Recently ended conflict (updated: January 2011)

Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war ended on May 18, 2009 when government forces killed the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Velupillai Prabhakaran. This followed months of heavy fighting between government forces and LTTE rebels. Although tension between the Tamil population and government persists and many issues remain unresolved, there were no reported conflict-related deaths in 2010. The LTTE was defeated and disbanded and organized political violence seems unlikely to restart. Sri Lanka was removed from the ACR in 2010.





2010 With the 2009 defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), very little violence was reported this year. Tensions between the government and segments of the Tamil community persisted. Reports of disappearances and violence during the heavy fighting of May 2009 surfaced throughout the year. Government checkpoints, put in place to weed out Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, were not dismantled. Suspected war crimes committed by both the government and LTTE in 2009 were not investigated. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka began the process of rebuilding with initiatives such as Northern Spring, to re-establish destroyed railway systems.

2009 The 26-year-long civil war ended on May 18 when government forces killed the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Prabhakaran. This followed months of heavy fighting when an estimated 7,000 to 40,000 civilians were killed. Both government forces and rebels were accused of committing human-rights violations. Precise fatality figures were impossible to obtain because journalists and human-rights activists were denied access to the fighting zones. After the end of the war, nearly 250,000 displaced Tamils were detained in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. By November, 50 per cent had been resettled. Requests by the defeated LTTE for peace talks were repeatedly rejected by the government. In November, President Mahinda Rajapaksa called elections for January 2010. A new Tamil group calling itself the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) emerged in December.

2008 The government launched a massive military campaign to eliminate the LTTE by mid-2009. By year’s end, the military offensive had pushed LTTE militants into a 30-kilometre pocket of land in Northern Sri Lanka, trapping an estimated 250,000 civilians, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Civilian fatalities were estimated to be in the thousands. But figures could not be verified because the government blocked access to the region. The ICRC was forced to negotiate the daily safe passage of civilians out of government- and LTTE-controlled areas.

2007 The fighting in Sri Lanka underwent dramatic changes this year. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bombed a government airbase, confirming suspicions that it was building an air fleet. The government cleared rebels from the Eastern provinces and gained control of land that had been controlled by the LTTE for 13 years. Both sides declared the ceasefire violated. The increased fighting saw more than 2,000 people killed. Fighting in the coming year was projected to increase as the government prepared to launch a military campaign targeting LTTE strongholds in the North. The International Commission of the Red Cross discontinued operations, hampering the movement of ceasefire monitors as well as humanitarian assistance to the North.

2006 The intensity of fighting and attacks by both the government and LTTE increased dramatically, killing an estimated 3,200 people. After the EU banned the LTTE as a terrorist group, the LTTE demanded that ceasefire observers from EU member states leave the country. Peace talks collapsed, and the leader of the LTTE declared the peace process defunct. While war was not officially declared and the ceasefire agreement continued to exist on paper, many analysts saw the events of 2006 as a return to civil war.

2005 The peace process threatened to collapse as negotiations remained stalled and fighting escalated, killing at least 300 people. The LTTE increased attacks on government troops late in the year. Hard-line candidate Mahinda Rajapakse was elected President in November.

2004 Although a ceasefire between the government and rebels held for another year, a major split in the LTTE, attacks on civilians and ethnic violence resulted in the deaths of more than 45 people. President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Sri Lankan Freedom Party narrowly won parliamentary elections in April but could not form a majority government. Norway continued its role as a mediator but was unable to advance an agreement when a split in the government early in the year and a major rift in the LTTE stalled peace efforts. The LTTE released more than 1,000 child soldiers loyal to a renegade commander, but still actively recruited children to serve in their “baby brigade.”  An upsurge in violence late in the year was halted by a December tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in the region. Sri Lanka was one of the most seriously affected countries, leading to calls from both the LTTE and government for international aid.

2003 The ceasefire signed by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE in 2002 held for a second year, with only minor clashes reported between the two groups. However, peace talks collapsed in April and by year’s end, the government and rebels remained at odds over key political issues.

2002 A ceasefire signed in February by the government and the rebels largely held with only limited fighting in the East. The two sides participated in Norwegian-mediated peace talks beginning in May and continuing throughout the year.

