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Tamil Tigers - 2005-2009 - Resumed Fighting

On the military side, the Tigers win as long as they don't lose, while the Government loses as long as it does not win. Starting in April 2005, political murders, committed mostly by the LTTE, increased to one per day, and one year later full scale war had resumed between the LTTE and the Colombo government.

After the election of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November, 2005, he radically changed the government’s strategic objective from creating the conditions for a peaceful political settlement to the military defeating the LTTE. The SLA began to win battles and gain ground, and this happened because President Rajapaska garnered substantive and extensive support from both India and China, and all but ignored the rest of the world’s pleas for restraint. Rajapaksa and his military chief Sarath Fonseka vowed to eliminate the LTTE through military victory, and for this the government built a more powerful military. The President and his military leaders discarded the political -versus -military dichotomy, dumping complexity and ambiguity as guiding descriptors of the challenge. They identified Velupillai Prabhakaran as the target, and decided they would no longer let Prabhakaran grant impunity to anyone. On 18 May 2009, Prabhakaran was dead, and the war ended.

Skirmishes between LTTE rebels and government forces were decreasing until April 2006 when riots broke out in the northeast and explosions killed 16 people. On 11 May 2006, the LTTE attacked a Naval convoy. The attack was seen as the most blatant violation to date of the 2002 peace agreement.

By mid-2006, although the CFA technically remained in force, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) ceased citing specific violations due to a lack of any response to previous complaints. In August government security forces expelled LTTE troops from the east. Military confrontations also occurred regularly in the northern districts of Mannar, Vavuniya, and Jaffna. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, the government also worked closely with Tamil paramilitary groups responsible for gross human rights violations.

In August 2006 following the European Union's (EU's) designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organization, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark announced their withdrawal from the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in response to LTTE demands. Subsequently, 37 monitors departed, leaving approximately 30 Norwegian and Icelandic civilian monitors in the country.

Sri Lanka's security forces came under heavy international criticism following allegations of human rights violations in several high-profile incidents. These include allegations, denied by the GSL, of Sri Lankan military responsibility for the August 2006 murder in Muttur of 17 Muslim employees of the French NGO Action Against Hunger; the August 2006 bombing of a facility, which the GSL claims was an LTTE training center, in which an estimated 60 teenagers and young adults were killed; the January 2006 murder of five students in Trincomalee; and the December 2005 assassination of a pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance member of Parliament in Batticaloa. It is indisputable that the human rights record of Sri Lankan security forces had over the years been poor.

Since July 2006, Sri Lanka's military establishment had been characterized by an attitude of over-confidence. Fonseka and other military leaders seemed to believe a military defeat of the LTTE was possible. On the ground, there have been numerous and significant ceasefire violations by both sides, which initially produced successes for the government side. In July, security forces reopened a water sluice in Mavilaru forcibly closed by the LTTE, then captured Sampur, an area south of Trincomalee harbor from which LTTE artillery had threatened ships. Periodic Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) raids temporarily paralyzed Tiger artillery positions on Pooneryn, from which the Tigers threatened the Jaffna peninsula, as well as Sea Tiger bases in the east. The Sri Lanka Navy intercepted several LTTE supply shipments, ranging from a large ship to small trawlers carrying weapons.

In October 2006, however - just days before the parties were to meet in Geneva -- an ill-considered Sri Lankan Army offensive at the Jaffna Forward Defense Line (FDL) went seriously awry; the Army suffered hundreds of casualties and lost six tanks. Then, on 16 October 2006, a LTTE suicide attack on a Sri Lankan naval convoy killed 93 sailors and wounded 150 others. Peace talks ceased, and attacks by LTTE rebels and government forces resumed. The LTTE followed up this strike with a suicide attack on a Sri Lankan naval base on 18 October 2006. In Columbo, on 23 October 2006, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse, inked a deal with the United National Party, the opposition, for a common policy for dealing with the LTTE.

