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India: Sri Lanka
Country Study > Chapter 10 > National Security > Postindependence Developments > Peacekeeping Operations > Sri Lanka


Since the early 1970s, ethnic conflict has pitted Sri Lanka's Tamil minority against the Sinhalese majority over issues of power sharing and local autonomy. The main combatants are the Sri Lankan army and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Indian involvement, encouraged by pro-Tamil sentiments in its state of Tamil Nadu, which is close to Sri Lanka, and the Indian government's covert aid to and training of Tamil militants between 1977 and 1987, drew India into the conflict. The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, signed on July 29, 1987, committed New Delhi to deploying a peacekeeping force on the island, making the Indian government the principal guarantor of a solution to the ethnic violence that had heightened dramatically since 1983. Nearly 60,000 Indian troops drawn from two divisions (one from the Central Command and the other from the Southern Command) were in Sri Lanka as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) between 1987 and 1990.

Originally sent to Sri Lanka as a neutral body with a mission to ensure compliance with the accord, the IPKF increasingly became a partisan force fighting against Tamils. The popularity of Indian forces, which was never high, decreased still further amidst charges of rape and murder of civilians. Despite the considerable experience that Indian troops had gained in fighting insurgencies in India's northeast, the IPKF was at a marked disadvantage in Sri Lanka. In fighting Naga and Mizo guerrillas in northeast India, the army had fought on home ground, and the central government could couple the army's efforts with direct political negotiations. In Sri Lanka, the Indian forces did not possess an adequate local intelligence network. Despite the growth of the IPKF to 70,000 strong, the predominantly urban context of northern Sri Lanka imposed constraints on the use of force. It also is widely believed that Sri Lankan forces offered only grudging cooperation. Given the inability of the IPKF to prevent either Sinhalese or Tamil extremist actions, it steadily lost the support of both sides in the conflict.

As the Sri Lankan presidential elections approached in December 1988, both the contending parties, the ruling United National Party led by then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, and the three-party United Front led by former Prime Minister Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, expressed their reservations about the 1987 accord. Premadasa was elected, and after he was inaugurated, he declared an end to the five-and-a-half-year state of emergency and asked India to withdraw the IPKF. In July 1989, the IPKF started a phased withdrawal of its remaining 45,000 troops, a process that took until March 1990 to complete.

During the three-year involvement, some 1,500 Indian troops were killed and more than 4,500 were wounded during this operation. Another casualty resulting from the Sri Lanka mission was the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil militant in 1991. As a participant in what began as a peacekeeping mission, the Indian armed forces learned some valuable lessons. These included the realization that better coordination is needed between military and political decision makers for such missions. One of the commanders of the IPKF also noted that training, equipment, and command and control needed improvement.

In 1995, at the request of the Sri Lankan government, Indian naval ships and air force surveillance aircraft established a quarantine zone around the LTTE stronghold in the Jaffna area. The supply of military matériel by Indian sympathizers to the Tamil insurgents in Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu, just thirty-five kilometers across the Palk Strait, was an ongoing problem that continued to keep India involved in the conflict.

Data as of September 1995

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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