Portuguese arrive in Colombo, marking beginning of European interest


Cankili I comes to the throne of Jaffna


The rise and fall of the Sitawaka Kingdom The Kingdom totally collapsed after the death of King Rajasingha (1593). Sitawaka, during its existence presented one of the most vigorous oppositions to Imperialist rule in Sri Lankan history. 1597, the Portuguese emissary, the captain-general, took formal possession of the kingdom.

Cankili I orders 600 Christians in Mannar to be killed on suspicion of collaborating with the Portuguese

mid-16th century: The Vanniyar chieftains of Mullaitivu and Trincomalee ally with the Portuguese against Cankili and his attempts to subdue them. Cankili expels the Sinhalese from Jaffna because they support the Vanniyar


The Portuguese narrowly defeat Cankili in a battle to avenge the ‘massacre of Mannar’ and demand concession. They retain Mannar and put puppet king Edirmanasingham on the throne.


Indian sources report a battle between the Nayak of Madurai and his Poligar army (on the order of the ruler of Vijayanagara) and the king of Kandy near Puttalam, in which the latter was defeated and killed


Don Juan Dharmapla, the Sri Lankan Prince who was a puppet in the hands of the Portuguese, makes out a deed donating his dominions to the King of Portugal


Cankili II (Cankilikumaran) declared governor of Jaffna by the Portuguese on condition that he has no contact with the Karaiyar generals


Dharmapala dies The Portuguese Emissary, the captain General takes formal possession of the Kingdom During this period the Portuguese Missionaries have been successfully working on converting a large number of Sinhalese Buddhists and also Jaffna Tamils into Christianity


Tamil sovereignty ended in June when the Portuguese defeated the Tamil King, and the Jaffna Kingdom became a Colony of the Portuguese


Yet another attempt by the Portuguese to annex the Kandyan kingdom to their territory, which would have assured total control over the island fails, as the Kandyans ambush and massacre an ambitious Portuguese force.


The Dutch begin negotiations with King Rajasinha II of Kandy In a treaty between the King and the Dutch, the King is assured assistance in his war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the major trade goods, particularly cinnamon. The King also promises the Dutch’s war-related expenses.


The Dutch captures the Eastern ports of Trincomalee and Batticaloa in and restores them to the Sinhalese King.


The Portuguese surrender Colombo to the Dutch


Britain gains control over the Dutch


London decides to retain Ceylon as a British possession. The British East India Company shares in the administration of the island The Governor – responsible for law and order The Director of East India Company – Responsible for financial and commercial matters


The Dutch formally hands over the control to the British (Peace of Amiens) Sri Lanka becomes the “first crown colony” of the British


The first Kandyan War


British become first European power to win control over Whole Island, known as Ceylon. Start bringing in Tamil laborers from southern India to work tea, coffee and coconut plantations.


British unify low-country Sinhalese,Tamil areas with the Kandyan area and establish Government of Ceylon. Legislative Council established English made official language.


First elections conducted by the British colonial authority enable educated citizens to elect a representative to the State Legislative Council. A Tamil, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, is elected, defeating Sinhalese candidate, Sir. Marcus Fernando, despite the Sinhalese being the majority voting group.


Sinhalese-Muslim riots


Ceylon National Congress formed the first full-fledged “nationalist” political party, is formed by Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a Tamil.


Arunachalam quits CNC, denouncing it as a party representing mainly a section of the Sinhalese. The incident paves the way for ethnically divided politics in Sri Lanka.


Donoughmore Constitutional Commission introduced (1931). State Council elected by universal suffrage. Board of   Ministers formed.

Ceylon’s independence constitution is considered under British colonial auspices. Tamil political leaders demand disproportionate parliamentary quotas and are accused of communalism.


Donoughmore Constitutional Commission introduced (1931). State Council elected by universal suffrage. Board of   Ministers formed.

Ceylon’s independence constitution is considered under British colonial auspices. Tamil political leaders demand disproportionate parliamentary quotas and are accused of communalism.


Formation of Communist Party of Ceylon (CP).


Creation of the All Tamil Congress led by G. G. Ponnambalam.


The constitution for an independent Ceylon maintains the unitary state established under colonialism. There will be no minority quotas.

United National Party (UNP) is formed.

First parliamentary elections.(1947)


Ceylon is granted independence. State power is transferred to the elected United National Party (UNP) government led by members of the cross-communal, English-educated Colombo elite.D S Senanayake government enacts two bills (Ceylon Citizenship Act No. 18, 1948) to deprive the Indian plantation workers of their citizenship rights making 705,000 Indian plantation workers stateless The Ceylon Citizenship Act denies citizenship to around one million Up-country Tamils.

G G Ponnambalam (leader of the Tamil Congress (TC)) asks for a 50-50 representation before the Soulbury Commission. He votes against the first [citizenship] bill but votes for the second after getting a portfolio.

