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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 Lanka.

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 ago.

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.

Preliminary task

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 the island.

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 choppers.

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.

Ceremonial send-off

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 and dignity”.

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.

 

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