The Sri Lankan Civil War: Tamil Tigers
The Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009, was a protracted armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who sought to create an independent Tamil state in the northern and eastern parts of the island nation.
The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the post-independence era when the majority Sinhalese community enacted policies that marginalized the minority Tamil population, such as the “Sinhala Only Act” of 1956, which made Sinhalese the sole official language, and discriminatory education policies. These policies fueled resentment and tensions between the two communities, eventually leading to the rise of Tamil militancy in the 1970s.
The LTTE, founded by Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1976, emerged as the most prominent and militant Tamil separatist group. The civil war officially began on July 23, 1983, when the LTTE ambushed and killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers, sparking a wave of anti-Tamil riots known as “Black July.” This event marked the beginning of a brutal and protracted conflict that would last for 26 years.
Throughout the war, the LTTE carried out numerous attacks on Sri Lankan military and civilian targets, including assassinations, bombings, and suicide attacks. The group was known for its use of suicide bombers, which earned them the nickname “Black Tigers.” The LTTE also had a naval wing, the “Sea Tigers,” and even a rudimentary air force, known as the “Air Tigers.”
Several attempts were made to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, including Indian intervention in the late 1980s, which led to the deployment of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. However, these efforts ultimately failed, and the fighting continued.
In the final stages of the war, the Sri Lankan government, under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, launched a major military offensive against the LTTE. The offensive culminated in the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, when the Sri Lankan military captured their last stronghold in the northeastern town of Mullaitivu and killed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The Sri Lankan Civil War resulted in the deaths of an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people, including numerous civilians, and led to widespread human rights abuses and violations by both sides. In the years since the end of the conflict, the Sri Lankan government has faced calls for accountability and reconciliation to address the root causes of the war and to promote long-term peace and stability in the country.