Indian Peace Keeping Force
: भारतीय शान्ति सेना) was the Indian military
contingent performing a peacekeeping
operation in Sri Lanka
between 1987 and 1990. It was formed under the mandate of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord
signed between India
and Sri Lanka in 1987 that aimed to end the Sri Lankan Civil War
between militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists
such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military
. Its task was to enforce the terms of the accord, and maintain peace. and was inducted into Sri Lanka on the request of then-Sri Lankan president J. R. Jayewardene
under the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.
The force was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat by the Indian High Command. However, within a few months, the IPKF became embroiled in battle with the LTTE to enforce peace. In the two years it was in northern Sri Lanka, the IPKF launched a number of combat operations aimed at destroying the LTTE-led insurgency. It was also accused during this time of having committed a number of human rights violations.
The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, following the election of the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government in India and on the request of the newly-elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The last IPKF contingents left Sri Lanka in March 1990.
Sri Lanka, from the early 1980s, was facing increasingly violent ethnic strife in the Sri Lankan Civil War. The origins of the Sri Lankan Civil War can be traced to the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948, after the end of British rule. At the time, a Sinhalese majority government was instituted. This government passed legislation deemed discriminatory against the substantial Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
In the 1970s, two major Tamil parties united to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), a separatist Tamil nationalist grop that agitated for a separate state of Tamil Eelam in north and eastern Sri Lanka that would grant the Tamils greater autonomy within the federal structure.
However, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, enacted in August 1983, classified all separatist movements as unconstitutional, Outside the TULF, Tamil factions advocating more militant courses of action soon emerged, and the ethnic divisions eventually led to violent civil war.
Indian involvement and intervention
India had initially, under Indira Gandhiand
later under Rajiv Gandhi
, provided support to Tamil interests from the very conception of the secessionist movement. This included providing sanctuary to the separatists, as well as support the operations training camps for Tamil guerrillas
in Tamil Nadu
of which the LTTE emerged as the strongest force. This was both as a result of a large Tamil community in South India
, as well as India's regional security and interests which attempted to reduce the scope of foreign intervention, especially those linked to the United States
, and China
. To this end, the Indira Gandhi government sought to make it clear to Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayewardene
that armed intervention in support of the Tamil movement was an option India would consider if diplomatic solutions should fail. The first round of civil violence flared in 1983 when the killing of 13 soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army
sparked anti-Tamil pogroms
—the Black July
riots—in which over 400 Tamils were killed. The riots only aided in the deterioration of the ethnic relations. Militant factions, including the LTTE, at this time recruited in large numbers and continued building on popular Tamil dissent and stepped up the guerrilla war
. By May 1985, the guerrillas were strong enough to launch an attack on Anuradhapura
, attacking the Bodhi Tree shrine
–a sacred site for Buddhist Sinhalese–followed by a rampage through the town. At least 150 civilians died in the hourlong attack. However, after Gandhi's assassination, the Indian support for the militant movement waned at the very time the violence escalated. Rajiv Gandhi's
government attempted to re-establish friendly relations with its neighbours. It still however maintained diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the conflict as well as maintaining covert aid to the Tamil rebels.
The Sri Lankan government, deducing a decline in support for the Tamil rebels from India, started rearming itself extensively for its anti-insurgent role with support from Pakistan, Israel, Singapore, and South Africa. In 1986, the campaign against the insurgency was stepped up. In 1987, retaliating against an increasingly bloody insurgent movement, the Vadamarachchi Operation (Operation Liberation) was launched against LTTE strongholds in Jaffna Peninsula. The operation involved nearly 4,000 troops, supported by helicopter gunships as well as ground-attack aircraft. In June 1987, the Sri Lankan Army laid siege on the town of Jaffna. This resulted in large-scale civilian casualties and created a condition of humanitarian crisis. India, which had a substantial Tamil population in South India faced the prospect of a Tamil backlash at home, called on the Sri Lankan government to halt the offensive in an attempt to negotiate a political settlement. However, the Indian efforts were futile.Added to this, in the growing involvement of Pakista]i and Israeli advisers, it was necessary for Indian interest to mount a show of force. Failing to negotiate an end to the crisis with Sri Lanka, India announced on 2 June 1987 that it wound send a convoy of unarmed ships to northern Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian assistancebut this was intercepted by the Sri Lankan Navy and turned back.
