Indian Peace Keeping Force
ActiveJuly 1987 – March 1990
CountrySri Lanka Sri Lanka
AllegianceIndia India
Size100,000 (peak)
Lieutenant General Depinder Singh
Major General Harkirat Singh (General Officer Commanding)
Lieutenant General S.C. Sardeshpande
Lieutenant General A.S. Kalkat

Cap.Shivkaran Alok Dubey(M.VrC) Gp.Capt. M.P Premi] VrC,


Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was the Indian military contingent performing a peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. It was formed under the mandate of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord that aimed to end the Sri Lankan Civil War between Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military.[1]

The main task of the IPKF was to disarm the different militant groups, not just the LTTE. It was to be quickly followed by the formation of an Interim Administrative Council. These were the tasks as per the terms of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, signed at the behest of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Given the escalation of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and with the pouring of refugees into India, Rajiv Gandhi took the decisive step to push this accord through. The IPKF was inducted into Sri Lanka on the request of Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene under the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.[1]

The force was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat by the Indian High Command.[2] However, within a few months, the IPKF became embroiled in battle with the LTTE to enforce peace. The war erupted following the death of 17 LTTE prisoners, including two areas commanders in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army, which the LTTE blamed the IPKF for allowing to happen.[3] Soon, these differences led to the LTTE attacking the Sinhalese, at which point the IPKF decided to disarm the LTTE militants, by force if required. 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 soon escalated into repeated skirmishes between the IPKF and LTTE. Numerous civilian massacres and rapes were committed by the IPKF during the conflict.[4][5][6] Numerous soldiers of IPKF were killed by LTTE.[7]

The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, on the orders of the newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and following the election of the V. P. Singh government in India.[2] The last IPKF contingents left Sri Lanka in March 1990.

India's battle in Sri Lanka is often called 'India's Vietnam' by international media, by way of comparison to American military involvement in the Vietnam War.[8][9]


See also: Operation Poomalai

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, which included the Tamil Congress, passed legislation deemed discriminatory by some against the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

In the 1970s, two major Tamil parties, the Tamil Congress and a split, the Federal Party united to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), a separatist Tamil nationalist group that agitated for a separate state of Tamil Eelam in north and eastern Sri Lanka[10] 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,[1] Outside the TULF, Tamil factions advocating more militant courses of action soon emerged, and the ethnic divisions eventually led to violent civil war.[10]

Indian involvement and intervention

Initially, under Indira Gandhi[11][12] and later under Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Government sympathised with the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka because of the strong support for the Tamil cause within the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Emboldened by this support, supporters in Tamil Nadu provided a sanctuary for the separatists and helped the LTTE smuggle arms and ammunition into Sri Lanka, making them the strongest force on the island. In fact in 1982, the LTTE supremo Prabhakran was arrested by the police in Tamil Nadu, for a shoot-out with his rival Uma Maheswaran, in the middle of the city. Both of them were arrested and later released by the police. This activity was left unchecked as India's regional and domestic interests wanted to limit foreign intervention on what was deemed as an ethnic issue between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. 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.[13]

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 approximately 3000 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 hour-long attack.

Rajiv Gandhi's government attempted to re-establish friendly relations with the various factions in Sri Lanka while maintaining diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the conflict as well as limiting overt aid to the Tamil militants.[13][14]

The Sri Lankan government, deducing a decline in support for the Tamil rebels from India, began rearming itself extensively for its anti-insurgent role with support from Pakistan, Israel, Singapore, and South Africa.[13][15] 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 10,000 troops, supported by helicopter gunships as well as ground-attack aircraft.[13] In June 1987, the Sri Lankan Army laid siege on the town of Jaffna.[16] This resulted in large-scale civilian casualties and created a condition of humanitarian crisis.[17] 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 unheeded. Added to this, in the growing involvement of Pakistani advisers, it was necessary for Indian interest to mount a show of force.[13] 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 assistance[18] but this was intercepted by the Sri Lankan Navy and forced to turned back.[19]

Following the failure of the naval mission the decision was made by the Indian government to mount an airdrop of relief supplies in aid of the beleaguered civilians over the besieged city of Jaffna. On 4 June 1987, in a bid to provide relief, the Indian Air Force mounted Operation Poomalai. 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, Bernard Tilakaratna, 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 seriousness of the domestic Tamil concern for the civilian Tamil population and reaffirming the Indian option of active intervention to the Sri Lankan government.[17]

Indo-Sri Lanka Accord

Main article: 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.[16] 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 29 July 1987[20] 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[20] brought a temporary truce to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Under the terms of the agreement,[21][22] 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.[23]


Amongst 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 of an Indian Peace Keeping Force that would "guarantee and enforce the cessation of hostilities".[13][21] 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 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 Sinhalese majority areas, including the capital Colombo that were initiated by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that necessitated the withdrawal of the Sri Lankan Army from the Tamil areas of northern Sri Lanka to maintain order.[2]

Order of battle

Originally a reinforced division with small naval and air elements, the IPKF at its peak deployed four divisions and nearly 80,000 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 active 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 quick reaction force for the Indian Army.

Indian Army

The first Indian Army troops to be deployed to Sri Lanka were a ten thousand strong force from the 54th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Harkirat Singh, which flew into Palali Airbase from 30 July onwards.[24] This was followed later by the 36th Infantry Division.

By 1987, the IPKF consisted of:[17]

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 under the command of Gp.Capt. M.P Premi, including:[27]

Indian Navy

The Indian Navy regularly rotated naval vessels through Sri Lanka waters, mostly smaller vessels such as patrol boats.

Indian paramilitary forces

Combat operations

Main article: Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War



In December 1999, Defence Minister George Fernandes disclosed the IPKF had suffered 1,165 personnel killed in action with 3,009 others wounded.[7] The LTTE casualties are not known.

Intelligence failures

The Indian intelligence agencies failed to consistently provide accurate information to Indian forces. One example is the Jaffna football ground massacre. The LTTE's disinformation machinery leaked fake information to the Indian army that the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was hiding in a building near the Jaffna university football ground.[citation needed] A major operational plan was chalked out by the Indian generals to capture him alive. The plan involved airdropping commandos on the ground, while tank formations would move to surround the area, to prevent anyone from the stadium and its surrounding buildings to escape.

However, when the plan was executed, the Indian troops came under heavy attack from hidden LTTE sharpshooters. the tanks moving on the ground were ensnared by anti-tank mines placed by the LTTE militants. This resulted in heavy losses for the Indian side.[citation needed] According to later accounts, the LTTE leader, Prabhakaran was not in the area at the time of the operation.[29]

The IPKF complained that accurate maps of the operational theaters were not made available to them by the various intelligence agencies.[citation needed]

There was also a case where an agent of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was killed in an ambush set up by the IPKF. He had been acting on orders to carry out back channel diplomacy and peace talks with the LTTE.[citation needed]


The IPKF mission while having gained tactical successes, did not succeed in its intended goals. The primary impact of the IPKF, has been that it shaped India's counterinsurgency techniques and military doctrine. The political fallout, the IPKF casualties, as well as the deterioration of international relations has shaped India's foreign policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict.

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. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at a rally at Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991, while he was campaigning for re-election during the 1991 Indian general election, by a LTTE suicide bomber named Dhanu.

India's foreign policy

The IPKF intervention in Sri Lanka is raised at times in Indian political discourse whenever the situation in Sri Lanka shows signs of deterioration or, more broadly, when other foreign nations, ought to have a role in promoting peace on the island nation. India has never been directly involved in the peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka but has supported Norway's efforts. As a result, relations between India and Sri Lanka became extremely sour. No defence pact has been signed between India and Sri Lanka even though India reaffirmed its strong defence cooperation with Sri Lanka.[30]

War Crimes

The IPKF role in the Sri Lankan conflict was criticised in both Sri Lanka and India. It perpetrated a number of human rights violations, including rapes and massacres of civilians. Several neutral organisations pointed out that the Indian Army acted with scant regard for civilian safety and violated human rights. This led to considerable outcry and public resentment within Sri Lanka as well as India, especially in Tamil Nadu, where the IPKF was viewed as an invading and oppressing force.