The Tamil Congress splits over the citizenship bill. S J V Chelvanayakam forms the Federal Party(Ilankai Tamil Arisu Kachchi)


S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and other prominent Tamil politicians form the Federal Party(ITAK) to press claims for Tamil self-determination within the Ceylonese state.


S W R D Bandaranaike (leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabha) leaves the UNP government and joins the opposition. Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) founded. (Sept. 2 1951) Led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.


Prime Minister D S Senanayake dies in a horse riding accident. (22 March 1952) Lord Soulbury invites the late Prime Minister’s son Dudley Senanayake to become the next Prime Minister. Dudley Senanayake appointed prime minister. (March 26 1952)

First parliament dissolved.(April 8 1952)

Second parliamentary elections.(May 24 1952)

The debate on official language policy moves to the centre of the political agenda. The SLFP pledges to establish Sinhala as the sole language of state.

Settlement of colonists in Gal Oya Scheme commences (Feb 3 1953)

General strike (hartal) organized by the left parties and trade unions; curfew imposed.(12 Aug.1953)

Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake resigns, Sir John Kotelawala succeeds Senanayake.(Oct 12 1953)

Kotelawala-Nehru agreement on Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka. (Jan. 18 1954)


Elections are won by an SLFP-led alliance and Bandaranaike becomes prime minister.The “Sinhala only” bill is passed (15th June 1956) and the Federal Party conducts a Gandhian style protest (also known as “Sathyagraha”) in the open air space by the beach known as the Gall Face Green, opposite the former Parliament building.(5 June 1956) The Official Language Act makes Sinhala the sole medium of state affairs. Communal violence kills an estimated 150 people, mostly Tamils. The Federal Party (FP) launches an intense campaign of non-violent civil resistance. In Colombo, the police look on as mobs attack peaceful protesters, include FP leaders.


Prime Minister Bandaranaike holds talks with the leaders of  the Federal Party which resulted in signing of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact (25 July 1957). Bandaranaike signs a pact with Chelvanayakam, pledging to devolve state power through regional councils, to recognize Tamil as a national minority language and to slow Sinhalese resettlement in the north and east.

J R Jayewardene, organizes a march from Colombo to Kandy against the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact (3 October 1957) An anti-pact protest march to the symbolic Sinhala Buddhist stronghold of Kandy spurs mob attacks on Tamils throughout the southern provinces.

The Federal Party initiates the “Anti-Sri” campaign.(19 January 1957)


Bandaranaike tears the pact amid demands and threats by a faction of Buddhist monks (“Eksath Bhikkhu Peramua”) and Sinhalese chauvinists.(Jan 1958)

Campaign of obliterating Tamil name boards commenced. (April 1 1958)

Anti-Tamil riots in May 27 1958. Emergency declared. Detaining of Federal Party MPs.(27 May, 1958)

Tamil language ( Special Provisions ) Act passed.(14 August 1958) This act allows for the use of Tamil in education, public service entrance exams and administration in north and eastern provinces.


Bandaranaike is assassinated by a Buddhist monk(September 26 1959) Ven. Buddharakkhita who was the founder of the “Eksath Bhikku Peramuna” is accused of leading the conspiracy.A woman parliamentarian, Minister of Health, Wimala Wijewardene is also accused of involvement in the conspiracy.


The SLFP appoints his widow, Srimavo, to fight the general election. To win the electoral backing of the Federal Party, the SLFP agrees to revive the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact but reneges on this after winning an outright majority.

Fourth parliamentary elections; the UNP obtains 50 seats as against 46 won by the SLFP. (19 March 1960) Dudley Senanayake forms “minority government” and becomes prime minister of a UNP government. (21 March 1960)  But in April this govt. is defeated in parliament (22 April 1960) and parliament dissolved.(26 April  1960)

General elections held for the fifth parliament. SLFP secures 75 seats and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike becomes world’s first woman prime minister. (20 July 1960)


The 1956 ‘Sinhala Only’ Act is implemented, but the 1958 Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act is not. The Federal Party re-launches its civil disobedience campaign, paralysing government administration in the north and east. The government declares a state of emergency and deploys troops to regain control of Jaffna Military occupation of  Tamil areas for two years. Federal Party MPs arrested and detained for six months.(18 April 1961)


Military Coup attempt made by armed forces against the government. (27 Jan.1962)


Military Coup attempt made by armed forces against the government. (27 Jan.1962)


Military Coup attempt made by armed forces against the government. (27 Jan.1962)


Sinhala made the official language of Sri Lanka. (01 January 1963)


Sinhala made the official language of Sri Lanka. (01 January 1963)


Sirima-Shastri Pact signed (30 October 1964)

SLFP, LSSP coalition defeated by 74 votes to 73 in parliament fifth parliament dissolved. (17 December 1964)


Sixth general elections – The United National Party (UNP) gains 66 seats, led by Dudley Senanayake for a coalition government comprising UNP, Federal Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Socialist Party, Tamil Congress, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Lanka Prajathanthravadhi Pakshaya.

The Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact is signed to secure the support of the Federal Party in a new ‘national government’. It is agreed that a Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Regulation will be implemented, that district councils will be established and that preference will be given in north and east resettlement schemes to landless persons and Tamil speakers.


Regulation for “Reasonable use of  Tamil” (Tamil Language (Special) Provisions Act. SLFP-LSSP-CP led street demonstrations against the regulation.(8 Jan 1966)


Due to opposition pressure, the District Councils Bill emanating from the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact is abandoned, and the 1966 Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Regulation is not implemented.


Thangathurai and Kuttimani and a few friends gathered in Jaffna to form an informal group that the former wanted to name the Tamil Liberation Organization (TLO). A college professor’s house at Point Pedro, in Jaffna, was a regular meeting point for the group. It included among others Periya (big) Sothi, Chinna (small) Sothi, Chetti, Kannadi (a radio mechanic), Sri Sabaratnam . Later becomes the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO)

The Federal Party (ITAK)quits the government.


An SLFP-led alliance wins a general election landslide. Mrs. Bandaranaike returns as prime minister, establishing a Constituent Assembly to frame a new, republican constitution. The Tamil Students League (TSL) is formed to protest against government plans to introduce communal quotas for higher education.

in 1970, Ponnudorai Satyaseelan founded the Tamil Manavar Peravai (Tamil Students League), which was joined by Sivakumaran.

Bandaranaike had in the meanwhile begun to take a hard line towards Tamils, cutting off foreign exchange for Tamil students going to India for higher studies, banning the import of Tamils films, books and Magazines from Tamil Nadu, and proscribing the small Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party in Jaffna. Sivakumaran attempted to assassinate Sri Lankan deputy minister for Cultural Affairs Somaweera Chandrasiri in September 1970 and Alfred Duraiyappah, the Jaffna Mayor, in February 1971.


Educational ‘standardization’ leads to higher university entrance requirements for Tamil speakers. Many Tamil students are instantly radicalised. Most Tamil members withdraw from the Constituent Assembly after parity of status for the Tamil and Sinhala languages is rejected. In protest largely at a lack of economic opportunities for educated Sinhala youth, an armed insurrection breaks out in the south of the island, led by the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front — JVP). The government adopts emergency powers and crushes the rebellion, killing thousands.

Rohana Wijeweera, the JVP leader, sentenced to 20 years in prison. (12 Dec. 1971)


The ‘district quota’ system is introduced for university entrance, improving the prospects for rural and provincial populations at the expense of students in Colombo, Jaffna and other traditional education centres. The new constitution is adopted and the Republic of Sri Lanka is born. Under new provisions, the state will ‘protect and foster’ the Buddhist religion, giving it ‘the foremost’ place in the life of the nation. Sinhala is also affirmed as the single official language of the courts and the state administration.

The Federal Party(ITAK) led by SJV Selvanayakam, Tamil Congress (TC) led by G. G. Ponnambalam, and Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) led by Savumiamoorthy Thondamanand come together to form the Tamil United Front (TUF).

The Tamil New Tigers (TNT) was started on 22nd May, 1972 The group was composed of a few close associates of Prabhakaran Chetti, Sivarajah, Ramesh,  Inbam, Kannady, Saravanan (alias Patkunarajah), Kalapathy and Kirupaharan all elder to him. Chelliah  Thanabalasingam (alias Chetti) as a leader of TNT , which four years later becomes the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).


The Tamil Youth League (TYL) is formed, strongly influenced by militant ideas and individuals. The government immediately arrests several Tamil activists, including TYL leaders. Many are held without charge for the next two years; some for longer.

Tamil Elaingyar Peravai (TYL-Tamil Youth League) in January 1973. It was founded by some 40 youths, many of whom subsequently were in the forefront militant movement. The TYL drew support from Thangathurai, the TELO leader. Satyaseelan’s arrest in February 1973 set off the second round of mass arrests in Jaffna and virtually crippled the TYL as well as the older Tamil Students League. Several young men languished in prison until 1977, although some gained amnesty on the eve of the Kankesanthurai by-election in 1975

In 1973, the Sri Lankan navy seized a boat belonging to Kuttimani (TELO )filled with dynamite. Kuttimani fled to India, but was arrested and deported from Tamil Nadu to face a Sri Lankan prison sentence. Tamil Nadu was then governed by M. Karunanithi’s DMK party.