Following the failure of the naval mission the decision was made by the Indian government to mount an airdrop of relief supplies in support of rebel forces over the besieged city of Jaffna. On 4 June 1987, in a show of force, the Indian Air Force mounted Operation Poomalai in daylight. Five Antonov An-32s under fighter cover flew over Jaffna to airdrop 25 tons of supplies, all the time keeping well within the range of Sri Lankan radar coverage. At the same time the Sri Lankan Ambassador to New Delhi was summoned to the Foreign Office to be informed by the Minister of State, External Affairs, K. Natwar Singh, of the ongoing operation and also indicated that the operation was expected not to be hindered by the Sri Lankan Air Force. The ultimate aim of the operation was both to demonstrate the credibility of the Indian option of active intervention to the Sri Lankan government, as a symbolic act of support for the Tamil rebels, as well to preserve Rajiv Gandhi's credibility.
The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord
Following Operation Poomalai, faced with the possibility of an active Indian intervention and lacking any possible ally, the President, J. R. Jayewardene, offered to hold talks with the Rajiv Gandhi government on future moves. The siege of Jaffna was soon lifted, followed by a round of negotiations that led to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord on July 29, 1987 that brought a temporary truce. Crucially however, the negotiations did not include the LTTE as a party to the talks.
The signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord on 29 July 1987 brought a temporary truce to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Under the terms of the agreement,
Colombo agreed to a devolution of power to the provinces the Sri Lankan troops were withdrawn to their barracks in the north, the Tamil rebels were to disarm.
The mandate for the IPKF
Among the provisions undersigned by the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was the commitment of Indian military assistance should this be requested for by the Sri Lankan Government, as well as the provision —also if requested by Colombo— of an Indian Peace Keeping Force that would "guarantee and enforce the cessation of hostilities". It was on these grounds, and on the request of President J. R. Jayewardene
, that Indian troops were inducted to Northern Sri Lanka. J N Dixit
, the then Indian ambassador
to Colombo, in an interview to rediff.com
in 2000 described that ostensibly, Jayawardene's decision to request Indian assistance came in the face of increasing civil riots and violence within the southern Sinhala majority areas, including the capital Colombo
that were initiated by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
that necessiated the withdrawal of the Sri Lankan Army from the Tamil areas of northern Sri Lanka to maintain order.
It was under these conditions that the IPKF entered Sri Lanka.
The Indian Peace Keeping Force
Originally a reinforced division with small naval and air elements, the IPKF at its peak deployed four divisions and nearly 100,000 men with one mountain (4th) and three Infantry Divisions (36th, 54th, 57th) as well as supporting arms and services. At the peak of its operational deployment, IPKF operations also included a large Indian Paramilitary Force
and Indian Special Forces
elements. Indeed Sri Lanka was first theatre of operation for the Indian Navy Commandos
. The main deployment of the IPKF was in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Upon its withdrawal from Sri Lanka the IPKF was renamed the 21st Corps and was headquartered near Bhopal
and became a sort-of quick reaction force
for the Indian army.
IPKF Order of Battle
The first Indian Army
troops to be inducted into Sri Lanka were a ten thousand strong force from the 54th Infantry division, composed of elements of the Sikh Light Infantry
, the Maratha Light Infantry
and the Mahar Regiment
which flew into Palay airbase
, from July 30 onwards. This was followed later by the 36th Infantry division. By August, the 54th Infantry Division under the command of Maj Gen Harkirat Singh
and the 340th Indian Inf Bde had landed in Sri Lanka. By 1987, the IPKF consisted of
- 54th Air Assault Division. (Major General Harkirat Singh (General Officer Commanding), Brigadier Kulwant Singh, Dy GOC):- Became an infantry division later duie to lack of airlift capacity within the Indian armed forces.