Indian forces indulged in a number of civilian massacres, involuntary disappearances and rapes during their time in the Northeastern province of Sri Lanka.[31][5] These include complicity in the incidents such as Valvettithurai massacre in which on 2, 3, and 4 August 1989 over 50 Tamils were massacred by the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Valvettithurai, Jaffna. In addition to the killings over 100 homes, shops and other property were also burnt and destroyed.[32]

Another notable incident was the Jaffna teaching hospital massacre on 22 October 1987. Following a confrontation with Tamil militants near the hospital, IPKF forces quickly entered the hospital premises and massacred over 70 civilians. These civilians included patients, two doctors, three nurses and a paediatric consultant who were all in uniform. The hospital never completely recovered after this massacre.[33][34][35]

The IPKF was also accused of complicity in murder of Sinhalese civilians. 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.[36]

Sexual violence

From October 1987, the IPKF commenced war on the LTTE in order to disarm them. During this conflict, the IPKF raped thousands of Tamil women.[37] One IPKF official excused these rapes by stating the following: "I agree that rape is a heinous crime. But my dear, all wars have them. There are psychological reasons for them such as battle fatigue."[4]



War memorial

The Sri Lankan government had mooted the idea of a war memorial to those soldiers of the IPKF who lost their lives during the peacekeeping mission, in the early Nineties during President Premadasa's rule. The memorial was finally constructed in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte [2] on the outskirts of Colombo in 2008. The names of the 1200 soldiers who died are inscribed on black marble. The first official memorial service was held on 15 August 2010 when the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ashok Kantha, laid a wreath to honour the dead. The absence of a representative of the Sri Lankan government has been criticised by Indian ex-servicemen who had served in the conflict.[44] Later in 2014, India constructed a war memorial at Bhopal to honour the IPKF.[45]

A renovated memorial for IPKF soldiers in Palaly, Jaffna, has been declared open in June 2015. The names of 33 who died in the operations in the Northern Province during 1987–1990 have been inscribed on a wall at the memorial site.[46]

