, SLA victory [Source: Wikipedia]

Timeline of Eelan War IV

2003 - Tigers pull out of peace talks, ceasefire holds.

2004-2005 - Tamil Tiger eastern commander Colonel Karuna Amman breaks away from LTTE and takes 6,000 fighters with him Suspected Tiger assassin kills foreign minister. Anti-Tiger hard-liner Mahinda Rajapaksa wins presidency.

2006 and 2009 - Eelam War IV

2006 - Fighting flares in April-July, raising fears of start of “Eelam War 4.” New talks fail in Geneva in October.

2007 - Government captures Tiger’s eastern strongholds.

2008 - Government annuls ceasefire in early January and launches massive offensive.

January 2, 2009 - Troops seize Tiger’s de facto capital, Kilinochchi.

April 17 - Rebels call for a truce after two-day government fighting pause expires. Government rejects the call as a ruse.

April 20 - Sri Lanka gives the rebels 24 hours to surrender as tens of thousands of civilians flee battle zone. Exodus tops 115,000 in just a week.

April 26 - Tigers declare unilateral ceasefire. Sri Lanka calls it “a joke” and says LTTE must surrender.

13 April 2009 –15 April 2009 - Final Battle of the Sri Lankan Civil War Puthukkudiyirippu, Mullaitivu District

May 16 - Military takes control of entire coastline for first time since war began. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking during meeting of developing nations in Jordan, says the LTTE has been defeated militarily, even as heavy fighting rages.

May 17 - More than 70 LTTE fighters disguised as civilians killed while trying to flee by boat. Many more blow themselves up in suicide attacks as army battles to finish them off. Military declares all civilians freed; says number in excess of 72,000 over four days.

May 18 - Military declares entire island under government control after troops defeat remaining Tiger resistance. Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran killed by special forces troops while trying to escape war zone in ambulance, state TV says. Other top-ranked Tigers also killed in final fight.

Eelan War IV Begins

The Eelan War IV began after Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected president in 2005. Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “By the time Mahinda Rajapaksa stood for election in November, 2005, the ceasefire was already unravelling. Just two months earlier, the country’s foreign minister, a moderate Tamil, had been assassinated by a suspected Tiger sniper. The Tigers encouraged a boycott of the election, and, ironically, the dearth of Tamil voters helped Rajapaksa win by a slender margin. At his inauguration, Rajapaksa invited the Tigers to a new round of talks, but amid mounting violence they withdrew. [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

“In July, 2006, after the Tigers blocked a reservoir that supplied water to thousands of farmers, Rajapaksa authorized a new military offensive against them. This was followed by a political blow: in October, the Supreme Court ordered that the Northern and Eastern Provinces be separated, diminishing hopes for the Tamil homeland. The next month, Prabhakaran declared a renewal of the “freedom struggle.” The war had begun again. With the help of two Tiger defectors named Karuna and Pellian, the Army took over the east, and then moved its offensive north, pursuing Prabhakaran’s troops into the Vanni. At the same time, the Army embarked on a huge recruitment drive: between 2005 and 2009, it grew from a hundred and twenty-five thousand troops to three hundred thousand.”

More than 3,000 civilians, troops and rebel fighters were killed in 2006 and tens of thousands were displaced amid battles, air raids, ambushes and suicide bombings. According to Reuters: “The Tigers suffered a series of setbacks. They were pushed out of bases and lost dozens of fighters in fierce gun battles. However the Sri Lankan military's image was tarnished during the same time. Its airforce bombed a children's home run by the Tigers in Mullaitivu district, killing dozens, in August. Soldiers were also accused of murdering Tamil aid workers on the island's east coast. Caught between the rebels and Sri Lankan forces are the country's Muslims. Thousands fled from the port town of Muslim-majority Mutur after the distribution of leaflets warning of an imminent rebel attack.”

Early Fighting in 2006

Randeep Ramesh wrote in The Guardian: “Although the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers signed a ceasefire in 2002, it has been violated every day in the past few weeks. Things came to a head last month with a brief return to full-scale conflict after a pregnant Tamil Tiger suicide bomber tried to assassinate the country's army chief. He barely escaped with his life. She died in a bloody haze. The retribution was swift, with Sri Lankan air force planes, supported by naval artillery, pulverising rebel positions near Trincomalee, sending thousands of local people fleeing into the jungle. Unicef said that children had been killed in the attack. [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 7, 2006]

The death toll continues to rise in this shadow war. More than 150 people have been killed in spiralling violence since April. On Friday the Sri Lankan navy sank a Tiger suicide boat squad. The day before, 10 people, including seven Tigers, were killed in fighting in the northern town of Jaffna. What is clear is that both sides have failed to abide by promises made in the last round of peace talks in February. The Tigers pledged to desist from violence and in return the government agreed to rein in 'armed groups' operating in its territory - a reference to Karuna's paramilitary outfit. Neither has happened.