- 10 Para Commando. (Jaffna) - an attached unit
- 65 Armoured Regiment (originally with T-54 tanks and later with T-72s). - an attached unit, it was later determined that the T55 was a better vehicle for counterinsurgency operations. Listed by some sources as an independent unit.
- 91 Infantry Brigade (Jaffna)
- 76 Infantry Brigade (Brigadier I.M. Dhar) (Munnar, Vavuniya, Mulliativu)
- 47 Infantry Brigade (Trincomalee-Batticoloa-Amparai)
- 36 Infantry Division.
- 57th Infantry Division, trained in jungle warfare,
- 4th Mountain division, only two brigades used.
- Independent Units
- 340 Independent Infantry Brigade (Amphibious). (Trincomalee)
- 18 Infantry Brigade. (Jaffna)
- 5 Para Battalion.
Indian Air Force
Soon after its intervention in Sri Lanka and especially after the confrontation with the LTTE, the IPKF received a substantial
commitment from the Indian Air Force
, mainly transport and helicopter squadrons, including:
The Indian Navy regularly rotated naval vessels thru Sri Lanka waters, mostly smaller vessels such as patrol boats.
- Naval Aviation
- MARCOS (also the Marine Commando Force or MCF) - Took part in Operation Pawan (Hindi, "wind") in 1988 and in the raid on an LTTE base at Guru Nagar. MARCOS operators (including Lt Singh) boarded two Gemini rafts off the coast of Jaffna City and towed two wooden rafts of explosives into a channel leading to the city's Guru Nagar Jetty. Avoiding mines, eight men and two officers shifted to the wooden rafts and paddled to the jetty then fixed demolition charges to the jetty and LTTE speedboats. The commandos were detected but laid down suppressive fire and detonated the explosives before retreating to the Geminis without taking casualties. Two nights later, commandos swam back into the harbour amidst heavy patrolling by the LTTE to destroy the remaining speedboats. They were again detected and sustained minor injuries. These actions helped recapture Trincomalee and Jaffna harbours from the LTTE. For leading these actions the 30 year old Lt. Singh became the youngest officer to receive the Maha Vir Chakra Award.
In Sri Lanka
The LTTE had enjoyed support from India till the IPKF started getting inducted. However, not having been party to the negotiations leading up to the accord, it agreed to the truce only reluctantly. The Tigers had rejected the Provincial Council framework as inadequate and Prabhakaran had protested against the Indian military intervention. The Tigers resisted the spread what was deemed India's self-serving aim of binding Sri Lanka into India's geo political sphere of influence, as well as a symapthy for Sri Lanka's ruling Sinhala community in India outside the support-base in Tamil Nadu. With the induction of the Indian troops, the Tigers initially complied by surrendering arms along the terms of the truce. However, the opposition to the induction of Indian troops soon flared into active confrontation. Along with this, there developed an increasingly brutal confrontation within Tamil factions, with allegations that the LTTE, predominantly a Northern Tamil powerbase, was attempting to destroy both the PLOTE and the EPRLF, which represented more of the Eastern provinces. The LTTE boycotted the elections that were held in October and November 1988 along the lines outlined in the accord. The Indian administration had not expected opposition from the Tigers and was initially taken unaware. The support for Tamil Nationalism in India also raised the spectre to the Indian Govt. of a possible situation of Tamil secessionist movement in Tamil Nadu However, faced with growing diligence from her erst-while partner, India adopted a strategy of aiding alternative Tamil power bases, including the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front, which ultimately emerged strongly in the November 1988 elections, and at the same time continue negotiations with the LTTE. At the same time, however, Sinhalese nationalists, led by the JVP loathed the foreign presence on their soil.