2001 Following a unilateral rebel ceasefire aimed at starting peace talks, the Sri Lankan government launched a major offensive against the rebels that left an estimated 300 of its soldiers dead with limited gains. In August, the government reversed itself and announced it would agree to peace talks and a ceasefire. The estimated death toll was the lowest for some years.

2000 Fighting escalated and, in April, the rebels overran the Elephant Pass base guarding the Jaffna Peninsula (a rebel stronghold lost to the army in 1996), nearly recapturing the city of Jaffna. By September, government forces were fighting fiercely to recapture ground lost in earlier months. At least 2,400 people, mostly combatants, were killed this year, a similar number to deaths in 1999.

1999 Government forces launched a series of attacks on rebel positions in the North and West, only to face intensive counterattacks and loss of recently won territory. More than 2,000 people, mostly combatants, died during the year, a level of violence similar to 1998.

1998 A protracted government ground offensive to link the Jaffna Peninsula to the mainland suffered a major setback in September and was called off in December. Rebels also continued urban suicide bombings and naval attacks.

1997 In 1997, the conflict intensified due to a number of naval skirmishes and a major government offensive to link the mainland to recently captured territory in the Jaffna Peninsula.

1996  The capture of the remainder of the Jaffna Peninsula by government troops, two major battles at Mullaittivu and Kilinochchi, rebel bombings of civilian targets, and combatant attacks on civilians, extended a the high intensity of the conflict.

1995 Violence after the collapse of a three-month ceasefire culminated in a major government offensive that ousted rebels from the city of Jaffna in December.

Type of Conflict

State formation

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of Sri Lanka: led by President Mahinda Rajapakse. The government’s security forces consist of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, Police Special Task Force (STF) and the Civil Defense Forces (formerly the Home Guard Service).

Supported by:

2. Pro-government Tamil groups: There are several Tamil groups opposed to the Tamil Tigers who served as auxiliary forces for the Sri Lankan government throughout the conflict.


3. Tamil Opposition Groups

a) Tamil National Alliance (TNA): The TNA was created in 2001 from the union of five political parties: Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), Tamail United Liberation Front (TULF), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO). After the defeat of the LTTE, the TNA became the sole representative for the Tamil population. This party has participated in elections since 2001, and is currently led by Rajavarothajam Sampanthan. The party platform stands for recognition of territorial integrity, distinct nationality and full citizenship for the Tamil population.

b) The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): The LTTE was previously the main opposition rebel group until their leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, was killed in 2009. Reports state this group has now been defeated by the Sri Lankan government. Earlier estimates placed the strength of the LTTE at well over 10,000 fighters but government claimed to have reduced this number to about 5,000 prior to the end of the conflict. The UN Children’s Fund currently reported 1,424 outstanding cases of child soldier recruitment to the LTTE.

c) Breakaway factions of the LTTE: Until the defeat of the LTTE, a number of breakaway factions were engaged in violent infighting with the LTTE. They included: the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), a LTTE faction led by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Colonel Karuna, and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pillaiyan, as well as the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front. It was widely believed that the government supported the Karuna faction, which split from the LTTE in 2004. A UN envoy to the country said the military has been helping Karuna members abduct children as fighters and the Karuna have been cited for many cases of under-age recruitment. Nordic truce monitors have also seen troop involvement in Karuna attacks, and many analysts speculate that the government is fostering the former rebels. There exist parallels between abductions in well-guarded government-controlled areas with disappearances executed by the government during the late 1980s when it crushed Marxist uprisings. This has intensified suspicions surrounding Karuna and government involvement.

Status of Fighting

2010 With the 2009 defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), very little violence was reported this year. Tensions between the government and segments of the Tamil community persisted as reports of disappearances and violence during the heavy fighting of May 2009 continued to surface throughout the year. In Colombo, prior to January elections, open fire on a bus carrying supporters of opposition party leader Sarath Fonseka killed one political activist.

