The Sri Lankan Interlude

Operation Poomalai

Operation Poomalai - India Intervenes

The civil war in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority had escalated. The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that in Jaffna, there was large scale casualties amongst civilians. The Indian Government tried to coerce the Sri Lankan government into halting the offensive against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). An initial attempt to send food and medical supplies, by boat, was prevented by the Sri Lankan government. This led to Operation Poomalai (Garland). On 4 June 1987, five AN-32s escorted by four Mirage 2000Hs air-dropped 24 tonnes of relief supplies.

An AN-32 at Palaly Airfield. Image ?? Pushpinder Singh, World Air Power Journal

This led to the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, to establish peace and normalcy in Sri Lanka on 29 July 1987. This was to be upheld by an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The first phase envisioned the supervision of the surrender of arms by the various militant groups. Soon some 24 AN-12s and AN-32s flew into Palaly carrying two Indian Army battalions constituting the IPKF. On July 30th, Lieutenant General Depinder Singh, the Indian Army's GOC-in-C Southern Command flew into Jaffna to discuss arrangements with the Sri Lankan forces. The next few days saw the bulk of an infantry brigade comprising the Sikh Light Infantry, the Maratha Light Infantry, the Mahar Regiment plus supporting elements had landed in northern Sri Lanka. By August, the 54th Infantry Division under the command of Maj Gen Harkirat Singh and the 340th Indian Inf Bde had landed in Sri Lanka.

The composition was;

  • 54th Infantry Division(Maj. Gen. Harkirat Singh GOC, Brigadier Kulwant Singh, Dy GOC):-
    • Divisional Reserves
      • 10 Para Commando (Jaffna)
      • 65 Armoured Regiment
    • 91 Infantry Brigade (Jaffna)
      • 5 Madras Bn
      • 8 Mahar Bn
      • 1 Maratha LI Bn
    • 76 Infantry Brigade (Brigadier I.M. Dhar) (Munnar, Vavuniya, Mulliativu)
    • 47 Infantry Brigade (Trincomalee-Batticoloa-Amparai)
    • 340 Ind. Inf. Bde. (Trincomalee)


The initial phase of the agreement called for the disarmament of the various militant groups followed by the formation of the Interim Administrative Council. This was to have proportionate representation from various groups but the LTTE wanted to dominate it. Part of this fascist outlook was the massacre of political rivals and Sinhalese groups. A group of captured LTTE militants committed suicide in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army. These gave the LTTE the excuse it wanted. The turning point was;

1. Automatic and mortar fire on IPKF post at Tellipallai

2. Ambush of CRPF convoy near Tellipallai (4 Jawans killed)

3. The kidnapping of five unarmed para commandos on their way to collect provisions. These men were brutally killed by 'neck lacing'. i.e. they had burning tires placed on their necks.

An-32 pilots returning from Operation Poomalai being congratulated for a successful mission. As expected, the Mirage 2000Hs and An-32s did not encounter any opposition.

A political decision was taken to disarm the LTTE if necessary by force. Meanwhile on October 8th, the LTTE carried out mortar and machine gun attacks on IPKF patrols. Following a high level Defence Ministry meeting on October 10th, the IPKF commenced its operations, code-named 'Pawan' on the night of 11/12 October 1987.