The truce began unravelling after the November 2005 election victory of a hardline Sinhalese President, Mahinda Rajapakse. The Tigers gave the new government a year to settle the conflict. Separating the Tiger-held territory and land under government control in Batticaloa is a bridge across an estuary. On one side flutter the distinctive yellow and red flags of Tamil Eelam (literally 'homeland'). Here the Tamil Tigers collect taxes and operate courts. They run a de facto government. On the other are the heavily armed soldiers of the army.

In charge of the LTTE's Batticaloa area is Thaya Mohan, the group's political head. A balding, roundish man with a limp, he carries a smile on his lips and a 9mm revolver on his hips. Despite his unassuming appearance he is a veteran of 10 major battles and 'about 60' skirmishes with the Sri Lankan army. He says he has killed 150 'enemies not civilians'.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest the Tamil Tigers retain a formidable military capability. They have a well-earned reputation for fanaticism and ruthlessness. Every activist wears a cyanide pill, for suicide if captured, around his or her neck. The zeal of the fighters is chilling. Sathurai Pradeepa is a slip of a young woman who ran away to join the Tigers when she was 12. She left her home after seeing her father and uncle beaten by soldiers in the streets. The Tigers sent her to school for three years until she was 15, when she was given a gun.

“Sathurai, 20, has killed six people in 'jungle operations'. Under Tigers' rules she cannot marry for another eight years, and she laughs off questions about whether she misses 'shopping and make-up'. 'My parents came last week to convince me to come home. I told them that the LTTE is my family now.' Sitting under pictures of the Tigers' revered and elusive leader, Prabhakaran, Sathurai, wearing civilian clothes, says she is ready to die. 'I am not scared. I do not think peace is possible now and I am ready to kill and die for the Tamil people.'”

64 Die in Sri Lanka as Land Mines Blow Up Bus In June 2006

A land-mine explosion ripped apart a passenger bus in northern Sri Lanka, killing at least 64 people and wounding 86, in the most serious attack on civilians since the cease-fire agreement in 2002. Shimali Senanayake and Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: “Hours later, Sri Lankan military forces pounded rebel posts in the island's north and east by sea, land, and air, according to independent monitors and guerrilla officials. The military said simply that its forces had taken "deterrent" measures. The government was swift to blame the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the attack on the civilian bus, which the rebels in turn promptly denied, pointing at the government instead. [Source: Shimali Senanayake and Somini Sengupta, New York Times, June 15, 2006]

“The greater uncertainty now is whether today's deadly events mark the beginning of full-scale war. Despite growing violence, neither side has been willing to explicitly renounce the crippled February 2002 cease-fire accord. "The substance of the peace process has been completely eroded," said Jehan Perera of the Colombo-based National Peace Council, an independent research and advocacy group. "Only the outer trappings remain."

The latest violence also follows several months of carnage between Sri Lankan soldiers, Tamil Tiger guerrillas and a breakaway faction in the east, called the Karuna group. Over the last several months, fighting has emptied villages in the northeast. A bomb went off in a busy market in the eastern port town of Trincomalee last April. The same month, the Tamil Tiger rebels — better known here as the L.T.T.E., the abbreviation of the group's full name — were accused for the attempted assassination of Sri Lanka's army chief inside the heavily fortified military headquarters here in the capital. That attack, carried out by a suicide bomber, was also followed by a series of airstrikes on rebel posts near Sampur, on the northeastern coast.

Since April, 500 people have been killed in the conflict, mostly civilians, according to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. Today's killings represented by far the largest civilian death toll since the 2002 truce. The Tamil Tigers today accused the government of having bombed rebel-held Kilinochchi, the northern town that serves as the guerrilla headquarters, as well as Sampur and Mullaitivu, both strategic eastern coastal installations for the Tamil Tiger naval fleet. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said it also witnessed artillery fire from the Sri Lankan Army and Navy. "Known L.T.T.E. targets are being taken as a deterrent measure," a Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, said this afternoon without elaborating.

Earlier today, during the morning rush hour, two so-called Claymore mines, placed side by side, were detonated by remote control, blowing up an overcrowded state-owned bus on its way to a market town in the historic Anuradhapura district, about 100 miles north of the capital Colombo, Brigadier Samarasinghe said. Anuradhapura's border villages were favorite targets during the war, as it sits at the crossroads between government and rebel-held territories. The police in the area said 15 children were among the 64 dead.