2009 Fighting intensified as Sri Lankan government forces pushed the LTTE deeper into their diminishing territory.  In January, government forces captured several rebel strongholds, including Kilinochchi (the capital of the rebel’s de facto state) and the northern Jaffna Peninsula. When government forces shot and killed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran near the Northeastern port of Mullaitivu on May 18, the war was effectively over. In the final five months of the conflict, neither government forces nor rebels showed concern for the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the fighting zone. Human-rights violations were allegedly committed by both sides. The government rejected repeated calls by the international community for a temporary ceasefire to allow civilians to leave the fighting zones. The government was accused of shelling established safe zones packed with civilians, while rebel forces were accused of using civilians as human shields, shooting those trying to flee and forcefully recruiting child soldiers. Journalists and human-rights activists were denied access to the area. After Prabhakaran’s death, a LTTE senior guerrilla issued a statement acknowledging that the war was over and proposing peace talks. The government rejected peace talks and began capturing remaining rebels over the next few months.

2008 According to the Sri Lankan government, its forces, with the assistance of paramilitary forces, significantly reduced the LTTE’s military capability in 2008. Also according to the government, a small pocket of LTTE fighters were pushed north and were trapped in a strip of land along with thousands of civilians. Journalists and human-rights activists were targeted by both sides, hampering efforts to monitor the conflict. Hundreds of child soldiers continued to be recruited. Sri Lanka’s army chief publically announced the army’s intention to defeat LTTE militants by mid-2009.

2007 The 2002 ceasefire continued to be violated by all sides. The LTTE bombed a Sri Lankan air force base with a light aircraft, marking the first time a militant group has acquired air power without external support. The government expelled rebels from their long-held strongholds in the East, and in September cleared rebels from Mannar, an area south of LTTE territory. The capture of Mannar was thought to signify the launch of an intense military campaign by the government on LTTE strongholds in the North. The LTTE was expected to respond by escalating attacks in the rest of the country. All sides were heavily criticized for human-rights violations, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers and attacks on civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suspended operations at two crossing points that separate government-held areas in the South and rebel territory in the North. Without the ICRC, the military was forced to shut down border checkpoints, effectively stopping aid workers and ceasefire monitors from travelling between rebel and government held areas. The government stated its determination to eradicate the LTTE before engaging in dialogue with any minority groups. The LTTE likewise stated its determination to achieve independence through the use of force. Few signs of a peaceful solution remained.

2006 Fighting escalated to a level unprecedented in the last decade of the conflict, resulting in the highest annual death toll since 1997. Fighting earlier in the year was isolated to the Eastern regions of Trincomalee and Batticoloa, though it spread to the northern Jaffa Peninsula in August. Fighting included suicide bombings, artillery and mortar bomb fire, air strikes and marine-based attacks. Though war has not officially been declared, many have described the escalated fighting and grim prospects of the peace process as a return to civil war.

2005 Fighting between LTTE rebels and Sri Lankan troops in the North and East increased late in the year, threatening to unravel an already precarious ceasefire agreement. Fighting included small-scale clashes and a series of bombings carried out mainly by the LTTE. Factional fighting among Tamil rebels also continued.

2004 The ceasefire between LTTE rebels and the government held and most violence and reported casualties resulted from clashes among rival parts of the LTTE. Attacks on civilian targets and inter-ethnic violence were also reported. The collapse of peace talks in December resulted in a brief resumption of violence that was halted by a tsunami at the end of the year.

2003 The February 2002 ceasefire remained intact in 2003, with only a handful of minor skirmishes reported between government and rebel forces. Two clashes occurred at sea, killing approximately 20 rebels. Politically motivated violence, aimed primarily at opponents of the LTTE, resulted in more than 12 deaths. There were also reports of sectarian violence between Sri Lanka’s Muslim and Tamil groups in the Eastern region of the island. In spite of the LTTE’s co-operation with a UNICEF-led child-soldier demobilization program, there were reports of children being abducted to join the rebels. Land mines planted by both the government and rebel forces over the past two decades also continued to claim victims.

2002 A February ceasefire held except for sporadic fighting in the East.

2001 In January, the LTTE called a four-month unilateral ceasefire with the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE claimed the government continued attacks during the ceasefire, killing more than 160 of their fighters. Only hours after the ceasefire expired, the government launched a major offensive. In a four-day battle, up to 300 government soldiers and 33 LTTE rebels were killed, and the government made no major gains. In July, the LTTE carried out a raid on the international airport in Colombo, damaging military and civilian aircraft.