In the context of sporadic militant activity, police attack the fourth conference of the International Association of Tamil Research in Jaffna, leading to nine deaths

On June 5, 1974, Sivakumaran was trapped by the police while attempting a bank robbery in Jaffna’s Kopai town. He was 17 years of age and knowing about police torture if he were caught, he used to carry a cyanide pill. On that day he swallowed it without so much as an afterthought and died almost instantly. Thus was born Sri Lanka’s cyanide culture.


Alfred Duraiyappa, the Tamil mayor of Jaffna and SLFP organiser, is killed. Four youths, including Veluppillai Pirabhakaran, claim responsibility for this, the first successful assassination by the militants.

In January 1975, a group of Sri Lankan Tamils residing in London formed the Eelam Revolutionary Organizers, which took the acronym EROS. Although it failed to take roots in Sri Lankan Tamils areas for a long time, it played a key role in shaping the growth of militancy Meanwhile, the EROS leadership in London struck a relationship with Syed Hameed, the PLO Representative in U.K, who later arranged training for EROS cadres, as well as LTTE cadres, in Lebanon. In May 1976.

In January 1975, several TYL members released from Colombo prisons on the eve of the Kankesanthurai by-election returned to Jaffna to heroes’ welcome


The militants commence a series of successful bank robberies in the north, provoking a further crackdown from security forces.

TUF is renamed Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and passes the “Vaddukoddai resolution” to restore a “free, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right to self-determination” to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in the country.

TNT is renamed and reorganized as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with Uma Maheswaran as its leader.


Death of ailing Chelvanayagam. Appapillai Amirthalingam becomes the leader of Federal Party.

The UNP, under J.R. Jayewardene, wins a landslide victory in general elections. The TULF, running on a secessionist platform, wins an overwhelming majority in the north, a simple majority in the east and is installed as the official parliamentary opposition. After shooting incidents in Jaffna involving police and armed militants, anti-Tamil violence breaks out in the south. Hundreds are killed and tens of thousands displaced. JR, angry at what he thought was the audacity of the “boys”, ordered the army into Jaffna, where the old market was almost totally gutted in a fire the Tamils blamed on the security forces.

The 1977 anti-Tamil riots had begun.


After the killing of a Jaffna police inspector, the government proscribes the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and ‘other similar organisations’. A second republican constitution is passed, creating a powerful executive presidency and granting partial concessions to some Tamil demands. Most Tamils are wary, indifferent or hostile to the changes.


A presidential commission is appointed to report on decentralizing the state administration through District Development Councils (DDCs). The TULF participates fully in the commission. As militant action continues around Jaffna, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is passed, temporarily suspending important safeguards against human rights violations. Mass arrests of Tamil youth ensue, along with a spate of extra-judicial killings and ‘disappearances’.

In 1979-1980, EROS and its student wing GUES split and the EPRLF was formed. The EPRLF started as a leftist group with a strong Marxist element its leader, K. Padmanabha, who had been trained in 1976 in Lebanon by the PLO and had a political as well as a military mind. Other important leaders of the EPRLF who emerged during its inception were Varadarajah Perumal ( who later became the Chief Minister of (North-EasternProvinces) DouglasDevand (EPDPLeader) Sureash Premachandran  and Ketheeswaran.


The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) is established to represent the interests of predominantly rural, eastern Muslims traditionally marginalized from the political process. The TULF gives full support to the passage of the District Development Councils Act. The militants become increasingly restive at TULF paramountcy in Tamil politics.

PLOTE was founded in 1980 by Karthiragamar Uma Maheswaran alias Mukundan who became its General Secretary. He was the Chairman of the LTTE from 1977-1980. He was trained in Lebanon and later in Syria.After a bitter rivalry with Velupillai Prabhakaran, Uma Maheswaran left the LTTE in 1980, and formed PLOTE.


During campaigning for the DDC elections in Jaffna, Tamil militants kill a UNP candidate and two police officers. The police go on the rampage, killing several people and destroying many buildings including the Jaffna public library, a key depository of Tamil history and culture. The TULF does well in the DDC elections but the militants emphasise their confidence and independence, executing multi-million rupee bank robber. In one of their major acts, on March. 25, 1981, the TELO committed robbery by ambushing a “Peoples Bank” van which was returning to Jaffna town with the day’s collection. An amount of Rs. 78 lakh rupees was taken and several policemen killed in this hit were masterminded by Kuttimani.

On April 5, 1981,TELO Leaders Kuttimani, Thangadurai and Sellathurai Sivasubramaniam alias Thevan were arrested at Mannalkadal, near Point Pedro, while trying to escape in a boat to India.


Jayewardene is victorious in presidential elections. With significant evidence of electoral fraud, the government also wins a referendum to extend the life of Parliament, without elections, for a further six years. Powers are delegated to the DDCs but complaints persist of inadequate financing and excessive central government interference. Student and leftist organisations lead strikes in the north to protest the TULF ‘betrayal’ of the separatist cause. As the security forces are pushed onto the defensive by the militants, the life of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is extended indefinitely

On 19th May, 1982 there was shoot out at about 2145 hrs. at Pondy Bazaar, Mambalam, Madras in which leaders of two prominent Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups opened fire at each other due to internal rivalry. The two members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader V. Prabhakaran, and Raghavan alias Sivakumar armed with revolvers opened fire on Jotheeswaran and Mukundan alias Uma Maheswaran, members of Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE).