With a unified policy in place, Rajapakse entered two-day talks with the LTTE in Geneva on 28 October 2006. The talks, which were the first in eight months, covered the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. The first day of the negotiations was dominated by back-and-forth recriminations. The second failed due to disagreement on access to the Jaffna peninsula. The talks were deemed a failure and, on October 30, Sri Lankan forces clashed with the LTTE in Jaffna.

November 2006 saw higher intensity fighting between the two sides. On 1 November, the Sri Lankan air force struck rebel targets. Seven days later, the Amnesty International accused Sri Lanka of killing 45 civilians in an artillery strike. Sea clashes occurred on 10 November resulting in the sinking of two Tamil boats. On 21 November, Sri Lankan aircraft struck a LTTE camp. Approximately 3,400 people died in 2006 alone.

By early 2007 Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, alias “Colonel Karuna Amman” (Karuna), leader of a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) breakaway faction in the East, was engaging in serious human rights violations and criminal activities, often under the protection of the Sri Lanka security forces. Karuna had all but disappeared from the public eye following a series of military reverses at the hands of the Tigers after his 2004 split from the LTTE. Under the protection of the Sri Lanka military, Karuna had emerged as a destructive force capable of influencing many aspects of daily Tamil life in the East. Karuna established a political wing called the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TVMP) with offices throughout the east and in Colombo. Karuna is suspected of being responsible for, among other human right violations, a sharp rise in the recruitment of child soldiers. Reportedly with the tacit support of the government, Karuna led a powerful paramilitary group fighting against the LTTE.

By early 2007 it was increasingly clear that President Mahinda Rajapaksa intended to lead the country down the path of war. He and his advisors had opted to try for a military solution to the problem posed by the ethnic conflict. Rajapaksa had sought an alliance with the radical Sinhalese nationalist parties JVP and JHU, thus sharpening the conflict. Abrogation of the CFA had long been a demand of the Sinhalese nationalist JVP. The JVP listed annulment of the CFA as a condition for offering the government its support on the budget vote in December 2007. Since the vote, the government upped its rhetoric in favor of war and against the CFA.

On 02 Jauary 2008, Sri Lanka's cabinet voted unanimously to end the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) signed between te GSL and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (TTE) in 2002. Effective 16 January 2008, the government formally abrogated the Cease-Fire Accord with the LTTE, and the conflict intensified during the year. The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict escalated. The overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, the continuing use of child soldiers by a paramilitary force associated with the government, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, poor prison conditions, denial of fair public trial, government corruption and lack of transparency, infringement of freedom of movement, and discrimination against minorities.

Government security forces, pro government paramilitary groups, and the LTTE used excessive force and committed abuses against civilians. The government used army commandos known as Deep Penetration Units to conduct operations against the LTTE in the LTTE-controlled Vanni. However, because of targeting errors, some of these attacks claimed civilian victims. The LTTE also used special operatives to conduct infiltration operations against government security forces. LTTE suicide cadres, also known as "Black Tigers," killed civilians in attacks targeted at the opposing military force. The LTTE reportedly used chemical agents, such as tear gas or CS riot control gas, in combat situations.

The LTTE continued to detain civilians, often requiring individuals, including children, to fight government security forces against their will. The Tigers enforced a "one family, one fighter" policy, forcing each family to provide at least one recruit to the LTTE. As 2008 progressed and the LTTE's military position deteriorated, monitoring groups reported more aggressive recruitment by the LTTE, including of older teenagers. The LTTE required individuals to purchase the right to leave LTTE-controlled territory. The LTTE also allegedly used civilians as human shields.

In a 30 June 2008 interview widely reported in the Sri Lankan press, Army Chief Sarath Fonseka estimated LTTE strength at 5,000 cadres and stated "maybe a maximum of a year from now the LTTE should lose large areas." He also said "Even if we finish the war, capture the whole of the north, still the LTTE might have some members joining them...The LTTE might survive another two decades with over 1,000 might continue as an insurgency forever." Fonseka had made a habit of predicting that victory is just around the corner. In a Sunday Observer interview in December 2007 he stated the LTTE had 3,000 cadres and would be "wiped out" within six months. This estimate of the Tigers' strength followed a May 2007 assertion that 4,000 Tigers remained and that if they lost 2,000 cadres they would be finished. By the December interview the military figures had put LTTE fighters killed at over 2500 yet the overall fighting strength had only been reduced by 1000.