2000 The war between the government and the LTTE escalated this year. In April, the rebels captured the Elephant Pass base guarding the Jaffna Peninsula (a rebel stronghold lost to the army in 1996), nearly recapturing Jaffna as a series of government defeats brought the LTTE to within 32 kilometres of the northern capital. By September, government forces were fighting fiercely to recapture ground lost earlier in the year.

1999 Conflict between government forces and the LTTE escalated, with government forces initially making gains in the North and West of the island. In November, the LTTE staged successful counterattacks and retook nearly 1,000 square kilometres. By late December, the LTTE established a presence near the strategic Elephant Pass that serves as a gateway to Jaffna.

1998 A protracted government ground offensive to link the Jaffna Peninsula to the mainland suffered a major setback in September and was called off in December. Rebels continued urban suicide bombings and naval attacks.

Number of Deaths

Total: Total fatalities since the start of hostilities in 1983 range from 80,000 to 100,000, with more than 41,330 of these occurring after March 2000. The total fatality figures include an estimated 23,790 government troops and 22,000 LTTE rebels.

2010 No deaths related to the conflict were officially reported this year. One political activist and one opposition supporter were killed in violence leading up to the election.

2009 Limited access to the conflict areas made precise fatality figures impossible to verify.  Various media outlets reported that 40 to 70 people per day died between January and April. This number jumped to 1,000 per day in May. Estimated civilian deaths range from 7,000 to 40,000. During the final stages of the war, as many as 250,000 civilians were trapped within a tiny strip, the site of intense fighting between the government and the LTTE rebels. After the government declared victory over the LTTE on May 18, the death toll decreased significantly, with fewer than 20 conflict-related deaths reported for the remaining seven months of 2009.

2008 South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 11,144 deaths, including 404 civilians, 1,314 government security forces, and 9,426 terrorists. The Sri Lankan military pushed northward, claiming it killed more than 5,000 LTTE fighters in 2008. Reports put government troop deaths at 446. Limited access to the Northern conflict areas made these figures impossible to verify. An estimated 250,000 civilians were unable to leave the conflict areas. Eleven humanitarian workers were reportedly killed in 2008; four were missing; and 10 were arrested or detained.

2007 The UN estimated that fighting forced 500,000 people from their homes and affected more than three million Sri Lankans. It was estimated that more than 2,000 fighters and civilians were killed this year. There were close to 100 abductions and disappearances reported as of March in Colombo, Batticaloa and the Jaffna peninsula. [Sources: The Australian, August 7, 2007; Associated Press, July 9, 2007; Reuters, March 5, 2007]

2006 An estimated 3,200 to 3,300 fighters and civilians were killed this year.

2005 More than 300 people were killed this year. Approximately one-third were civilians.

2004 More than 45 people were killed in clashes between rival rebel factions, interethnic violence and suicide attacks on civilians. The majority of those killed were rebels.

2003 According to media reports, approximately 40 people were killed in the first 10 months of the year, with just over half of these deaths due to violence between government and rebel fighters.

2002 The conflict resulted in the deaths of an estimated 25 people this year, many of whom were civilians killed by government forces.

2001 The casualty rate was not as high as for the last few years, possibly due to the unilateral ceasefire initiated by the rebels. Even so, hundreds were reported killed and thousands wounded, mostly fighters on both sides.

2000 At least 2,400 people, mostly combatants, were killed this year.

1999 More than 2,000 people, most of whom were combatants, were killed during the year.

1998 At least 2,000 combatants died in the September rebel attacks on government troops.

1997 Although independent reports were unavailable, government and rebel figures suggest as many as 4,000 people died in combat or from extrajudicial killings in 1997.