The accused V.Pirabhakaran and Sivakumar were arrested and remanded.

On 25th May, 1982 Uma Maheswaran was arrested near Gummidipoondi-railway station.


The LTTE call for a boycott of local elections, disrupt TULF meetings and kill three UNP candidates. Ninety per cent of northern residents stay away from the polls. Anti-Tamil violence, building nationwide for some months, plumbs unprecedented depths after 13 soldiers are killed in Jaffna in a LTTE ambush. Concentrated in Colombo, with the collusion and sometimes blatant involvement of the security forces (and some government ministers), the violence destroys thousands of Tamil homes and businesses, hundreds of Tamils are massacred, and around 200,000 displaced. The government fails to condemn the riots and pushes through a constitutional amendment outlawing secessionism. All TULF MPs forfeit their seats and recruitment to armed groups proliferates wildly. The three important TELO leaders Thangadurai, Kuttimani and Jegan were killed in a prison massacre in Wellikade in 1983 while they were incarcerated there. After their deaths Sri Sabaratnam took over leadership of TELO

The new district of Kilinochchi constituted. (11 Aug. 1983)


Gopalanswami Parthasarathi, the special emissary of the Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Ghandhi, arrives in Colombo for talks on the ethnic conflict. (3 Jan 1984) After discussions with Indian mediators, the Sri Lankan government convenes an all-party conference in Colombo to address Tamil grievances

All-Party Conference on devolution of powers. (10 January 1984)

The conference, which involves a wide range of political parties and religious organizations but not the militants, fails to reach consensus on appropriate units of devolution.

Government abandons the proposals of the All-Party Conference on ethnic peace. (26 Dec 1984)

Ministry of National Security established (24 March 1984)

Terrorist bombs explode in Colombo (22 October 1984)

The ENLF, formed in April 1984, comprises the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) led by Mr. Sri Sabaratnam, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) whose secrtary-general is Mr. K. Pathmanaba, and the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation (EROS) led by Mr. Balakumar.


TELO,EROS,EPRLF and LTTE also joined the Elam National Liberation Front (ENLF). (April 1985)

The Anuradhapura massacre, the first attack on Sinhalese civilians by Tamil militants. About 250 men, women and children are gunned down at the central bus stand at the Anuradhapura town. (May 1985). After talks between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments, militant leaders are summoned to Delhi and a ceasefire is announced. Under intense pressure from Indian mediators, the Sri Lankan government and a joint delegation of the TELO, LTTE, PLOTE, EPRLF, EROS the five main militant groups and TULF  sit down together at Thimpu, Bhutan. The Tamil parties put forward ‘five cardinal principles’ which must provide the basis for any meaningful solution. The government rejects these principles, the ceasefire breaks down and the talks collapse. Indian officials continue discussions with all parties and agree devolution proposals with the Sri Lankan government. Simmering tensions between Tamil militants and eastern Muslims ignite into violence after Muslim villagers are killed following accusations of collusion with the security forces.

Two former TULF MPs, V Dharmalingam and A Alalasundaram murdered (2 September 1985)


While the war rages in the north and east, the LTTE attack TELO and kill 150 -300 cadres, including its leader, Sri Sabaratnam.

President J R Jayewardene restores the civic rights of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, former prime minster and Mr Felix Dias Bandaranaike, former Cabinet minister (posthumously) (1 January 1986)

A bomb explosion in an Air Lanka plane bound for Male at the Katunayake International Airport kills 17 passengers and injures about 24. (3 May 1986)

All-Party-Conference to resolve the ethnic crisis begins at the BMICH (25 June 1986)

Eastern University of Sri Lanka (EUSL), the country’s eighth university inaugurated (15 November 1986)

A summit in Bangalore between Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene (17 & 18 November 1986)

As the government imposes an economic blockade on Jaffna, a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Bangalore develops new devolution proposals. In an unsuccessful attempt to force LTTE compliance, communications equipment in Tamil Nadu is seized by the Indian government and Pirabhakaran is temporarily held under house arrest in Madras.