See also


  1. ^ a b The Peace Accord and the Tamils in Sri Lanka.Hennayake S.K. Asian Survey, Vol. 29, No. 4. (Apr. 1989), pp. 401–415.
  2. ^ a b c "J N Dixit (ex-Indian Ambassador to Colombo) speaking to". Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  3. ^ University Teachers of Human Rights (Jaffna), Broken Palmyrah, Appendix II,
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j University Teachers of Human Rights (Jaffna), The Broken Palmyra, chapter 5 – "NO MORE TEARS SISTER" THE EXPERIENCES OF WOMEN, War of October 1987
  5. ^ a b McDowell, Chris (1996). A Tamil Asylum Diaspora: Sri Lankan Migration, Settlement and Politics in Switzerland (Studies in Forced Migration). Berghahn Books. ISBN 1-57181-917-7. p.181
  6. ^ Hoole, Ranjan; Thiranagama, Ranjani (1992). "The Broken Palmyra, the Tamil Crisis in Sri Lanka, An Inside Account" (Document). The Sri Lanka Studies Institute. pp. 265–71. ASIN: B000OGS3MW.
  7. ^ a b "Economic Burden by Sending IPKF in Sri Lanka" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India – Archive. 15 December 1999. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  8. ^ Charu Sudan Kasturi (15 December 2017). "INDIA'S 'VIETNAM MOMENT': THE ILL-ADVISED WAR THAT ENDED IN HUMILIATION". Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  9. ^ Sushant Singh (13 October 2017). "On Indian military decisions of today, shadow of a pyrrhic victory yesterday". Indian Express. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  10. ^ a b John Pike. "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), World Tamil Association (WTA), World Tamil Movement (WTM), Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT), Ellalan Force.". Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  11. ^ India's search for power:Indira Gandhi's Foreign Policy.1966–1982. Mansingh S. New Delhi:Sage 1984. p282
  12. ^ "A commission, before it proceeded to draw up criminal proceedings against others, must recommend Indira Gandhi's posthumous prosecution Mitra A. Rediff on Net". Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d e f India's Regional Security Doctrine. Hagerty D.T. Asian Survey, Vol. 31, No. 4. (Apr. 1991), pp. 351–363
  14. ^ "Research and Analysis Wing.". Federation of American Scientists. Archived from the original on 22 April 2013. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  15. ^ The Colombo Chill. Bobb D. India Today. 31 March 1986. p. 95.
  16. ^ a b India Airlifts Aid to Tamil Rebels", The New York Times. 5 June 1987
  17. ^ a b c "Operation Poomalai – India Intervenes" Archived 7 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Indians To Send convoy to Sri Lanka", The New York Times. 2 June 1987
  19. ^ "Indian Flotilla is turned back by Sri Lankan Naval Vessels," The New York Times. 4 June 1987
  20. ^ a b "Sri Lanka".
  21. ^ a b "ETHNIC POLITICS AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: THE INDO-SRI LANKAN ACCORD. Marasinghe M.L. Int Compa Law Q.Vol. 37. p551-587" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  22. ^ "Sri Lanka: The Untold Story Chapter 35: Accord turns to discord". Archived from the original on 1 October 2002. Retrieved 26 November 2014.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  23. ^ "New Delhi & the Tamil Struggle. The Indo Sri Lanka Agreement. Satyendra N. Tamil Nation". Retrieved 26 November 2014.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "Sri Lanka- war without end, peace without hope. Colonel(retd) A A Athale". Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  25. ^ "65 Armoured Regiment-Indian Army Postal Cover (APO)". Archived from the original on 7 December 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  26. ^ a b "FIRST BORN MECH – Indian Army 15th Battalion, the Mechanised Infantry Regiment in Op Pawan". 2 August 2022. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  27. ^ "The Indian Air Force in Sri Lanka". Archived from the original on 18 September 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2007. The Indian Air Force in Sri Lanka
  28. ^ "Arvind Singh MVC". Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Asia Times: India/Pakistan". Archived from the original on 2 August 2002.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  30. ^ Srinivasan, Meera (5 March 2021). "India reaffirms defence ties at SLAF 70th year event". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  31. ^ "Statistics on civilians affected by war from 1974 – 2004" (PDF). NESOHR. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 February 2009. Retrieved 15 November 2008.
  32. ^ Sebastian, Rita (24 August 1989). "Massacre at Point Pedro". The Indian Express. pp. 8–9.
  33. ^ Gunaratna, Rohan (1993). Indian intervention in Sri Lanka: The role of India's intelligence agencies. South Asian Network on Conflict Research. ISBN 955-95199-0-5. p.246
  34. ^ Richardson, John (2005). Paradise Poisoned: Learning About Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka's Civil Wars. International Centre for Ethnic Studies. ISBN 955-580-094-4. p.546
  35. ^ Somasundaram, D. (1997). "Abandoning jaffna hospital: Ethical and moral dilemmas". Medicine, Conflict and Survival. 13 (4): 333–347. doi:10.1080/13623699708409357.
  36. ^ "Chapter 36: Indians rule the roost". Asian Times. Archived from the original on 27 April 2002. Retrieved 30 January 2007.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  37. ^ Tamil Centre for Human Rights – Recorded figures of Arrests, Killings, Disappearances, Rapes, Displacements and Injuries to Tamils in the North East, Colombo and other regions (1956-2004)
  38. ^ At the hands of the IPFK – savagery beyond belief – Tamil Times, April 1988, p11
  39. ^ a b c d e Kanwar Sandhu – IPKF men face court martial – charges include murder, rape, loot – Sunday Observer, Bombay, 18-24.12.88 – reproduced in Tamil Times, January 1989, p15
  40. ^ Frances Harrison (2012), Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka's Hidden War, Portobello books, p.122
  41. ^ Tamil Times, 15 April 2001 – Peace and suffering, p21
  42. ^ Action taken against 6 IPFK offenders – Tamil Times, January 1988, p3
  43. ^ Amnesty International on human rights violations before and after the Indo-Sri Lanka accord – Tamil Times, June 1988, p6-7
  44. ^ Patranobis, Sutirtho. At IPKF Memorial, India finally pays homage.[permanent dead link] Hindustan Times, 15 Aug 2010, Colombo. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  45. ^ "Southern Command chief inaugurates IPKF war memorial". The Times of India. 27 February 2014. ISSN 0971-8257. Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  46. ^ "Renovated memorial for IPKF soldiers"

Notes and Further reading