By 16 May 2009 two Army divisions moving from opposite directions merged, trapping the Tamil Tigers on a narrow and short patch of coastline. The army said it had wiped out the entire leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, including the founder-leader of the rebel group. State television reports said the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed by the military. For the first time in 26 years, the government says all territory of the island nation is back under its control. More than 60,000 people died in Sri Lanka's civil war.

What happened in the Vanni and to its people from August 2006 onwards, particularly from January 2009 to May 2009, has been described in apocalyptic (in the local Tamil as pralayam) terms[1-4]. The total destruction of civilian infrastructure that ensued in the bitter fight to the end between the Sri Lankan military forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with an estimated civilian population of around 300,000 trapped in between is an ineffable human calamity. A common refrain from people who were there has been 'varthayal varnicca mudiyathavai (it is beyond description by words)'

By the end of 2010 human rights groups estimated that approximately 2,400 LTTE suspects were in regular detention centers. An unknown additional number of unidentified detainees, estimated by some organizations to be as high as 1,200, were thought to be held in police stations, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the TID, army or paramilitary camps, or other informal detention facilities. At the beginning of 2010 the government held approximately 11,700 former LTTE combatants in detention centers near Vavuniya. Some observers were concerned that these ex-combatants were subjected to abuse or torture, since independent observers had only limited access to these detainees and there was no formal legal framework for their detention. By the end of the year the government formally charged approximately 1,400 of these detainees and released approximately half of the remaining 10,000 after rehabilitation.

The UN Secretary-General appointed a Panel of Experts [POE] to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The Panel of Experts delivered its report to the Secretary-General during their meeting on 12 April 2011. The panel of experts found credible reports of war crimes committed by both the Government and Tamil rebels and calls for genuine investigations into the allegations. The panel found credible allegations that comprise five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the Government in the final stages of the conflict, including killing of civilians through widespread shelling and the denial of humanitarian assistance. The credible allegations concerning the LTTE comprise six core categories of potential serious violations, including using civilians as a human buffer and killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE control.

While the Government of Sri Lanka’s public statements indicate it maintained a policy of “zero civilian casualties” and the only civilians killings occurred during crossfire, the POE estimated that civilian casualties range from 10,000 to 40,000 for the final months of the conflict. Based on verified reports from civilians, seasoned aid workers, and doctors in the conflict zone, the POE concluded that in many cases, Government of Sri Lanka security forces shelled areas it knew to be principally occupied by civilians. In addition, the Department of State’s 2009 Report to Congress listed 208 instances of harm to civilians or civilian objects, which strongly suggests that the Commission of Inquiry on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) conclusion that only three allegations of attacks against civilians deserve further investigation is a gross underestimation.

In March 2012 Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said there were thousands of LTTE cadres still at large with caches of arms and explosives dumps hidden in the former war zone and, therefore, the threat of terrorism persisted to some extent. The Defence Secretary said some people mistakenly believed that simply because the LTTE had been defeated and Prabhakaran killed, terrorism was over. Several attempts to revive the LTTE since the conclusion of the war had been foiled, he said.

About 11,000 LTTE cadres who either surrendered to the security forces or were captured during the war had been rehabilitated and reunited with their families and about 3,800 out of 4,000 LTTE detainees had been released; about 4,000 LTTE members who had escaped were still at large, the Defence Secretary said. The government had lifted Emergency and done away with high security zones and checkpoints in spite of security risks. Anyone could travel to and from the former war zone without undergoing checks. The houses taken over by the military had been handed over to their owners.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2012 15:16:26 ZULU