Terrorists massacre 128 civilians and injure more than 60 near Kitulottuwa along the Habarana-Trincomalee road (17 April 1987)

A bomb explosion kills 113 persons and injures more than 300 in Pettah, Colombo (21 April 1987)

The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) launches a massive campaign(operation Vadamarachchi) in the north and extends its blockade to include food, fuels and medicine. After a shipload of supplies sent to Jaffna is turned back, the Indian government parachutes food and medicines into the city. Intense diplomatic activity ensues and the two governments sign the Indo-Lanka Accord, agreeing detailed proposals for provincial councils and expediting the immediate deployment of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to enforce a ceasefire. Under pressure from the Indian government, all Tamil militant groups accede to the accord but the LTTE soon renounce the agreement and attack the peace-keepers. Meanwhile, in protest at government ‘capitulation’ to Indian ‘expansionism’, a resurrected JVP ignites a second armed insurgency in the south.

The signing of Indo-Lanka peace accord (27 July 1987)

Arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) (late July 30th – early August 1987) (30 July 1987)

The 13th amendment to the constitution debated in Parliament. This amendment among other things made provisions for the establishment of a system of Provincial Councils. Amendment was certified on 14th November 1987. (14 November 1987)


The first ever Provincial Council election takes place for the North Central, Sabaragamuwa, North Western and Uva Provincial Councils (28 April 1988)

President Jayewardene officially authorises the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces within a single North Eastern Province. (7 September 1988)

Elections were held for seats in the above Provincial Council.(19 November 1988)

Provincial elections were held in November 1988 in the north and the east and, despite boycott calls and intimidation by the Tigers, over 60% of eligible voters turned out. In the north the Tigers’ two main rivals, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) shared power without a vote, while in the east the EPRLF, the ruling United National party and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress put up candidates. The new Councils had only modest powers but many saw them as a chance to establish peace and stability.(TELO,TULF,PLOTE and EROS not contest the election) Varadarajah Perumal, is sworn in as chief minister of the North East Provincial Council (NEPC).

While the government furiously combats the JVP insurgency, thousands of youths are gruesomely killed or ‘disappeared’, causing widespread international protest. In the south, the UNP’s Ranasinghe Premadasa is elected president. He is sharply critical of the Indo-Lanka Accord and promises to send the IPKF home.


With IPKF support, the NEPC begins forcible recruitment to a new Tamil National Army (TNA). NEPC powers remain unclear and, starved of resources; Perumal accuses the central government of obstructing devolution. In parliamentary elections, the LTTE gain a symbolic victory as an EPRLF-ENDLF alliance is trounced in the north and east by anti-accord independents. As the JVP is ruthlessly crushed by government forces, the LTTE is held responsible for the killings of Jaffna University lecturer Rajini Thiranagama, TULF leaders A. Amirthalingam and V. Yogeswaran (13 July 1989)and EPRLF MP Sam Thambimuttu. Having armed the Tigers to fight the IPKF, President Premadasa implements a range of confidence-building measures, begins peace talks with the LTTE in the Colombo Hilton Hotel, agrees a ceasefire and promises the Tigers de facto control of the north and east until provincial elections can be held. As the IPKF begins its departure, the LTTE attacks the TNA and other armed Tamil groups, seizing control of vacated areas.


The last of the IPKF leave Sri Lanka. Perumal and his colleagues unilaterally declare Eelam but, as the LTTE take control of Jaffna, the EPRLF leadership and many of its followers flee to India. Despite LTTE pressure, the government does not revoke the constitutional prohibition on secessionism, and continues dialogue with other Tamil groups. The LTTE break off negotiations and the ceasefire, killing hundreds of police officers throughout the east, including a large number of Muslims. One hundred and forty Muslims are also massacred in Kattankudy mosque. The government creates an armed civil defense force, the Muslim Home Guard, which is soon implicated in reprisal killings of Tamil villagers. In alliance with anti-LTTE Tamil groups, the government launches a ruthless counter-insurgency drive in the east and bombs Jaffna. Damage to property is extensive and population displacement massive, while thousands of civilians perish. In Madras, the LTTE kill 14 members of the EPRLF leadership. They also order all Muslims to leave northern districts or face death, causing 120,000 to flee.

The LTTE takes over areas vacated by the IPKF in the North and East (January 1990)


IPKF withdrawal completed (24 March 1991)

The army fails to dislodge the LTTE from Jaffna and an embargo is re-imposed, banning the passage of medicines, fuel and fertilizers to the province. As the war persists with characteristic brutality, at least 67 villagers are massacred by security forces in Kokkadicholai district. The LTTE assassinate Defense Minister Ranjan Wijeratna and ex-Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. President Premadasa convenes an all-party parliamentary select committee, under the SLFP’s Mangala Moonesinghe, to seek a constitutional model which might help end hostilities.


As the select committee continues its deliberations, the war persists in the north and east. Atrocities include the killing by government forces of 23 Hindu worshippers in Mullaittivu district and the LTTE massacre of around 180, mostly Muslim, villagers near Pollonaruwa. As the LTTE assassinate the popular Brigadier Denzil Kobbekaduwa, 19 soldiers implicated in the 1991 Kokkadicholai massacre are acquitted, reportedly for lack of evidence.