Conflict with the LTTE
Two incidences that occurred in September-October 1987 marked the turning point of Indo-LTTE relationship. The first of these was the hunger strike
and subsequent death of Lt. Col. Thileepan
, a popular political wing leader of the LTTE, on 26 September
. Thileepan had begun his fast in protest against what was termed the failures of the Indian forces to satisfy the political demands of the Tamils, and his death was mourned throughout the Tamil community and fuelled a growing dissatisfaction and impatience with the pace of promised reforms. In addition it was a huge propaganda victory for the LTTE, which started taking an increasingly hard line in the negotiations for the Interim Provincial Council. The talks broke down.
However, on 4 October1988
, the Sri Lankan Navy
captured an LTTE boat off Point Pedro
with seventeen Tigers, including some high-profile leaders of the movement, onboard. The Colombo government alleged the boat was involved in smuggling arms across the Palk Straits
and on the grounds denied immunity to these captured Tiger rebels. The LTTE denied this claiming the rebels' movements were in accordance with the truce, being in the process of transferring documents for shifting the Tigers Headquarters from Madras
to Jaffna. The Sinhalese government intended to bring a number of the rebels captured, including Pulendran
and others, to trial in Colombo for allegedly masterminding the massacre of a hundred and fifty civilians. The Tigers, who were at the time still in negotiation with the Indian authorities, appealed for enforcement of protection by the IPKF
. The rebels were at this time in IPKF custody at Palay
Airbase pending transfer to Sinhalese authorities. Although the Indian authorities insist that they had explained the possible repercussions of such an action on the fragile truce and exerted considerable pressure on the Sinhalese authorities to desist from proceeding, ultimately the IPKF withdrew allowing the Sri Lankan forces to proceed with transferring the captured rebels to Colombo. The detainees however, attempted mass suicide
by swallowing cyanide
- a common LTTE practice when faced imminent capture. This singular event marked a total break-down of the truce. The night of 5 October
saw large scale slaughter of Sinhalese people who had returned to Jaffna, including eight soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army who were at the time being held hostages by the LTTE. These coincided with armed confrontations between the Tiger Cadres and the Indian Troops in and around Jaffna.On 8 October
, the LTTE carried out a number of mortar
attacks and ambushes on the IPKF.
In the face of this detoriating situation, President Jayawardene threatened the visiting Indian Defence Minister
and the Chief of Army Staff
to re-induct the Sri Lankan Army to protect Sinhala interests if the IPKF did not take actions against the LTTE. The Indian government, already accused of inaction in the face of a failing accord, was forced into a position of having to enforce peace in Jaffna by force. By 7 October
, the COAS had issued directives to the IPKF, laying down its operations parameters in the directiveas:
- Seize/destroy the LTTE radio/TV transmission equipment in the Jaffna Peninsula;
- Seize or jam LTTE communication network;
- Carry out raids on LTTE camps, caches and strong points;
- Personnel manning LTTE offices in the East be detained and interrogated to gain information. In case of resistance,force to be used;
- Actions to further consolidate hold of IPKF in the region.
It was declared on 9 October that the IPKF was to launch a final campaign against the LTTE. This was the point of no return.
The first of the major IPKF operation was launched on 9 October 1987. Codenamed Operation Pawan (Hindi
:Wind), it was expected to neutralise the LTTE operations capability in and around Jaffna. This included the capture or neutralisation of the LTTE's chain of command. which was expected to leave the rebel movement directionless in the face of the impending assault on the LTTE strongholds by the IPKF. On the nights of October 9
and October 10
, the IPKF raided and captured the LTTE radio station at Tavadi and TV station at Kokkuvil
, while the printing presses of two LTTE sponsored newspapers were destroyed. These operations also led to the capture of nearly two hundred Tiger rebels. In retaliation, the LTTE ambushed a CRPF
convoy near Tellipallai, killing four jawans, as well as an IPKF post at Tellipallai with automatic and mortar fire on IPKF post. Later that day, the Tigers hijacked a 10 Para Commando jeep on patrol, killing all five occupants.
On October 10
, the Indian 91st Brigade, consisting of three battalions and led by Brigadier J. Ralli, began its push into the city of Jaffna.
The Jaffna University Helidrop
The first battle signalling the real beginning of Operation Pawan
was the Heliborne assault
on Jaffna University head-quarters of the LTTE by a detachment of Indian Para Commandos
and the Sikh LI
on the night of 12 October
. Jaffna University
was the tactical headquarters of the LTTE. This was planned as a quick commando raid to capture the top LTTE leadership and local commanders who, based on Indian Intelligence, were supposed to be in the building at the time. and was thus expected to cut short the Battle for Jaffna. The plan was to land a company of 70 men from 10 Para Cdo. to secure the football field. A second wave was to follow with a company of the 13th Sikh LI. The heliborne troops were to link up with 4/5 Gorkhas
of 72 Brigade and the Sikh LI troops advancing on the ground.
However, the operation ended in disaster as the LTTE, having intercepted IPKF radio transmissions, set up an ambush. The helidropped troops came under intense LTTE fire as they were inserted which, while increasingly vicious fire from LTTE positions hit and crippled the Mi-8s
enough to force the insertion to be terminated midway through operation. Over the battle that lasted through the night, twenty nine of the entire Sikh LI contingent of thirty troops and six of the one hundred and twenty commandos were killed before detachments of the 65th armoured regiments were able to extract the Paras from their defensive positions. The Sikh LI radioman
was shot by LTTE snipers
early on, with the unit losing contact with the Indian High Command at Palay Air base
and the lone survivor of the Sikh LI detachment, Sepoy Gora Singh
was taken prisoner by the Tigers. It was not until his release later during the conflict that the fate of the unit was known.
Battle for Jaffna
As the battle for Jaffna proggressed, the IPKF advance came under intense and vicious opposition from the Tigers. Fighting in built-up and an as-yet unevacuated Jaffna, the Indian High command insists that the slow advance was, in addition to Tiger resistance, more a result of reluctance on the part of the IPKF to use heavy weaponry to clear LTTE defences. Furthermore all the approach roads had been armed with Claymore mines or explosives by the Tigers in its years of fighting with the Sri Lankan army. The Tigers also made extensive use of IED which could be remotely detonated from over a kilometre away.
During this time, the Indian Navy, supported by the Coast Guards was key in establishing a 300-mile long blockade around the Northern Sri Lanka from October 1987 to disrupt the Tigers' supply and communications routes. In addition, it was around this time the MARCOS commandos of the Navy first went into action. Detachments of the IMSF (Indian Marine Special Forces, as the MARCOS was then known), along with a battalion of the 340th Independent Brigade of the Indian Army, provided beach reconnaissance around Jaffna and Batticaloa.
The 340th Brigade was one of the first IPKF units to be deployed, and served until operations in the Trincomalee area were complete. The IMSF, at this time, also provided security patrols along the coastal road west of Jaffna until the 41st Brigade took charge later in November.
On October 15/16, the IPKF advance stopped its advance to stabilize the front. In addition, Palay, the major operations headquarters for the 54th Infantry Division, was secured from Tiger attacks. At this time the Indian Air Force undertook a massive airlift to reinforce the 91st with three brigades and heavy equipments including T-72 Tanks s and BMP-1 fighting vehicles. The improvised controllers worked round the clock to fly in troops and equipment. In addition, the Indian Airlines is said to have contributed, with its Boeing 737s transporting troops. In addition, this short interval saw the induction of the Mi-8s and the first induction of the Mi-25s of the No. 125 Sqn, along with the HAL Cheetahs. By end of October the IAF flew 2200 tactical transport and 800 helicopter sorties.