Roadside Bombs, Naval Battles and Clashes in 2006

In August 2006, Associated Press reported: A roadside bomb exploded near a military truck in northeastern Sri Lanka, killing 18 soldiers, security officials said, and a senior rebel leader declared the country's cease-fire "null and void." Tamil Tiger rebels and government soldiers also traded artillery fire and gunfire as the air force struck insurgent positions, killing at least 46 fighters, the army said. [Source: Associated Press. Tuesday, August 1, 2006]

The clashes in the northeastern district of Trincomalee and Jaffna, a port on Sri Lanka's northern tip, were among the fiercest since a 2002 cease-fire and as close to open war as the two sides have come in months of back-and-forth attacks. Still, the government said it had not violated the cease-fire, insisting it sent ground forces into Tiger territory only to end a rebel blockade of a key water source. "Our military's operation to open the irrigation gates is purely based on humanitarian grounds. It is not an act of war," government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

But a leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said the government's offensive amounted to a "declaration of war." "Therefore, for us the cease-fire is null and void," said Puratchi, a rebel commander in Trincomalee who uses only one name. Puratchi said he was speaking for the Tigers, but his comments could not immediately be confirmed by other rebel leaders.

The Guardian reported: “A huge blast in Colombo yesterday hit the capital's central Colpetty district, home to several foreign missions. Pakistan's high commissioner, Bashir Wali Mohmand, was thought to be the target. Eight people were killed and about 20 injured when a mine placed in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw blew up as the Pakistani envoy's motorcade drove by. Among the dead were four soldiers from Sri Lanka's diplomatic security unit. "This is the very first time that a foreign diplomat has been attacked in Sri Lanka," said Mr Perera. "The [Tigers now seem] to be targeting anyone who it feels is helping Colombo in its war effort, and Pakistan happens to be one of the main arms suppliers to the Sri Lankan military." [Source: Maseeh Rahman, The Guardian, August 15, 2006]

In September 2006, the Sri Lanka's navy claimed a major victory after sinking 11 Tamil Tiger rebel ships loaded with troops and weapons off the island's east coast in a five-hour battle. Randeep Ramesh wrote in The Guardian: “Seventy rebels including a top Tiger commander were thought dead in the fighting, the worst since 1,000 people were killed during the summer in clashes between rebels and the army. [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, September 25, 2006]

“The battle began late last night when the navy noticed 25 rebel ships sailing south. Battleships and gunboats led the Sri Lankan forces in the attack, which saw 14 Sea Tiger vessels retreat into the waters off the eastern town of Pulmoddai. One navy vessel was damaged, injuring five sailors, but made it back to port, said navy commander DKP Dassanayake. The defence ministry's press office said a key Tiger officer, known by the single name Seliyan, may have been killed in the battle.

Bombing Kills 61 Girls at School

On August 14, 2006 when the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed what it said was a rebel LTTE training camp, killing 61 girls aged 16 to 18. The LTTE, SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) and UNICEF, said the girls were not LTTE members and the facility was not a training camp but rather a school for girls in a LTTE-controled area.. The incident is called the Chencholai bombing (also spelt as Sencholai). [Source: Wikipedia]

The Sri Lankan government claimed to be monitoring the site since 2004 and claimed that it was a training camp and clearly stating that it was not mistaken or wrong target. Newspaper reports initially called the site an orphanage. United Nations said that students had been killed in the attack and they seem to have been students between 16 and 18, A-level students, from the Kilinochichi and Mullaittivu areas, who were on a two-day training course.

Maseeh Rahman wrote in The Guardian: “Scores of schoolgirls attending a first aid course in a northern Tamil Tiger rebel-run district were killed when an orphanage was bombed by the Sri Lankan air force. The pro-rebel news website reported that of the 400 teenage girls staying at the children's home in Chenchollai village in Mullaittivu district, at least 61 were killed and 129 wounded. A Unicef official in Colombo said its team had yet to return with details of the incident, but other unconfirmed reports put the death toll at 43, with more than 60 wounded. The Sri Lankan military denied its jets had attacked the orphanage. [Source: Maseeh Rahman, The Guardian, August 15, 2006]

"It's quite possible the children's home was hit, since the air force has been bombing the area," said Jehan Perera, director of the independent National Peace Council. "Clearly, the ceasefire is effectively dead, and even the monitors from the international peacekeeping mission have said they might as well go home. The civil war has started again."

Civilian Caught in Tamil Tiger Fighting

Aid agencies estimate that at least 100,000 people were displaced by the renewed fighting between Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers. Some refugees blamed the Sri Lanka military for shelling civilian areas. Other refugees blamed the Tamil Tigers for using them as human shields. Reuters reported: Some balancing bags on their heads, others with infants clamped to their breasts, all drenched to the bone, hundreds of Tamil refugees emerge from jungle in pouring rain at this transit camp in Sri Lanka's volatile east. Many have trekked for days, even swum across rivers, to flee a coastal strip of Tamil Tiger-held territory spanning the conflict-battered districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa to escape the crossfire of a deadly new chapter in the island's two-decade civil war. [Source: Reuters, December 20, 2006

“Some say the Tigers — accused by the military of using civilians as human shields — tried to stop them leaving the rebel-held town of Vakarai around 15 miles (25 kilometers) to the north. Most say they left because of army shelling that killed dozens. "Not a moment of our lives was free of shelling," said 18-year-old Rajendran Krishnakumar, who should have been sitting his A-level exams, as the army sporadically shelled the rebels from nearby. "There are bodies lying around in Vakarai, all the houses have been destroyed. It is a war environment."