The parliamentary select committee approves proposals for separate provincial councils in the north and east, which would break up the traditional ‘Tamil homeland’ implicitly recognized under the Indo-Lanka Accord. All Tamil groups withdraw from the committee. Prominent LTTE leader Kittu dies after his ship blows up under attack from the Indian navy. Former interior minister Lalith Athulathmudali is assassinated in Colombo. President Premadasa is also killed by a suicide bomber.


Parliamentary elections are won narrowly by the People’s Alliance (PA) under the SLFP leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge. Due to exceptionally low turnout in the north and east, many Tamil MPs are returned with just a handful of votes. The new government immediately relaxes the embargo on the north, releases several Tamil prisoners and opens preliminary discussions with the LTTE. In the run-up to presidential elections, UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake and over 50 others are killed at an election rally by a suicide bomber. Kumaratunge subsequently wins the elections, taking a massive 62 per cent of the vote and garnering support from all ethnic communities. As another parliamentary select committee is established to consider constitutional reform, the LTTE declares a ceasefire and peace talks begin in Jaffna between Tigers and government.


As tens of thousands of troops are stationed in Jaffna to protect military gains and re-establish government structures, hundreds of Tamil civilians ‘disappear’ in detention. Nevertheless, a large majority of displaced residents returns to the peninsula, removing itself from the direct authority of the LTTE for the first time since 1990. Maintaining its control of large areas of the north and east, the LTTE fights back, killing over 1,200 soldiers at the Mullaitivu army camp, and exploding bombs in Colombo that destroy the Central Bank, kill over 150 civilians and wound over 1,500. The government places its devolution proposals before the parliamentary select committee, suitably amended to satisfy southern opposition.

A suicide bomb explosion by the LTTE at the Central Bank in Colombo kills more than 100 civilians and wounds 1,300 others. (31 January 1996)

Two bombs explode in a Colombo commuter train killing more than 60 people (14 July 1996)

Nearly 1,400 soldiers killed in an LTTE attack on the Mulativu military camp (18 July 1996)

India bans the LTTE (1 August1996)


The armed forces launch a major offensive to recapture the main supply route linking Jaffna to the rest of the island. Estimated military casualties on both sides reach an all-time high. Local elections in the south are marred by violence, including the killing by a UNP MP of Nalanda Ellawala, a rising star in the PA administration. Although government initiatives to promote its proposed settlement meet with some sympathy among southern populations, they have yet to make a significant impact in the north and east. As the parliamentary select committee on constitutional reform fails to reach consensus, the government presents a draft constitution that dilutes some of its earlier proposals. The impasse persists, however, while the LTTE hardens its position against negotiations. The United States bans the LTTE and pressure grows for the UK to close the Tigers’ international headquarters in London.


The armed forces launch a major offensive to recapture the main supply route linking Jaffna to the rest of the island. Estimated military casualties on both sides reach an all-time high. Local elections in the south are marred by violence, including the killing by a UNP MP of Nalanda Ellawala, a rising star in the PA administration. Although government initiatives to promote its proposed settlement meet with some sympathy among southern populations, they have yet to make a significant impact in the north and east. As the parliamentary select committee on constitutional reform fails to reach consensus, the government presents a draft constitution that dilutes some of its earlier proposals. The impasse persists, however, while the LTTE hardens its position against negotiations. The United States bans the LTTE and pressure grows for the UK to close the Tigers’ international headquarters in London.


At a convention organized in Colombo by the National Peace Council (NPC), 1,700 participants from all districts and ethnicities renounce the war and call for a ‘just and honorable peace’. The convention receives goodwill messages from President Kumaratunge, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Pirabhakaran. The war continues in the north, however, while the LTTE steps up its bombing campaign in the south. A blast outside Maradana train station in Colombo kills over 30 people, but the biggest impact comes when Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, is attacked. This outrages Sinhalese sensibilities and forces the relocation of festivities marking the 50th anniversary of independence. It also brings about a formal ban on the LTTE within Sri Lanka and ends public advocacy for negotiations. Local elections are held in Jaffna for the first time in 15 years. Turnout is surprisingly high, but police and home guards massacre villagers near Trincomalee the very same week. In subsequent months, in Jaffna, the LTTE assassinate the popular Brigadier Larry Wijeratne and the newly-elected TULF mayor, Sarojini Yogeswaran.


President Chandrika Kumaratunga is wounded in a suicide assassination bid blamed on Tigers. Twenty-seven others killed.

Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, a constitutional lawyer, a human rights advocate and a parliamentary member of   TULF (a moderate Tamil party) is assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber in Colombo (29 July 1999)


In April, LTTE overrun the Elephant Pass military base at the entrance of the Jaffna peninsula as well as ten other camps in the area, killing over a thousand troops and capturing massive amounts of arms and ammunition.


