Memorial for the IPKF:
A noble mission remembered
Countrywide celebrations were held last month to mark the completion
of one year of defeating the LTTE.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and senior Defence officials along with
the family members of fallen Armed Forces personnel took part in a
ceremony at the site of the monument erected to honour the war heroes.
They had made the supreme sacrifice to preserve the country's unity
and integrity by thwarting terrorism, which haunted the island for more
than three decades.
The monument for the tri-forces personnel has been erected in the
picturesque Parliamentary grounds in Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte; the
names of the fallen men are carved on granite walls.
However, the Sri Lankan Government had expressed its gratitude to the
Indian Service personnel who had laid down their lives in fighting the
LTTE between 1987 and 1989 in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri
The monument for the Indian Peace Keepers is also a few hundred yards
away from the monument for the Lankan servicemen in the backdrop of the
Parliamentary complex in Kotte.
The Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, during his extensive tour
in Sri Lanka recently, paid an emotional floral tribute to his
countrymen who had laid down their lives to bring peace to the island
two decades ago.
Admiral Verma would have been in the middle part of his career when
the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) arrived in Sri Lanka two decades
However, he could be proud of being one of the first Service
Commanders of India to pay homage to the monument erected in the Lankan
capital in memory of his countrymen who served in the IPKF.
The Indian Peace Keepers arrived in Sri Lanka with the sole intention
of implementing the Indo-Lanka Accord, which was signed in Colombo
between the late President J.R. Jayewardene and the late Indian Premier
Rajiv Gandhi in Colombo in 1987.
India, being one of the military superpowers in the world, had served
in the capacity as peace keepers in Korea, Gaza, Congo and in many
trouble spots in the Balkan region.
The Chief of the Indian Army, during the period the IPKF was deployed
in Sri Lanka, was General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, a Tamil hailing from
the State of Tamil Nadu.
Gen. Sundarji earned his reputation as a `mastermind' in executing
`Operation Blue Star' to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple
in Amristar in Punjab during the Premiership of the late Indira Gandhi.
Under the Command of Gen. Sundarji the Indian Army was modernised
with military hardware from the former USSR.
The role of the Indian Security Forces as peace keepers in Sri Lanka
mainly focused on maintaining peace in the war-torn North and the East.
The IPKF arrived in Palaly on July 29 and 30, 1987. Their preliminary
task was disarming the LTTE, to push the outfit towards entering the
political mainstream with the acceptance of the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Nirmal
Verma pays a floral
tribute at the memorial.
The Indians succeeded in disarming the LTTE soon after their arrival
in the North. The LTTE leadership also held a rally in Suthumalai,
Jaffna announcing its decision to hand over the weapons.
But the outfit's decision to refrain from the armed struggle was
short lived and clashes between the LTTE and the Indian Peace Keepers
erupted with the terrorist organisation rejecting the Indo-Lanka Peace
Accord which was aimed at bringing peace by settling ethnic strife in
In early October 1987, the then Indian Army Chief Gen.Sundarji
visited Palaly in Jaffna and ordered his commanders to go for tough
options against the LTTE.
The Indian Peace-Keepers, who arrived in the island with the
intention of maintaining peace, kicked off their offensive, codenamed
‘Operation Pawan’ against the LTTE when a team of Indian Commandos was
ruthlessly massacred by the LTTE when they landed in Kokuvil, Jaffna to
take control of an area believed to be the hideout of the LTTE leader on
October 10, 1987.
When the IPKF was first flown to Sri Lanka, it was assigned a limited
role - being in charge of the surrender of arms by the militant groups
and the supervision of the ceasefire. The IPKF was therefore structured
accordingly, and one infantry division, excluding its heavy equipment,
armour and artillery, was assigned.
According to IPKF Major General Harkirat Singh, additional deployment
of Indian Army personnel was carried out with battle tanks, artillery
with more men and military hardware when the fighting with the LTTE
started on October 7, 1987.
Since India went to war against Pakistan in 1971, there was hardly
any military operation carried out by them in a big scale with the
deployment of all three Armed Forces.
Therefore, the IPKF's Lankan mission gave the Indian Armed Forces
ample opportunity to use its modern military hardware and exposure to
the country's thousands of service personnel in live battle experiences.
Apart from the mobilisation of the Russian built T-72 tanks and the
artillery guns, aircraft such as Antonovs, MiGs and French built Mirages
were also deployed along with MI choppers and the Indian - made Chetak
The Palaly airport and Kankesanthurai (KKS) harbour in the peninsula
remained the lifeline for supplies to the IPKF.
The Indian Navy also anchored a hospital ship called `Nirtheshak' at
the KKS harbour. The Naval hospital ship was initially meant for
treating the civilians in the peninsula. But with the fighting resuming
between the LTTE and the IPKF, `Nirtheshak' was used to treat IPKF
personnel wounded in the fighting against the LTTE.
From the deployment of the IPKF in the North and the East of Sri
Lanka in July 1987, until the withdrawal of the Peace-Keepers in 1990,
the LTTE was crippled to a great extent in its strongholds - in the
Jaffna Peninsula, Vanni and Batticaloa.
When the IPKF first arrived in 1987, the strength of the force in the
island was only 10,000. However, when the IPKF withdrew from its mission
from Trincomalee in March 1990 the total strength remained at 80,000.
Several top politicians within the Government of President R.
Premadasa were dissatisfied with the decision taken to send back the
IPKF by the regime and the then Defence Minister, the late Ranjan
Wijeratne, who later became a victim of an LTTE suicide attack
commenting on the IPKF withdrawal, said the decision was somewhat like
giving oxygen to a deadly monster who was on the verge of dying.
It was in March 23, 1990 that the ceremonial send-off of the IPKF
took place at the Petroleum Jetty in China Bay in Trincomalee.
Lt.General. Amarjit Singh Kalkat in the backdrop of the Lankan Navy
band playing `Auld Lang Syne' saluted the Lankan officials gathered at
the harbour before joining his men to leave the Lankan shores.
The departing message from Lt.Gen Kalkat was read out, “the Indian
troops came here with pride and leave Lankan shores with equal pride ,honour
The Indian Naval ship `Megar’ meaning crocodile in Hindi left the
shores of Sri Lanka with the IPKF men on board, waving to those who
wished them Bon voyage.
It is two decades after the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keepers
from the island that the celebrations are held to mark the annihilation
of the LTTE, an outfit which posed a threat not only to Sri Lanka, but
also to India.
While memorials are organised for Lankan Security Forces personnel,
it is important to remember the Indian Servicemen who laid down their
lives for peace in the island nation.
The IPKF had lost 1,155 men including 51 officers during their
counter insurgency operations in Sri Lanka. IPKF men numbering 3,153
including 163 officers were wounded in action.
The Hindu of February 20, 1989 made its comment on the IPKF as
follows: "It is important to understand the IPKF's attitude. At first,
the feeling among the rank and file was ‘our Government gave its word
and it’s our duty to carry out its wishes.
'This was a strong motivation for the Jawans and they were there to
do the job and from all accounts they have done a good job under a very
trying situation. The casualties speak for themselves."
The memorial in honour of the Indian Peace Keeping Force was built in
Battaramulla, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte in 2008.