He said an army shell killed his 16-year-old brother in November. "I was in an educational environment, where we had all laid our future on study," he added, beads of rain on his thick black hair and mud caked on his sarong. "For seven months I have missed school and have been moving from place to place. Today we have lost all hope."

“The military says more than 10,000 people have passed through the transit camp in the past four days. Refugees say at least that many again are still stuck in the rebel-held area, many too old and frail to make the journey. Arriving refugees are marshalled by troops with assault rifles into a school in the tiny village of Ridithenna, where they shelter in classrooms and under awnings until they are checked from head to toe by the military — who worry Tiger infiltrators are among them. Some have managed to salvage a few possessions: a few clothes, pots and pans, even a bicycle. Many arrive barefoot, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. "I left Vakarai in total fear, said 26-year-old Malini Kalidhasan, sodden and shivering, her soaked dress clinging tight to her body and pools of red, muddy monsoon rainwater welling around her bare feet. "We don't know who to blame. We were being shelled, so we left. We could not live there." "We left without informing the Tigers," she added in her native Tamil, sheltering her two young children with a small umbrella. "Our hope is to go back to Vakarai and establish our life there again."

Human Rights Abuses During the Eelam War IV

Minelle Fernandez wrote in the Washington Post: “The rebel army has "continued its deliberately provocative attacks on the military and Sinhalese civilians as well as its violent repression of Tamil dissenters and forced recruitment of both adults and children," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group wrote in a recent report. At the same time, "the government is using extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances as part of a brutal counter-insurgency campaign," the group said. Human rights groups have alleged state complicity in common extortion and kidnapping rackets as well, given the ease with which gangs have operated in the capital, Colombo, and in the north and east, the main conflict zones, which are under tight military security. [Source: Minelle Fernandez, Washington Post, July 28, 2007]

“A recent move by the government to evict Tamils from temporary accommodation in the capital on the grounds that they posed a threat to national security stirred up huge controversy. The Supreme Court later ordered the suspension of evictions. Tamils are not alone in losing basic rights, though the group is particularly vulnerable. Vajira Dharmasena is a Sinhalese nurse in the main government hospital in Vavuniya, a garrison town in the north with a majority Tamil population. She lives in the Sinhala settlement of Mamaduwa and says people live in fear of attacks by the rebels, known as the Tamil Tigers. "We try to avoid using the bus service that plies between Vavuniya and the village because we're afraid it will be targeted," she said. "We live in fear. At night people living near the forward defense lines come to the town to sleep. Schoolchildren can't study."

“Eleven journalists have been killed since August 2005, according to an international media monitoring mission, which was in the country last month. "Killings and attacks against journalists remained unsolved, leading to fears that media freedom is being deliberately and violently suppressed through threats, abductions and attacks," said Jacqui Park of the International Federation of Journalists.

Abductions During the Eelam War IV

Minelle Fernandez wrote in the Washington Post: “The men who came to the shop April 7 identified themselves as police officers, from the Criminal Investigations Department. Come with us to the station, they told the proprietor, a member of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. He got into their van, tricked into what turned out to be a kidnapping. A demand for $500,000 in ransom arrived a few days later, the man's daughter recounted. After two months of negotiations and threats, the kidnappers let the man go for $20,000 but have continued to terrorize the family with demands for more money and threats to abduct the man's son. The family went to the police to seek help following the abduction, the daughter said, and again after the new threats, but authorities took no visible action. [Source: Minelle Fernandez, Washington Post, July 28, 2007]

“The case is one of a string of abductions, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and detentions that have proliferated in Sri Lanka during the past year as the rule of law breaks down amid escalating civil war. The government of the majority ethnic Sinhala nation is fighting rebels who want an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamil community. This kidnapping, like many others, remains unsolved, the family said. It's unclear whether the kidnappers were real police officers or impostors, but in today's environment, either explanation is plausible.

“Human rights workers here complain that the government's initial response to the abductions was indifference. Leading politicians assert that the opposition was exaggerating the situation for political gain. One politician claimed that businessmen were going abroad clandestinely or dropping out of sight "to free themselves from their wives to enjoy with their pretty ones in unknown locations."

“In an interview, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said that "abductions and extortions are not new to Sri Lanka and were common during the southern insurrection of the '80s." In many abduction cases, victims say they are scared to go to the police. Mano Ganesan of the Civil Monitoring Commission, which has documented 133 cases of abduction, is cynical about the government's handling of the matter. "The real culprits — the big fish — will not be apprehended," he said. "This government has been appointing committees and commissions to monitor the human rights situation, but there is no action on the ground."