Now reinforced, the IPKF resumed the battle for Jaffna town. The tanks and armoured fighting vehicles are said to have been an effective protection against the anti-personnel mines. However, even with this protection, the IPKF advance was torturous in the face of the Tigers' sniper fire. The rebel snipers would take positions along rooftops of buildings, treetops and even coconut palms. Equipped with powerful telescopic infra-red sights, the Tiger snipers were able to selectively take out officers and radiomen, taking a heavy toll and bringing the advances to a grinding halt. In addition, Helicopters flying below 2000 feet also remained vulnerable, with at least five shot at and damaged before the Mi-25s took up their offensive role. The IPKF adapted quickly, with its officers taking off pips of their ranks, wearing slouch hats and carrying oversize back packs. However, as advances got bogged down, the battalions, instead of maneuvering around the defenders, were forced to commit more troops under orders from New Delhi. In addition, the LTTE increasingly started the use of anti-tank mines, taking a further heavy toll on IPKF casualties. A frustrated IPKF cut off power to Jaffna to counter these. In addition, the IPKF communications lines were extensively mined by the LTTE, which further compounded the sometimes perilous situations that the Indian troops faced. It was not before the IMSF commandos broke out of the besieged Jaffna port and cleared the heavily mined Navanturai Coastal Road, that a crucial link up between 1 Maratha Light Infantry in the Jaffna fort and the advancing troops of 41st Brigade could be established that secured the Nallur area. On 21 October 1987, the commandos conducted a successful amphibious raid against a LTTE base at Guru Nagar. It was also toward the end of the Jaffna campaign that the IPKF started the use of Mi-25s for close air support when they flew against LTTE positions in Chavakacheri village on October 23 1987.
Ultimately however, after two weeks of bitter fighting, the IPKF had wrested the control of Jaffna and other major cities from the LTTE, but operations were to continue well into November, with major operations coming to an end with the fall of Jaffna Fort on the 28th of November. Through the duration of Operation Pawan, the casualties suffered by the IPKF has been put at varying figures between 600 and 1200. In addition to the LTTE's defensive tactics alluded to above, the IPKF's problems were compounded by the fact that the Tigers, using classical guerrilla strategy, blended in with the local population. In addition, the IPKF came face to face with the child soldiers of the LTTE, something it had not expected.
By the time Jaffna fell, however, the LTTE had merely exfiltrated out of the town, moving south to the jungles of Vavuniya. Its hard core fighters moved to the safety of the jungles by skirting the coast of Jaffna from Point Pedro to Elephant Pass, sheltered by the impenetrable jungles and criss-cross waterways of the Nittkaikulam jungles.
This was however only the first of the IPKF's three year campaign to neutralise the LTTE.
The IPKF at this point still consisted mostly of an overstretched 54th Division. Following the Jaffna Operation, the 36th Infantry Division was inducted, along with two additional brigades, to take over the Vavuniya sector and the Trincomalee-Batticaloa axis. This relieved the 54th Division which, led by Brigadier Manjit Singh, could now focus on consolidating the Jaffna sector. The 4th Mountain Division and the 57th Infantry Division were inducted still later in February 1988 to take charge of Vanni and Batticaloa from the 36th.
Within Jaffna sector, although the LTTE had shifted out of the town itself, it nevertheless harassed the 54th's efforts to consolidate its positions using IEDs and anti-personnel mines. In turn, however, the IPKF was able to disrupt the LTTE's activities with regular raids that led to capture of large caches of Rebel weaponry. Brigadier Manjit Singh was later replaced by Brigadier JS Dhillon, under whom the 54th underwent considerable modifications of its operations routine. Small highly mobile units became the staple of the 54th's operations.
Operations Viraat and Trisul
The major force of the Tigers' fighting capacity had retreated to the jungles of Vavuniya
following Operation Pawan
. By December 1987,the LTTE was able to build up a network of a large number of camps in the jungles that allowed it to regain a position of power within the local population, instituting taxes
The Vavuniya sector was strategically and geographically key to accessing the North-South as well as East-West communications routes.
