Most don’t know the history of Sri Lanka, and what led to the civil war which has raged for over twenty years. Western media generally focuses on what’s happening now, with little, if any, historical background.
Sri Lankan forces, shooting indiscriminately, stormed a church where hundreds of Tamils were taking shelter, and then opened fire in the surrounding village, killing five people and wounding dozens, witnesses said.
The government denied the accusation and blamed Tamil Tiger rebels, but numerous witnesses and an international aid worker said Sri Lankan forces were responsible for the deaths as the island nation appeared to stumble even closer toward all-out war.
The insurgent Tamil Tigers (LTTE) have an estimated 8,000, well-trained and equipped soldiers. They are engaged in a nationalist war for independence, and are considered skilled and ruthless.
The Karuna Faction consists of a few hundred, however they are seasoned. Karuna was one of the top three Tiger generals until 2004 when he split with them. He’s Hindu and eastern, the Tiger leadership mostly Christian, northern, low caste (although it’s not about religion.)
450 years of colonialization by Portugal, Holland, then England. The Sinhalese are in the majority, with Tamils a minority.
The Brits gave high caste Tamils important roles, knowing they wouldn’t revolt as things were made better for them. They were used as a foil against the majority Sinhalese. Divide and conquer was a favored tactic used by England in their colonies. They also created a Sinhalese merchant class in opposition to traditional Sinhalese leadership. More divide and conquer.
After independence in 1948, elite Tamils wanted to maintain their favored position, while the Sinhalese majority want in. Since Sinhalese had the majority vote, they ended up ruling. Sinhalese leadership then wanted to take the vote from estate Tamils (virtual slaves.) Elite Tamils agreed. It was a class thing. About 50% of estate Tamils, some who had been there for generations, were denied the right to vote. Many returned to India.
In ’56, the nationalist movement among Sinhalese forced the Sinhala language to be mandated as the only national language. Tamils began to be restricted in what they could do.
1960. Tamil leaderships call “satyagraha”, a non-violent protest. It lasted several months and was successful enough to trigger violent reaction from military. Many were shot. The protest was put down brutally.
Tamil militancy began. It faded out until ’72, when the Indo-Pakistan war and independence for Bangladesh inspired Tamils. Then came the first JVP armed rebellion in South. They were Marxist Buddhists, supported by deep South, educated but unemployed Sinhalese. It failed and the government executed thousands.
Tamil youth became inspired by rebellion. By ’76, there were several Tamil rebel groups, including the beginning of LTTE.
July 1983. The Black July riots. The Government killed an LTTE leader. The LTTE retaliated with a mine attack on an army patrol, killing several. The Sinhalese population of Columbo erupted, with mobs killing between 400-3,000 Tamils. The Government tolerated and may have encouraged this.
Many Tamils then decided they could no longer trust the government.
Most date 1983 as the beginning of the war.
1986, LTTE had out-maneuvered, absorbed, or eliminated most other Tamil militant groups.
1987, to appease India the government invited 200,000 troops from the India Peacekeeping Force, supposedly to protect Tamils and provide a buffer. LTTE attacked them. IPKF responded with atrocities. JVP launched a second rebellion. This one gets off the ground. For two years, there is a second cvil war in the south. Thousands were killed by both sides. (The JVP currently has renounced violence and is part of the ruling coalition. Without their support, the government would fall.)
The government arms private militias.
1989. JVP brutally put down. The government negotiates IPKF withdrawal. Rearms LTTE as hedge against India. Why is India interested? Several reasons, including, 1) There are many Tamils in south India who don’t want Tamils in Sri Lanka to become more oppressed. 2) India doesn’t want the LTTE to win as it could trigger more separatist movements in India. 3) India doesn’t want Sri Lanka overly successful and becoming economic competition. 4) India does not want a foreign power getting control of Trincomolee harbor in Sri Lanka, as it could then become a naval base, possibly threatening them.
1990. LTTE rules Jaffna. Order restored by the government by brute force in the south.
1990-2001. War rages, with few interruptions.
2004. Karuna splits from Tigers. There are unconfirmed reports he might be backed by India. Reports that the government supports him are probably exaggerated although they clearly have a common interest.
Today. Cease fire no longer in effect.