LTTE Air Force in Action in 2007

In 2007, the Tamil Tiger participating with its rudimentary air force that had previously relied on homemade hang gliders and ultralights. In March 2007, the BBC reported; Tamil Tiger pilots. The BBC reported: “Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers have carried out their first aerial attack, bombing a military base by the international airport north of the capital, Colombo. Three air force personnel were killed, officials say, and 16 people injured when the bombs hit a parking area for planes and helicopter gunships. [Source: BBC, March 26, 2007]

“A statement from the Tamil Tigers, carried by the pro-rebel Tamilnet website, claimed responsibility for the attack on the military base, which is 30km (20 miles) north of Colombo. The government said one plane was used. The rebels said two aircraft took part and that both planes returned to rebel-held territory safely. "It is a measure to protect Tamil civilians from the genocidal aerial bombardments by Sri Lankan armed forces. More attacks of the same nature will follow," said the rebels' military spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan. Air force officials said no planes were hit, damage to the military facility was "minor" and that a search operation was under way.

“The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says the confirmation that the rebels now have an air capability confirms government suspicions that they had been smuggling in aircraft parts to be assembled in areas of the island they control. One international airline, Cathay Pacific, announced that it was suspending flights to Colombo. The authorities have set up an investigation into how the Tigers could have flown planes for more than 200 kms (125 miles) undetected.

The raid on the air force base took place at about 45 minutes after midnight. The Tigers released photos of planes and personnel they said took part in the raid. "No terrorist group in this part of the world has any air capability," government minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle told journalists in Colombo. "This is a clear threat to the security of the whole region."

In April 2007, the Tamil Tiger launched air raid on oil targets. Ranga Sirilal of Reuters reported: “Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebel planes bombed two oil facilities near Colombo, causing minor damage and tripping air defenses that plunged the city into darkness. Colombo residents said they heard explosions and gunfire as the military responded to the air raid around 1:50 a.m. (2020 GMT). Hospital officials said six people were admitted for injuries after the attacks, and two were in intensive care. [Source: Ranga Sirilal, Reuters, April 28, 2007]

The early morning attack was only the third air strike ever by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, who are fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island. “They dropped four bombs ... there was no human damage,” a defense ministry spokesman said. Two bombs landed in an area called Muthurajawela, north of the city, one damaging a water pipeline at a crude oil pumping station and the other striking a fire hut at a Shell gas facility, he said. “There was an explosion and a fire. There has been some damage, power failure ... (But) there has been no damage to our storage tanks or pipeline,” said Rimoe Saldin, finance director at Shell Gas. The fire was brought under control in about 45 minutes. Shell was still assessing the extent of the damage, he said. Two other rebel bombs landed near the Kolonnawa oil refining facility 5 kilometers (3 miles) north of Colombo, the military said.

A Tamil Tiger spokesman said two aircraft carried out the raids, hitting both targets before returning safely to base. Residents said power to the city had been cut as Sri Lanka’s military went on alert when radar detected suspect aircraft. “I can hear gunfire. I can see flashes going up into the sky above the city,” a Reuters witness said. Residents said they had heard two explosions. Some residents said they saw gunfire being directed at a plane flying overhead.

The Tigers had five Czech-built, Cesna-like propeller-driven Zlin-143 aircraft, smuggled onto the island in pieces and re-assembled. “After the attack, air force jets struck back, bombing targets in the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi, the defense ministry said. Air force planes also hit Tiger targets about an hour before the air strike near Colombo, it said. The security alert followed a similar one a few days earlies when Sri Lankan authorities temporarily closed the international airport after reports suspicious planes were seen flying south along the coast. That air raid scare occurred two days after planes from the Tamil Tiger rebels’ newly unveiled air wing dropped bombs on a military position in the north, killing six people.

Tamil Tigers Driven From Their Eastern Stronghold in 2007

In 2007, the Sri Lankan government drove the Tamil Tigers from their eastern strongholds by with help from a breakaway Tamil rebel faction. That faction, the Eastern Tamil Tigers, quickly reinvented itself as a political party, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal Party, or T.M.V.P., which was endorsed by the government and particapted in elections in the Tamil areas in March 2008..

Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: The houses here are still battered from the fighting. Its people are still rattled from having to run. Until recently, T.M.V.P. gunmen openly patrolled the East. The group is accused by human rights organizations, as well as United Nations officials, of recruiting child soldiers. Many people are fearful, and critics worry that the party will browbeat or ballot-stuff its way to an election victory. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 10, 2008]

On fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Eastern Tamil Tigers in 2006 near Batticaloa, with input from the Sri Lankan army, Randeep Ramesh wrote in The Guardian: “When fisherman Kandasamy Rajan was jolted from his sleep in the middle of a hot night by the sound of gunfire last month, his family's nightmare had just begun. Lying dead in a street in Batticaloa, a town on Sri Lanka's eastern coast that straddles a blue lagoon, was his 18-year-old son Rajnith. A few hours later the body of Vijneswaran, his teenage nephew, was dumped in an emerald-green paddy field. Both were riddled with bullets. [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 7, 2006]

They were victims of a bloody, sectarian war fought in the streets of this town between government-backed Tamil fighters, led by a breakaway Tiger commander called Karuna, and battle-hardened guerrillas from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In Batticaloa the two groups vie for control, using abductions and political assassinations to enforce their rule. Although these rivals were once on the same side, fighting the Sri Lankan army for 20 years in a conflict that has claimed 65,000 lives, they are now sworn enemies. Little quarter is asked for or given.