The LTTE was able to withstand the IPKF operations here as well, owing to natural cover from the dense jungles, an intimate knowledge of the terrain, and a low density of population which also probably held sympathy for the Tigers. The Vavuniya sector remained the most active sector throughout the IPKF's deployment and its casualties in this area were the highest after those suffered during the operations in Jaffna. The LTTE also managed to carry out a large number of successful ambushes against the IPKF patrols in the dense jungles.
By summer the following year, the Indian High Command had evolved its doctrine from holding key strong points to conducting extensive search and destroy missions against LTTE strongholds and bases, denying them ground. In April 1988, the IPKF intiated two near simultaneous operations through the jungles of Northern Sri Lanka. These, codenamed Operation Viraat and Operation Trishul, were launched in the provinces of Mannar to Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass to Vavuniya and utillised approximately 15,000 troops of the IPKF, including armoured corps, Paratroops, as well as the infantry troops and army aviation.
These achieved some success in disrupting LTTE operations, seizing weaponry and inflicting limited casualties among the LTTE cadres. During Operation Viraat, the IPKF uncovered well prepared LTTE defenses, including concrete bunkers with electric generators, as well as caches of arms and reserves. The IPKF also suffered in this unconventional warfare, with the LTTE frequently ambushing IPKF convoys and patrols.
By the end of summer 1988, however, the Tigers were forced to move to another stronghold, when it started to operate out of Nithikaikulam and adjacent riverine areas.
Sri Lankan Elections
Withdrawal from Sri Lanka
was elected President on 2 January 1989
and he on April 1989 demanded the IPKF withdraw within 3 months from Sri Lanka. In the 1989 elections both Premadasa and the SLFP wanted the IPKF to withdraw. They got 95% of the vote and Sinhala public opinion was against the accord.
Consumed by his hatred for the Indians, Premadasa even opened up secret channels to the LTTE to arm them against the Indians. Premadasa demanded that the IPKF leave the island and asked the Sri Lankan Armed forces to throw them out. Any movement of the Sri Lankan forces outside their barracks would kill the still alive ISLA. Lt. Gen. A. S. Kalkat warned that the IPKF would retaliate if fired upon by the Sri Lankans. IAF squadrons moved to the South while naval units moved off the Sri Lankan coast. Thanks to the professionalism of the Indian and Sri Lankan armed forces a conflict was avoided. Rajiv Gandhi
refused to withdraw the IPKF in a situation which clearly showed the failure of his Sri Lanka policy both diplomatically and militarily. Rajiv believed that the only way he could succeed was to politically force Premadasa and militarily force the LTTE
to accept the accord. In December 1989 Indian elections V. P. Singh
became the Prime Minister. He viewed Rajiv Gandhi
's Sri Lanka policy as a miserable failure as it had cost over 1100 soldiers, over 5000 Sri Lankan lives and cost over 20 billion (2000 crore) rupees of Indian tax payers money in over 32 months and both politically and militarily it was a stalemate.V. P. Singh
withdrew the IPKF and the last ship left on 24 March 1990
. The Tamils were now paradoxically unhappy at the IPKF's departure but had to bear the start of a new ordeal. IPKF's arrival in India was boycotted by the Tamil Nadu government headed by Karunanidhi
The IPKF suffered around 1,255 killed in action and several thousand wounded. After several years, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces realised the role of IPKF and proposed building a memorial to the Indian dead in Sri Lanka. The LTTE casualties are not known reliably.