Political Developments

2010 Mahinda Rajapksa of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was re-elected Jan. 26 amid low voter turnout and allegations of fraud. After the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), led by Rajavarothajam Sambandan, became the sole representative for the Tamil population. The TNA, who call for territorial integrity, distinct nationality and full citizenship for Tamils, faced backlash among Tamils for failing to support LTTE rebels against persecution. The TNA accepted the federal structure of Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, ensuring it would work within the government’s structure in the future. Opposition party leader, retired general Sarath Fonseka, was arrested in January for accusations of career planning while in the military, illegal under Sri Lankan law. Allegations were eventually dropped and Fonseka, running as a non-party candidate supported by the United National Party (UNP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), won a seat in April. In July, Sri Lanka’s government resisted attempts by a three-member UN panel to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed during the 26-year civil war. Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa held a hunger strike that effectively closed the UN office in Sri Lanka. Prohibiting international scrutiny fuelled sentiments of illegitimacy in the government. On Sept. 8, after passing the eighteenth constitutional amendment with two-thirds’ government support, most checks of power against the president were removed and the two-term limit for presidential office was eliminated.

2009 While the Sri Lankan government enjoyed the support of its population, it was harshly criticized by the international community for administering more than 200,000 Tamils detained in so-called Internally Displaced Persons camps. However, despite allegations of war crimes, the government’s refusal to divulge conflict fatality figures and internally displaced persons (IDP) camp statistics, the United Nations cleared Sri Lanka of any human-rights violations. Up to 1,400 people were dying weekly in the IDP camps during the summer months, but the government repeatedly denied aid groups access, claiming that doing so would interfere with their attempts to weed out rebels. By November, 50 per cent of the displaced people had been resettled by the government. But resettlement was hampered by the need to clear the area of land mines. The government repeatedly turned down requests by the defeated LTTE to enter a process of dialogue and accommodation, which sparked fears of renewed violence. On Nov. 27, the government announced that presidential elections would take place in January 2010, despite two years of its term remaining. December saw the public emergence of a new Tamil group named the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who swore to fight for all Tamil people without acquiring a terrorist label.

2008 Early 2008 saw a formal withdrawal by the Sri Lankan government from the six-year-long ceasefire pact. The Sri Lankan government refused to enter any further agreements with LTTE militants. A political party made up of former Tamil Tigers claimed an overwhelming victory in eastern Sri Lanka in the first elections to be held in the region in 10 years. In August, the government enacted a new emergency regulation that gives the Secretary of Defense power to detain people for 18 months before bringing them before the courts.

2007 During an aid-funding review, international donors concluded that unless peace negotiations moved forward, development would remain unsustainable in Sri Lanka. Donors threatened to withhold aid to force the government to resolve the conflict with the LTTE.  In response to the looming threat of attack by the military in the north, the LTTE campaigned internationally to gain sympathy for their organization; they had some success in convincing humanitarian organizations to advocate on their behalf. The government released statements threatening to breach the terms of the 2002 ceasefire agreement if it felt it was necessary to do so to safeguard national security. The government also asked that the agreement be reviewed and changed. Although the peace agreement existed on paper only, its official termination was expected lead to an increase in the fighting.

2006 Although February peace talks in Geneva raised hopes of the potential for negotiated settlement, the LTTE postponed future talks indefinitely after an increase in ceasefire violations and renewed violence. On May 30, the EU banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization, freezing its accounts and precipitating the LTTE to demand that ceasefire observers from EU states leave the country by Sept. 1. Despite renewed efforts by ceasefire observers to restore the truce, observers from Finland, Sweden and Denmark were forced to leave, while observers from Iceland and Norway remained. Bowing to international pressure from foreign aid donors, LTTE and government representatives met for peace talks in Geneva in October, but these collapsed when the government refused the LTTE’s demand to reopen a key North-South highway. Hopes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict were further thwarted in late November when the LTTE’s leadership declared the peace process defunct.

2005 After an agreement on the distribution of tsunami aid, peace talks between LTTE rebels and the Sri Lankan government remained stalled. In November, rebel leaders threatened to restart the war in 2006 if peace negotiations did not achieve “serious progress.” The hard-line incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse became Sri Lanka’s President after winning November elections by pledging to take a tough line against the LTTE.

2004 A ceasefire between government forces and LTTE rebels held and Norway’s efforts to mediate a peace agreement retained the start-and-stop pattern of previous years. Talks were stalled by a split in the Sri Lankan government early in the year and later by a new minority government that did not form a majority coalition until September. A major split in the LTTE also created problems for the peace process. LTTE rebels announced they would not resume peace talks until the war-damaged north and east of the country received international aid. The Sri Lankan government, for the first time, recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil population. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans remained either refugees in other countries or displaced within Sri Lanka’s borders. Although the LTTE demobilized over 1,000 child soldiers loyal to a renegade commander, they continued to recruit new child soldiers for their “baby brigade”.