“When pro-Karuna gunmen dragged Rajnith and Vijneswaran out of a neighbour's wake three weeks ago, both were accused of putting up posters supporting the Tigers. Before they could answer, they were shot dead. Pro-Tigers pamphlets were scattered on their bodies. 'These boys were not political. They had hot tempers, but they were innocents,' says Kandasamy, 39, his eyes brimming with tears. He says that the rift between the two Tamil factions means 'we are finding dead bodies on the streets. It is impossible to trust anyone. We just do not know who belongs to whom'.

“Batticaloa is being slowly stripped of life by the violence. On the day last week that The Observer arrived in town, 18 pro-Karuna fighters were killed in a gun battle outside the town. This act was followed by the Sri Lankan army spraying Batticaloa with bullets as they pursued Tiger guerrillas. On walls and lampposts large, red-painted letters proclaim that Batticaloa is under the control of the TMVP, initials in Tamil that stand for Karuna's Tamil People's Liberation Party. Under the watchful gaze of machine-gun-carrying Sri Lankan soldiers is the TMVP's huge, newly opened office. A red pennant carrying a yellow tiger flutters above the 20ft walls of the compound.

“It is an open secret that Karuna, and his crack troops, are now sheltered by his former enemy, the Sri Lankan army. Most analysts agree that Karuna is being funded and armed by the Sri Lankan army. 'The government is unwilling to disarm the Karuna group because it is a strategic asset that can harass and attack the LTTE,' says Saravanamuth Paikiasothy, director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. 'Neither side believes hostilities are about to end. The LTTE are choreographing a return to war and the government is sustaining that.' On Karuna's fighters, the LTTE said, 'The government is not keeping its promises to disarm these paramilitaries. They are killing Tamil people and abducting them,. Our message is that, if you do not disarm these paramilitaries, we will take steps to do so ourselves.'

Sri Lankan Government End the Ceasefire in 2008

In January, 2008, Rajapaksa, determined to crush the Tigers, announced a formal end to the ceasefire. Reuters reported: The Tigers, were driven from the east of the island in 2007, emboldening the government in its aim to finally crush the rebels and rebuild Sri Lanka’s economy. “The military quickly stepped up its war against the rebels in their northern stronghold, leading to a surge in casualties on both sides and suicide blasts in the capital. There are 300 people in this IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camp, we have been displaced due to the war since 2006, from Muttur, but still we are in this camp,” said V Thivakarasa, a 46-year-old carpenter who has been unable to work since fleeing his home. Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi. [Source: Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi, Reuters, May 10, 2008]

Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: In January, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration called off the 2002 cease-fire accord, which by then had become a truce in name only. Cease-fire monitors packed up and left. While it is impossible to gauge what is happening on the battlefield, that is where, it seems, the government has placed its bets to settle the long-running ethnic war, once and for all. As it does, the public mood in this country is more divided than in many years, like an old scratch that has festered into a gaping wound. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 10, 2008]

“The new government offensive against the ethnic Tamil insurgents, who have fought for a quarter-century to carve a separate homeland from this island, has received ample public support, at least among the ethnic Sinhalese who are the majority. The enthusiasm can be felt in the large numbers signing up for the army, or in the citizens’ groups on patrol against suspicious activity, or in the voices of ordinary Sinhalese, who continue to brave checkpoints, suicide bombings and double-digit inflation in hopes of a military victory over the rebels. “We have economic problems, we have other problems, there is inflation, but people are tolerating it because the war is going great,” said Premaratne Dawatage, whose son is in the navy, describing the country’s mood the other day at a crowded bus stand here in the capital.

“Such enthusiasm is hard to find among minority Tamils. Anxiety prevails, sometimes panic. They say they stay off the streets in the evenings for fear of arrest or abduction. They quietly produce identity cards at security checkpoints and say little when theirs are more closely scrutinized. Tamil neighborhoods are raided at night. Few people are willing to speak their minds, for fear that any criticism of the war effort will be construed as support for the rebels, or worse, that they will be detained under stringent emergency laws.