 LTTE banned in Britain.(28-02-2001)

Tiger rebels attack main air base and the only international airport in Sri Lanka, destroying 13 aircraft as well as a number of air force fighter jets leaving at least 12 people dead.(24-7-2001)

United National Front wins parliamentary elections. (5-12-2001)


Norway-brokered ceasefire between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government comes into effect(22-02-2002). It holds for five years despite many incursions from both sides. A road linking Jaffna peninsula and the rest of Sri Lanka opens after 12 years.


Sri Lanka plunged into crisis as its president suspends parliament, sacks three ministers and brings the army on to the streets of the capital, Colombo.(4-11-2003)

Political turmoil prompts Norwegian mediators to pull out of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels.(14-11-2003)


The LTTE splits. Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, also known as Colonel Karuna, commander for the Batticaloa-Amparai, breaks from the LTTE.


The government of Sri Lanka and LTTE sign Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-Toms) by which the two entities agreed to work together to offer relief to the communities devastated by the Asian Tsunami. Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lankan foreign minister, is assassinated by the LTTE.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, prime minister at the time, wins presidential elections. Most Tamils in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers do not vote .The poll is boycotted by LTTE. (November-2005)


The conflict begins to escalate again. Government air strikes begin in Tamil controlled areas after a suicide bomber kills nine civilians, and injures the army chief, Sarath Fonseka, in an attack on the main military compound in Colombo.

EU ban LTTE officially (30-may-2006)

Natarajah Raviraj, a leading TNA MP is killed in Colombo (November-2006)


After weeks of heavy fighting, the Sri Lankan army takes back the LTTE-held town of Vakarai. LTTE air force attacks various Sri Lankan targets including Colombo airport. SP Thamilselvan, leader of the LTTE’s political wing, is killed in an air raid.

Citing security concerns, hundreds of Tamils are forced out of Colombo by police (June – 2007)


The Sri Lankan government formally withdraws from the ceasefire with the LTTE and renewed fighting erupts. Amid attacks and counter-attacks, Sri Lankan forces seem to gradually gain the upper hand.


Government troops capture the northern town of Kilinochchi, held for ten years by the Tamil Tigers as their administrative headquarters. President Mahinda Rajapakse calls it an unparalleled victory and urges the rebels to surrender.(January-2009)

International concern over the humanitarian situation of thousands of civilians trapped in the battle zone prompts calls for a temporary cease-fire. This is rejected by the government, which says it is on the verge of destroying the Tamil Tigers, but it offers an amnesty to rebels if they surrender.(February-2009)

Former rebel leader Karuna is sworn in as minister of national integration and reconciliation. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accuses both sides of war crimes.(March-2009)

Government declares Tamil Tigers defeated after army forces overrun last patch of rebel-held territory in the northeast. Military says rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in the fighting. Tamil Tiger statement says the group will lay down its arms.(May-2009)

New Tamil Tiger leader Selvarasa Pathmanathan(KP) captured overseas by Sri Lankan authorities.(August-2009)

First post-war local elections in north. Governing coalition(PA & EPDP) wins in Jaffna but in Vavuniya voters back TNA(TELO,ITAK and EPRLF) candidates who supported Tamil Tigers.

Government announces early presidential and parliamentary elections.(October-2009)


In the first presidential elections since the end of the civil war Rajapaksa is re-elected with 57 per cent of the vote, with Fonseka, his main opponent, on 40 per cent.

Gen Fonseka is arrested on corruption charges, and jailed for 30 months by a military court in September. He is convicted of further charges in November 2011 and sentenced to another three years in jail.

President Rajapaksa dissolves the parliament for April elections. (February -2010)

European Union suspends Sri Lanka’s preferential trade status because of concerns over its human rights record.

President Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition wins landslide victory in parliamentary elections and Tamil dominated areas TNA (ITAK,TELO and EPRLF) wins the majority seats.(April – 2010)

Parliament approves a constitutional change allowing President Rajapaksa to seek unlimited number of terms.(September – 2010)


UN says both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war committed atrocities against civilians and calls for an international investigation into possible war crimes. Sri Lanka says the report is biased.(April – 2011)

Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TELO,ITAK,TULF,EPRLF and PLOTE) – wins two-thirds of local councils in the former war zone in the north and east.(July-2011)

President Rajapaksa says his government will allow the expiry of state emergency laws which have been in place for most of the past 40 years. However, critics say that the introduction of new legislation that allows the detention of people suspected of terror offences without charge continues the state of emergency in a new guise.(August -2011)


UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes allegedly committed during the final phase of the decades-long conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels. Sri Lanka says that the move usurps its sovereignty.(March -2012)

President Rajapaksa orders the release of former opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka from jail on the third anniversary of the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Gen Fonseka led the victorious campaign in 2009 as army chief. (May – 2012)

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