The Indian intelligence agencies failed to consistently provide accurate information to the forces. One example is the Jaffna football ground massacre
. The LTTE's disinformation
machinery leaked information to the Indian army that the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
was hiding in a building near the Jaffna university football ground. The operation plan was chalked out. It was decided to airdrop commandos on the ground while subsequent movement by tank formation ensured that Prabhakaran was caught alive. It was a good plan on paper. The formation moved out. Battle-hardened commandos were selected for the operation. The commandos started moving down from helicopter. But soon a rain of bullets from the LTTE fighters and sharpshooters perched on the tree tops started to fall on the commandos. The choppers also came under fire. The fate of the tanks moving in pincer formation on the ground was not much different. The LTTE had laid anti-tank mines in the way leading to the operational zone. And the football ground massacre was complete. The irony of the entire story was that the man they were hunting for was nowhere around the area on the day of the operation.
Whether it was successful militarily is an open question. On May 21 1991
, the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi
for his role in sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka. The IPKF, although it shaped India's counter-insurgency
techniques and military doctrine considerably, in the international scene, does not find significant mention in National and international military doctrines. The political fallout, the IPKF's casualties, as well as the deterioration of international relations has however shaped India's foreign policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict. (see below)
Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi
The decision to send the IPKF in Sri Lanka was taken by then prime-minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi
, who held office until 1989. While he was campaigning for re-election during the 1991 Indian General Election, the LTTE assassinated him at a rally that he was attending at Sriperumbudur
on 21 May
. The assassination was carried out by a suicide bomber
, who was a member of the LTTE.
India's foreign policy
The debacle that was IPKF's intervention in Sri Lanka is raised at times in Indian political discourse whenever the situation in Sri Lanka shows signs of deteriorating, and there is a question of intervening; or, in Sri Lankan politics (particularly by the LTTE), when it is proposed that India, or, more broadly, other foreigners, ought to have a role in promoting peace on the island nation.
As a result, relations between India and Sri Lanka became extremely sour and India vowed never to offer any military help to Sri Lanka again. This policy has not been changed since and no defence pact has been signed between India and Sri Lanka. India has never been directly involved in the peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka but has supported Norway
The IPKF's role in the Sri Lankan conflict was much maligned by voices both there and at home at the time. It was alleged by the LTTE to have engaged in a number of incidents of human rights violation. Some neutral organisations also alleged the IPKF and LTTE to have engaged with scant regard for civilian safety and to have violated human rights. These allegations led to considerable outcry and public resentment within Sri Lanka as well as India, especially in Tamil Nadu
, where the IPKF came to be viewed as an invading and oppressing force.
Indian forces were accused of indulging in number of civilian massacre, Involuntary disappearances and rapes during their time in the Northeastern province of Sri Lanka. These include allegations of involvement or complicity in the incidents noted below.
, and 4 August 1989
over 50 Tamils were allegedly massacred by the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Valvettiturai
, Jaffna. In addition to the killings over 100 homes, shops and other property were also burnt and destroyed. The bodies of 52 Tamils were identified, including seven children and six women. Over 100 homes, over 40 shops, 70 vehicles, fishing boats and nets were burnt and completely destroyed. The town of 15,000 people was empty following the massacre and more than 5,000 people took refuge in churches and schools. Allegedly, in the days following the massacre, attempts were made to cover up the killings, and few reporters managed to reveal the details of the massacre
Jaffna teaching hospital massacre
On October 22 1987 a few Tamil militants fired upon the advancing IPKF from within the hospital and made their escape by running through the hospital. The IPKF quickly raided the hospital on that day. However, when the IPKF entered the hospital there were no militant in the premises and no fighting. And yet, the IPKF massacred over 70 civilians. These civilians included patients, two doctors , three nurses and a pediatric consultant who were all in uniform. It is alleged that the pediatric consultant and two nurses were killed the following day (October 23) when they reported into duty. The hospital never completely recovered after this massacre.
Complicity in the Trincomalee massacre
According to Asian Times in August 1987, a number of majority Sinhalese
civilians were massacred Trincomalee
. The then Sri Lankan government accused the Madras Regiment
posted in the Trincomalee
district of complicity, although the Indian officials denied responsibility, they withdrew the Madras Regiment from Trincomalee district.
Notes and Further reading