2003 The Tamil Tigers broke off peace talks with the government in April, citing, among other things, the failure of government forces to withdraw from, and the delayed reconstruction of, the rebel-controlled northeastern territory. The government in turn hinged the withdrawal of its troops on the disarmament of rebel fighters, which the LTTE had thus far refused to do. Disagreements over the interim administration of the northeast of the island prior to the creation of a permanent federal government structure governing the entire island increased the divide between the government and rebels. Political unrest within the Sri Lankan government led President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to suspend parliament in November and declare emergency rule, further hindering peace negotiations. The Norwegian-led Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM), created by the February 2002 ceasefire agreement, continued to monitor the ceasefire, investigate violations and assist in the settlement of disputes.

2002 The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in February and to participate in peace talks mediated by Norway, and held in Norway and Thailand. The government lifted its ban on LTTE rebels in anticipation of the talks, permitting them to move freely throughout the country. In November, the LTTE agreed to stop recruiting child soldiers and a month later, in an unprecedented move toward peace, the rebels agreed to abandon demands for a separate state and accept regional autonomy and power-sharing through a federal system. The government and the LTTE issued a joint statement, the first of its kind in the country, asking 20 donor countries for political and financial support for the peace process.

2001 The Sri Lankan rebel group LTTE announced a four-month unilateral ceasefire at the beginning of the year in hopes of reviving stalled peace talks. The government rejected the ceasefire and, in July, issued a strong statement arguing the end to rebel insurgency was through full-scale war. However, in August, the government announced that it was ready for a ceasefire in order to start peace talks. Parliamentary elections in December ushered the right-wing United National Front into power under the leadership of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.

2000 Norway-mediated peace talks, due to start in February, were postponed as fighting intensified, resulting in major setbacks for the government. In June, the rebels formally rejected a Sri Lankan government proposal to end the war, in which amendments to the constitution offered greater autonomy to the provinces, including the Tamil-dominated North and East. The rebels claimed the proposal did not provide a permanent solution to the Tamil national question. In August, Sri Lanka’s parliament approved an additional $356-million (U.S.) for the war, a 50 per cent increase to the defence budget. The governing People’s Alliance won 107 out of 225 seats in parliament in fall elections and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga formed a new government after negotiating support from smaller parties. EU and British election monitoring teams found the elections flawed, but not enough to render the outcome illegitimate.

1999 In an election marred by serious irregularities, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was re-elected on Dec. 21, three days after an unsuccessful assassination attempt by an LTTE member.

1998 The separatist rebels responded to January local elections by assassinating two Jaffna mayors within four months. A government constitutional reform proposal to devolve political power to Tamil areas remained blocked by the parliamentary opposition.

1997 A government proposal of constitutional reforms and devolution of political power aimed at winning Tamil support was stalled at year’s end by lack of support from the parliamentary opposition.

1996 The government extended the state of emergency and delayed elections. Government proposals for a more decentralized federal structure with considerable powers devolved to the regions, including the northeast, were reviewed by a parliamentary committee and watered down in response to political opposition.


Since 1983, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have led the fight for a separate Northern and Eastern state (where Tamils form the majority) against troops of the Sinhalese-dominated government. Although the war is not religiously based, the combatants are separated by religion and culture; the minority (13 per cent of the population) Tamils are mostly Hindu and the majority (74 per cent of the population) Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist. Additionally, Sri Lankan Muslims, who at 8 per cent of the population form the second-largest minority group, have been increasingly drawn into the conflict in the Northeastern regions of the island.

The war has drawn in outside parties. From 1987 to 1990, the Indian government made an unsuccessful military intervention, which led to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. After the collapse of a three-month ceasefire in 1995, a major government offensive ousted rebels from the Jaffna peninsula in 1996. Since then, rebel and government offensives and counteroffensives have kept control of the peninsular territory in flux.

