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Backgrounder: Sri Lanka's civil war
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08:28, May 19, 2009

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The military in Sri Lanka said Monday that all the 15,000-sq-km territory formerly held by Tamil Tiger rebels has been liberated and all top rebel leaders have been killed, marking the end of the current phase of Sri Lankan civil war.


Sri Lanka's civil war originated from the tension between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic communities, which account for about 74 percent and 14 percent of the total population respectively.

The Sri Lanka government's "Sinhala Only Bill" which made the language spoke by the majority Sinhalese as the official language in the 1950s was the spark of the conflict.

With the escalation of the confrontational politics, politicized Tamil youth in the north and the east started to form militant groups in the 1970s. The most prominent of these groups was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

In July 1983, the LTTE killed 13 government soldiers in the northern Jaffna peninsula, causing organized massacres and pogroms by the Sinhalese in the capital Colombo and elsewhere. Between 400and 3,000 Tamils were estimated to have been killed in the so called Black July and many more fled Sinhalese-majority areas. This is usually considered the beginning of the civil war.


From 1983 to 2002, Sri Lanka's government troops and the LTTE were engaged in three phases of civil war, dubbed Eelam War I, II and III.

Eelam War I started in July 1983 and ended in July 1987 with the signing of the Indo-Sri-Lankan accord. Sri Lankan troops then withdrew from the north and handed over control over the entire area to Indian peacekeeping troops.

The Indian forces withdrew from Sri Lanka in 1990 after they failed to disarm the LTTE. The 32-month presence of the Indian forces resulted in the deaths of 1,100 Indian soldiers and over 5,000 Sri Lankans.

Eelam War II started in 1990 after the failure of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

This phase of civil war was marked by unprecedented brutality with large number of civilians being killed.

The largest battle of the war was in July 1991, when the army's Elephant Pass base in Jaffna was surrounded by 5,000 LTTE troops. More than 2,000 died on both sides in the month-long siege, before10,000 government troops arrived to relieve the base.

The LTTE scored a major victory when one of their suicide bombers killed Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1993.

Eelam War III broke out in April 19 1995 and lasted until 2002 when the government and the LTTE reached a ceasefire agreement with the facilitation of Norway. The two sides held eight rounds of talks between 2002 and 2006, but failed to solve the island's ethnic issue.


Eelam War IV start on July 26, 2006 when the troops began to attack LTTE positions after the later refused to open the sluice gates of the Mavil Oya in the eastern Trincomalle district.

The government troops drove the LTTE out of the Eastern Province in July 2007 and then used the full strength of the military to defeat the LTTE in the North.

On Jan. 2, 2008, the Sri Lankan government officially pulled out of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, paving the way for a full-scale war against the rebels.

On Jan. 2, 2009, President Mahinda Rajapakse announced that the troops had captured Kilinochchi, which the rebels had used for over a decade as their de facto administrative capital. The LTTE then abandoned their positions on the Jaffna peninsula to make a last stand in the jungles of the Mullaittivu district, their last main base.

On Jan. 25, the troops captured Mullaittivu town, the last Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold.

On April 5, the Army gained total control over the entire area of Puthukkudiyirippu, pushing the remaining LTTE cadres into the no-fire zone (NFZ) set up for civilians trapped in the fighting.

The Army broke into the NFZ on April 20 which was followed by more than 100,000 civilians fleeing to government controlled areas.

President Rajapaksa declared victory on May 16 as the troops broke through LTTE defenses and captured the last section of coastline held by the rebels.

Army Chief Sarath Fonseka announced on May 18 that the armed forces have militarily defeated the LTTE and freed the nation from three decades of terror.

Defense officials said all top LTTE leaders including Prabhakaran have been killed in the last fighting.


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