“S. Hariharasharma, 20, desperately searching for a sponsor to help him emigrate to Britain, recounted one incident, and it echoed the recollections of many young Tamils here. He was on the bus home from the British Council library one afternoon when police officers got on and demanded to see passengers’ identity cards. He began to tremble, he said, because he knew his identity would be suspect: a young man, a newcomer from Tamil-majority Jaffna in the north, unable to speak the Sinhala language. “Somehow I managed to hide my fear,” he said. “It is a must to be normal.” And then, a confession: “It’s acting, it’s acting, and it’s humiliating.” That day, the acting worked. The police checked his identity card and let him continue. By the time he reached home, no more than half an hour late, his mother was hysterical with fear. It was barely 5:30 p.m.”

Elections in Tamil Areas in March 2008

The first elections in two decades were held in Tamil areas in May 2008. “President Rajapaksa says the poll is crucial to restore democracy to the area, until recently held by the Tigers, and allow development after 25 years of war. The elections are also part of the government’s blueprint for devolution in minority Tamil areas, which it hopes will go hand-in-hand with its push to win the war in which tens of thousands of people have died. Analysts see the election as a referendum on the government’s military strategy against the Tamil Tiger rebels. [Source: Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi, Reuters, May 10, 2008]

Results of Elections in Tamil Areas (Batticaloa, Ampara, Trincolmalee) in March 2008 (percentage of vote, seats)
United People's Freedom Alliance: 52.21 percent, 18 seats (in Batticaloa: 6: Ampara: 8; Trincolmalee: 4)
United National Party 42.38 percent, 15 seats (in Batticaloa: 4 Ampara: 6; Trincolmalee: 5)
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, 1.59 percent, no seats.
Tamizh Democratic National Alliance, 1.30 percent, no seats.
Total: 202,443 votes in Batticaloa (11 seats); 272,392 votes in Ampara (14 seats); 150,624 votes in Batticaloa (10 seats); Total seats: 37; Total vote: 646,456.
Voter turnout: 65.78 percent. [Source: Wikipedia]

“Residents in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged east voted in an election the government hopes will endorse its war to defeat Tamil Tiger rebels. Voting began hours after a “Black Tiger” rebel suicide squad sank a naval ship in the eastern port of Trincomalee. Earlier, a bomb exploded in a crowded cafe also in the eastern Sri Lanka, killing 12 people an injuring 29. Security was tightened for the polls in the eastern districts of Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa, where the ruling alliance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has teamed up with former rebels, whom rights groups accuse of abuses such as child soldier recruitment but are seen as likely winners. “We want peace soon, I will vote for the people who can bring us peace and send us home soon,” said S Chandrasekaran, a 42-year-old farmer who had to flee his home in 2006 when the military began an offensive to drive the Tigers out of the out.

Nearly 1 million people are eligible to vote for 1,342 candidates to fill 35 seats. The vote underpins the government’s twin strategy to defeat the rebels using both the ballot box and the current military offensive. “Week turnout was reported. A total of about 50 percent had cast their vote by 3:00 p.m.,” said Kingsly Rodrigo, chairman of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), an election monitoring group. Various complaints of intimidation, (ballot box) stuffing and chasing polling agents have been reported. We have received about 40 cases of election-related violence.”

Campaigning and Intimidation Before Elections in Tamil Areas in March 2008

Before the election, Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: Some opposition politicians have refused to run, fearing retribution. Amnesty International reported last week that a man had been abducted after having refused to run on a T.M.V.P. ticket. Today, the T.M.V.P.’s heavily barricaded political offices are festooned with their party symbol, a boat, along with garish murals dedicated to their slain fighters. “Vote for the Boat,” goes one slogan. “It will ferry the wounded Tamils to the shore.” Oddly enough, the faction’s leader, the former Tamil Tiger commander known as Karuna, is not on these shores. He was detained in Britain last year on charges of traveling with a forged passport. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 10, 2008]

“The T.M.V.P. itself is hardly safe from violence. On a Sunday morning in February, a suicide bomber attacked a village not far from here, killing two T.M.V.P. workers who had tried to frisk him for weapons near the site of an election meeting. The government swiftly blamed the Tamil Tigers. Neither the T.M.V.P. nor other Tamil parties that oppose the Tigers have laid down their arms. The pro-Tiger party is not fielding candidates in these elections, saying they would not be not safe.

“Paffrel, an independent monitoring group, has called on all political parties to disarm. In February, it issued a report saying that while law and order had improved in the weeks leading up to the elections, several political parties and community leaders had told its observers that the presence of armed men was “an obstacle to free and fair elections.” Its observers found little enthusiasm for voting for particular candidates.

“Several accusations of coercion and violence have been made in recent weeks. Last week, two men on a motorcycle told women leaving a political meeting of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, a rival of the T.M.V.P., that their husbands would not live if they voted for the Liberation Front, according to the party’s leader, Erasaiyah Thurairatnam. Elsewhere, Mr. Thurairatnam said, armed cadres entered a party office and verbally threatened its workers. A member of another party, he said, was roughed up near a T.M.V.P. office a few days earlier.