In 2000, a government peace proposal to amend the constitution to allow greater autonomy to the Tamil-dominated areas was rejected by the rebels. Two years later, the LTTE abandoned its demands for a separate state and agreed to accept regional autonomy. During Norwegian-brokered peace talks, the LTTE and the government agreed to power-sharing through the creation of a decentralized federal system. The situation seemed to improve after the 2002 ceasefire, as the decreased intensity of fighting attributed to the ceasefire led to a drastic reduction in the number of annual deaths for the years following 2002.

In 2006, however, hope for a negotiated settlement to the conflict dissipated after the LTTE declared the process defunct, and the country slid back into civil war. In 2007, the government released statements that the ceasefire agreement had been broken by both sides and that it needed to be either abandoned or re-evaluated.  In 2008, the government withdrew from the ceasefire agreement and launched a military offensive against LTTE forces.

In 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared the defeat of the LTTE and an end to the war.

Tensions persist between the Tamil population and the government, and there are a number of unresolved issues that still need to be addressed. Suspected war crimes committed by both the government and LTTE have yet to be investigated.

Economic Factors

With the intensification of fighting throughout the 1990s, farming was no longer a reliable source of employment and income in rural areas, such as Batticaloa. For the Tamils, movement to the south of the country is restricted and jobs are scarce. Overall, the deterioration of economic conditions, lack of opportunities and development are considered major factors in the drive for young Tamils to join the rebel movement.  In an effort to address the country’s underdevelopment and assist the peace process, $4.5-billion (U.S.) was pledged by international donors in 2003. A tsunami in late 2004 destroyed much of the country’s economic infrastructure and devastated Sri Lanka.

Attacks by the LTTE in the south have put pressure on the economy and hurt the tourism industry. The Sri Lankan Development Forum announced that new development assistance for 2007 and 2009 would total approximately $4.5-billion (U.S.). Despite an increase in development assistance, a proposed increase in defence spending is likely to raise the national debt burden and worsen the current economic situation.

The LTTE generates $200-million to $300-million per year through legal and illegal worldwide business operations to finance the costs of their organization. The government’s successful blocking of funds to the LTTE—by the freezing of bank accounts—during the early months of 2009, likely played a significant role in the rebels’ defeat.

Arms Sources

Recent suppliers of weapons to the Sri Lankan government include China, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and Canada. The majority of the weapons were to be used against LTTE rebels.

In 2002, the United States began negotiating an Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement with Sri Lanka which would allow U.S. military forces to refuel at Sri Lankan bases during a war with Iraq and to procure food, fuel, ammunition and transport from Sri Lanka at domestic prices.

Over the past 15 years, the government has purchased 23 aircraft, however only a limited number are still in operation. Its operational fleet includes three Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation F-7BS, eight Israel Aerospace Industries Kfir C2/C7 and three MiG 27 fighter aircraft from Ukraine. The proposed defence budget for 2007 was approximately $1.3-billion (U.S.), which is double the 2006 budget. A $10-billion (U.S.) deal was finalized with Ukraine in 2007, which includes the acquirement of four additional MiG27s and the repair and combat system upgrade of 4 Sri Lankan owned MiG-27 fighter aircraft.  To finance the increased defense budget, the government will have to administer cutbacks in other areas.

From 2006 to 2009, the Sri Lankan government bought £13.6-million worth of equipment (armoured vehicles, machine gun components and semi-automatic pistols) from Britain, 10,000 rockets worth £1.1-million from Slovakia and £1.75-million worth of guns and ammunition from Bulgaria.

The LTTE is reportedly funded by expatriate Tamils in Canada and the United Kingdom among others countries, and supported and armed by Tamils living in nearby countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, and especially in the Tamil Nadu state of India. The LTTE have reportedly developed an extensive naval arms-smuggling network off the north and east coasts of the island. The LTTE uses captured weapons and weapons bought mostly on the Southeast Asian black market, reportedly via a network of LTTE-owned or -backed companies.

The LTTE became the first combatant organization to acquire air power without outside support. It is believed that the light-aircraft was disassembled and smuggled into the country on a cargo ship and then reassembled by the LTTE once inside the country. Caches found, which include flight as well as construction manuals and spare parts, support this speculation.

The Sri Lankan government also claims that the LTTE obtains weapons via Cambodia and Thailand. Other reports suggest Singapore is a major centre of LTTE arms procurement.

map: CIA factbook

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