In a few more hours, on the 16th of January, the cease-fire agreement signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will become invalid and the 4th Eelam War will officially begin. In the three decade long war, there has been four major cease-fire agreements between the warring parties. Each and every one of such agreements has ended without lasting peace for the island nation.
The first official ceasefire between LTTE and GOSL was signed back in 1987. However this only lasted for a few months. In October 1987, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) arrested 17 sea tigers who were transporting arms using a large vessel from India to Point Pedro in Sri Lanka. Repeated LTTE requests to release the prisoners were turned down by then Defense Minister late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali. The issue reached its climax when 12 of the arrested LTTE cadres committed suicide by consuming cyanide while they were being transported to a prison in Colombo. LTTE retaliated by torturing and killing 8 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers who were under their captivity. Mutilated bodies of the slain soldiers were publicly displayed in the city of Jaffna. This incident marked the end of the ceasefire and the 1st Eelam War commenced soon afterwards.
Next CFA was signed between the government and LTTE in 1990. LTTE operatives were brought to Colombo via SLAF helicopters for peace talks with the then president late Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa. However peace did not last long. LTTE officially pulled out of the CFA on 11th of June 1990, alleging that a group of SLA soldiers assaulted a tailor (who was also a member of the LTTE) in the eastern town of Batticaloa. Immediately after their withdrawal from CFA, LTTE fighters under the command of Karuna Amman launched multiple raids on police posts in Batticaloa, massacring over 600 policemen. This incident officially declared the start of second Eelam War.
In 1994, 2nd Eelam war temporarily ended when Chandrika Bandaranayake invited the LTTE for peace talks shortly after her victory in the presidential election. Several rounds of peace talks were held but progress in devising a solution that could bring lasting peace for the island was was extremely slow. On the 15th of April, LTTE launched dual suicide attacks on Sri Lanka Navy warships SLNS Sooraya and SLNS Ranasuru anchored in Trincomalee harbor. Both the ships were critically damaged in the incident. 3rd Eelam War which commenced soon afterwards saw some of the bloodiest battles in the conflict's history.
War raged on for seven years until the current CFA was signed in February 2002. Although it continued to hold on paper, tension between the two parties has been high since late 2002. Army's military intelligence wing suffered a setback during this period when 81 of its operatives were assassinated by LTTE pistol gang operatives. The LTTE also suffered a major setback in this period when one of its senior cadres, Colonel Karuna, separated along with 4000 cadres and military equipment. The Sri Lanka Air Force began flying tit-for-tat sorties on LTTE positions on the day the rebels attempted to assassinate the country's military commander using a suicide bomber.
Army launched its first offensive since 2002 when a key waterway which supplied water to 30000 farmers, was blocked by LTTE units in the area. The drawn out offensive eventually captured the Mavil Aru anicut. LTTE's next move was unprecedented; they launched a military operation into Muttur (eastern province) and surrounding army bases (August 2006). Muttur was in LTTE hands for over a day till the army fought its way back and took it under complete control. Another attack was simultaneously launched on Jaffna defense lines. By this time Jaffna was isolated from all MSR (Main Supply Routes) with Trincomalee harbor and Palaly airbase rendered useless due to heavy LTTE artillery shelling. On the first day of fighting in Jaffna, LTTE units broke through army defenses and advanced nearly a kilometer into SLA held territory. Later the army's U.S. trained 53rd division inflicted heavy casualties on LTTE forcing them to abandon the offensive. Army's counterattack not only recaptured areas that were lost but overran the 1st LTTE defense line at Muhamalai in September 2006. Later the military launched fresh offensives to capture all major LTTE bases in the eastern province. These operations were largely successful and saw the fall of eastern tiger enclaves such as Sampoor, Vakarai and Thoppigala.
Now, by 2008, the army has opened three fronts near entry points to Wanni LTTE heartland. 57th, 58th and 59th offensive divisions have made inroads to Wanni from Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya respectively while the elite 53rd division and 55th division have kept pressure on LTTE formations from the north. Military commander has just declared that the operation to overrun LTTE bases in Wanni has officially begun. LTTE has expressed its willingness to commit to the CFA but at the same time some its senior commanders have vowed to crush the army. With all these new developments, the cease fire agreement ends tomorrow (16th) and the undeclared 4th Eelam War will officially commence. Major battles are on the horizon and they will decide what the future holds for Sri Lanka and Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam.