July’s strange connection to major events in recent Sri Lankan history – Analysis – Eurasia Review

Starting in the 1980s, some landmark events took place in the month of July

July has been an important month in the recent history of Sri Lanka. Some of the major events that have determined the island’s trajectory in recent times took place in July. The dramatic and ignominious end of the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa took place in July this year. Gotabaya Rajapaksa will go down in history as the first Sri Lankan head of state and government to flee the country, that too, following a public uprising. Adversity befell the winner of the war against the dreaded LTTE as he was in the middle of his 5-year term. The mismanagement of the pandemic and the economy has made a mockery of his claim to provide “prospects of prosperity” for his people.

It is also in July 2022 that, for the first time in the history of the island, the offices and residences of the president and the prime minister are stormed and occupied by agitators. Once again, for the first time, the Prime Minister’s personal residence, housing thousands of books and works of art, has been burned to the ground by a senseless mob.

July 2022 saw the extraordinary spectacle of Ranil Wickremesinghe, a National List MP whose party failed to win a single seat in parliament in the last general election, being elected President of the country by MPs, none of whom belonged to his left. Sri Lanka had never seen a political pole vault of this magnitude before.

black july

It was in July 1983 that Colombo suffered an unprecedented anti-Tamil pogrom which, according to former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, left around 1,000 dead, destroyed 18,000 properties and forced the migration of 700,000 Tamils, although many many Sinhalese and Muslims have bravely protected Tamils ​​from politically supported thugs. On July 25, thirty-seven Tamil militants detained in Welikade prison in Colombo were killed with knives and clubs by Sinhalese fellow prisoners.

The July 23-30 pogrom was sparked by the killing of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at Tirunelveli in Jaffna. The pogrom led to the escalation of Tamil militancy which, along with a heavy-handed state response, devastated the country for the next 26 years.

Devanesan Nesiah, writing in Groundviews in 2013, said the government had set the stage for a crackdown on Tamils ​​before the riots. Actions taken included the June 3 regulation authorizing police officers of the rank of assistant superintendent of police and above to dispose of dead bodies in the North without investigation or further investigation. Then there was the July 2 order banning publication and the sealing of the offices of Suthanthiran and Saturday Review (both based in Jaffna).

Nesiah recalled that President Jayewardene had broadcast on state radio (and published in the London-based Daily Telegraph on July 12) saying, “I am not worried about the opinion of the people of Jaffna now. Now we can’t think of them. Not about their lives or their opinion of us… on terrorist issues. We will take care of it ourselves, with no quarter given”.

Nesiah pointed out that the regulation allowing the police to dispose of dead bodies without judicial investigation was extended to the whole island with effect from July 18, a week before the start of the pogrom. July 20 is the total censorship of information on terrorism.

truth commission

In 2001, President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed a truth commission under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice S Sharvananda. According to Kumaratunga, the commission found it difficult to get data due to the time difference. Referring to the impact of the pogrom on Sri Lanka, she says some of Sri Lanka’s most skilled professionals had to flee. The whole fabric of Sri Lankan society has changed for the worse, she said. “Violence has become a major tool of socio-political behavior in this country.”

First suicide bombing

In July 1987, Sri Lanka experienced the first suicide bombing. On July 5, 1987, Vallipuram Vasanthan alias Captain Miller, an LTTE cadre drove a truck loaded with explosives into a Sri Lankan army camp at Nelliady in Jaffna, killing 40 soldiers. This day is celebrated as ‘Black Tiger Day’ by the LTTE and its supporters. After Nelliady, hundreds of suicide attacks took place. According to the LTTE, between 1987 and 2008, 356 suicidal cadres, called “Black Tigers”, gave their lives, including 254 in maritime operations.

India-Sri Lanka agreement

The India-Sri Lanka Agreement, signed by President JR Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on July 29, 1987, was intended to end fighting between government forces and the LTTE and lay the foundations for the decentralization of power to the provinces, mainly to a united Tamil-speaking northeast province. Eventually, the Lankan parliament enacted the 13. Constitutional Amendment to implement the objectives of the Accord as far as possible.

But the Accord received a violent public reception. A day after the Accord, Rajiv Gandhi was struck in the neck by a naval sailor serving in the honor guard at the presidential palace. The opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led an agitation and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) turned to violence. Its military wing, Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (DJV), attacked the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF), which was stationed in the north and east.

After reluctantly accepting the Accord, the LTTE started a war against the IPKF in October 1987 and continued to fight until Indian troops left the island in 1990 at the request of President R. Premadasa , which had reached an agreement with the LTTE. IPKF casualties during its 32 months of operation were 1,165 dead and 3,009 wounded.

Jump in 1996. Mullaitivu military base was overrun by the LTTE on July 18, 1996. About 1,400 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed and large quantities of military equipment were captured by the LTTE. Around 330 LTTE cadres were also killed. It was a blow for the Lankan army which had wrested Jaffna from the LTTE only a year earlier. A few days later, on July 24, 1996, bombs planted by the LTTE in railway carriages in Dehiwela, south of Colombo, killed 64 people and injured 400 civilians.

Attack at the airport

The next major LTTE strike took place at Bandaranaike International Airport with an airbase near Colombo. On July 24, 2001, fourteen LTTE Black Tiger cadres, armed with RPGs, anti-tank weapons and assault rifles, infiltrated the airport overnight, cut off power and destroyed or damaged 26 aircraft military, including fighter jets and helicopters. Parked Airbus civilian aircraft were also damaged, causing a loss of US$350 million. Tourism collapsed and GDP growth turned negative following the attack on the country’s only international airport.

Port of Hambantota

On July 29, 2017, a highly controversial agreement was signed by Sri Lanka and China leasing the port of Hambantota, built with Chinese money, for 99 years to a Chinese state-owned company for $1.1 billion. Americans. Sri Lanka said the money was needed to pay off foreign debts and the Chinese agreed not to use the port for military purposes.

As residents protested the deal that involved giving 15,000 acres in the hinterland for a Chinese-run industrial zone, opposition parties said it was a betrayal, and India and the West had apprehensions about China using the port as a naval base and pulling Sri Lanka into a debt trap.

(This article appeared in Ceylon Today on July 28, 2022)