Sri Lanka 1983 to 1991 -- Conflict
S trikes and counter-strikes between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil rebels had been occurring sporadically since 1977, but during the last week of July 1983 the stakes were raised and Sri Lanka entered a state of war. The 'communal riots' of 1983 began when LTTE rebels bombed a Sri Lankan army patrol in Jaffna, and shot and killed the survivors as an act of revenge for the earlier assassination of a Tiger leader. The soldiers' bodies were taken south for the funerals. A delay in the proceedings angered elements of the 8,000 Sinhalese who had congregated at the burial ground and rioting broke out.
What followed was five days of violence aimed at Tamils living throughout the south, their businesses and their property. As many as 3,000 Tamils are said to have been killed, nearly 60 percent of the Tamils in Colombo were displaced, and most of the Tamil businesses, which had accounted for a considerable part of the capital''s commercial infrastructure, were either destroyed or damaged. Violence spread from Colombo along the southern coast, into the highlands, the Eastern Province and in particular in Trincomalee. Witnesses spoke of policemen, soldiers and politicians standing by and simply watching the murders and attacks, or handing out electoral rolls indicating the whereabouts of Tamil homes. Cyril Matthew, a senior government Minister was subsequently criticised for his role in inciting the violence ( Wijesinha 1986, Gunaratna 1993:79). The government remained silent. When it eventually spoke it did so to reassure the Sinhalese majority and not the Tamil minority. Communiqués urged the Sinhalese not to fear for their lives or property but said nothing of, or to, the 70,000