“His party was hardly sitting idle. On a recent day, a large group of women bearing parasols in the midday sun marched through the narrow roads of nearby Batticaloa, stumping for their candidate. A woman with a bullhorn brought up the rear. “We think this election has been imposed on us,” she announced, and went on to urge people to vote. The candidate, Sellapillai Asirvithan, in a crisp white shirt and traditional wraparound loongi, knocked on doors and handed out leaflets. “Exercise your democratic right,” a supporter bellowed through the bullhorn. “You have the right to vote for the candidate of your choice.” Atanidas Arulanatham, poring over one of the leaflets, said he and his wife planned to vote. Asked whether people would be able to choose freely, he laughed. “Not sure,” was all he would say. “We hope those who win will bring peace.”“

“Here in Vavunathivu, a T.M.V.P. candidate named Jegannathan Jeyaraj sat under a wide-armed tree in the courtyard of a Hindu temple, making his case. Once a child soldier, he later studied computers in India and is now trying to make it as a politician. He told his audience that his party had given up hope for an independent ethnic Tamil homeland and had renounced armed struggle (though not yet their weapons, for fear of attacks by their rivals). He pledged economic development for the area. And he branded as terrorists his former masters, the Tamil Tigers, whom he had joined at age 7. The audience kept quiet, except for a very old woman. “I cultivated three acres and got nothing because of the war,” she told him. “The past is past,” he replied. “The T.M.V.P. will pave a new way.” Undeterred, the woman wagged a finger. “You admit you broke away from the L.T.T.E.,” she said. “Why are you blaming them now?” Then, finally, she said the unspeakable: “Why don’t you ask the government to give us a separate state?”“

Cloak Over What Is Happening in Sri Lanka in 2008

Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: There are no eyes on this war. A truce between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is over, and gone are the Nordic monitors who kept watch over it. The government has refused entry to United Nations human rights monitors. Independent journalists are not allowed anywhere near the front lines. Only occasionally does a glimpse of the war’s damage surface, as when the Red Cross confirmed that in the first six weeks of this year alone, 180 civilians had been killed, a toll it called “appalling.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times March 8, 2008

“Alongside the conventional war, a shadow war has been waged in government-held cities, including Colombo. In a report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch blamed the government for a string of unexplained disappearances; the victims were largely Tamils. The United Nations, having recorded more disappearances in Sri Lanka last year than in any other country, pressed to send human rights monitors, a bid the United States and many other countries supported. Mr. Rajapaksa’s administration refused.

“A foreign panel invited by Sri Lanka to observe a government commission’s investigations into rights abuses said it was leaving the country, frustrated by a lack of support from the government. “There has been, and continues to be, a lack of political and institutional will to investigate and inquire into the cases before the commission,” the panel, known as the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, said in a statement.

Both the government and rebels tend to exaggerate battlefield casualties. Propaganda battles propaganda. Much of the public faith in the war effort relies on the pronouncements of the Sri Lankan Army chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. In an interview in February, the general, a survivor of an attack by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber, said his forces killed nearly half of the guerrillas’ 10,000-strong cadres in the north in the past 14 months. The rebel organization will disintegrate soon, he predicted, particularly if his forces succeed in taking out the rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. (The Defense Ministry has said it has lost barely 100 of its own troops so far this year.)

On previous occasions, General Fonseka has vowed to get Mr. Prabhakaran by the end of June, and finish off the rebellion by the end of the year. This time, he hedged. “At the rate they are dying, they will not be able to survive for a long time,” he said. “I’m not looking at the horoscope of Prabhakaran. But as a military officer, I can say if it continues in the same way, unless some miracle takes place, and Prabhakaran becomes a superman and starts doing wonders, he will have to face reality.”

“How long General Fonseka can sustain public enthusiasm with the war effort without regaining Tiger-held territory is uncertain. He acknowledged that the front lines had barely moved since the start of the new push into the north, but said he would rather kill rebels than drive his troops into rebel territory. Implicit in his remarks was that if his troops moved too fast, the Tamil Tigers could do more damage to them than it was worth. Meanwhile, any political track to quell the rebellion seems to have been set aside. A long-awaited government proposal to devolve power to the Tamil-majority north and east has met with widespread criticism, even from onetime Tamil backers of the administration.

“As the military pushes harder into the north, attacks on civilian targets here in the capital have been more frequent, and all are widely attributed to the Tamil Tigers. One of the most chilling came in early February, when a suicide bomber blew herself up at a crowded Colombo railway station, killing 16 people, including members of a high school baseball team. The attacks sowed fear and sent a powerful message: The insurgents had people and explosives at the ready in the heart of the heavily fortified capital, despite its many checkpoints. All over Colombo are posters calling for public vigilance. They show a map of the island nation, with an eye wide open in the middle. “Are you alert?” it asks. “If you are, your village and your country are safe.”“

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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