1987–1989 JVP insurrection

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1987–89 JVP Insurrection
Part of the Cold War
Date1987 – 1989
Result Sri Lankan Government victory
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka JVP
Commanders and leaders
Sri Lanka Junius Richard Jayewardene
Sri Lanka Ranasinghe Premadasa
Sri Lanka Lalith Athulathmudali
Sri Lanka Ranjan Wijeratne
Rohana Wijeweera
Upatissa Gamanayake
Saman Piyasiri Fernando
Coat of arms of Sri Lanka, showing a lion holding a sword in its right forepaw surrounded by a ring made from blue lotus petals which is placed on top of a grain vase sprouting rice grains to encircle it. A Dharmacakra is on the top while a sun and moon are at the bottom on each side of the vase.
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The 1987–89 JVP insurrection (also known as the 1989 Revolt) was the second unsuccessful armed revolt conducted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna against the Government of Sri Lanka under President J. R. Jayewardene. Unlike the first unsuccessful JVP insurrection of 1971, the second insurrection was not an open revolt, but appeared to be a low intensity conflict that lasted from 1987 to 1989 with the JVP resorting to subversion, assassinations, raids and attacks on military and civilian targets.


1971 JVP insurgency[edit]

Formed in the 1960s by radical Marxist Rohana Wijeweera, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) launched an open revolt against the government under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike in April 1971. Caught off guard the government was able to subdue the insurgency in a matter of weeks. The insurgency lead to the death of 4-5000 (unofficial) people and over 20,000 suspected rebels, mostly youth, were arrested in the amnesty period that followed. The arrested youth were released after rehabilitation.

Rohana Wijeweera and the leaders of the insurgency were sentenced to prison terms and the JVP banned. However all of them were released in 1977 by J. R. Jayewardene after the UNP formed a government after they won the general election under a general amnesty issued for those prosecuted under the infamous Criminal Justice Commission.

Tamil insurgency[edit]

During the early 1980s, as the Tamil insurgency to the north became more intense, there was a marked shift in the ideology and goals of the JVP. Initially Marxist in orientation, and claiming to represent the oppressed of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities, the group emerged increasingly as a Sinhalese nationalist organization opposing any compromise with the Tamil insurgency. Rohana Wijeweera came in the third place at the presidential elections in 1982 and the Jayawardena government did not like their rise. There are no convincing evidence as to say whether JVP actively involved in 1983 ethnic riots, but it was once again banned with several other left wing parties and its leadership went underground.


Having been banned and driven underground, the JVP began preparing to topple the government. They began targeting opponents, carried out robberies to collect funds and began acquiring weapons. Usually collecting pistols and shotguns from owners who had gained gun licences from the government. Thereafter they planned to raid armories of the government, who had deployed its forces to the north and east of the country to counter the Tamil militancy. On 15 December 1986, the JVP abducted and murdered Daya Pathirana, leader of the Independent Students Union (ISU) of University of Colombo, which was a rival student union of the JVP.

Early attacks[edit]

On 15 April 1987, JVP attacked the Pallekele Army Camp in Kandy. Lead by a former soldier, Mahinda under the directions of Shantha Bandara, the JVP seized 12 Type 56 assault rifles, seven sub-machine guns and ammunition. In May 1987, the Sri Lanka Armed Forces launched the Vadamarachchi Operation (Operation Liberation) with the objective of defeating the LTTE militarily and re-establishing government control in areas dominated by Tamil militants. However, the second phase of Operation Liberation was abandoned with the Indian intervention by Operation Poomalai. Which lead to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in Colombo on 29 July 1987 and arrival of the first troops in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) on 30 July.[1]

The prospect of Tamil autonomy in the north together with the presence of Indian troops stirred up a wave of Sinhalese nationalism and a sudden growth of anti-government violence by a new group that emerged as an offshoot of the JVP—the Patriotic Liberation Organization (Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya—DJV) led by Saman Piyasiri Fernando. On 7 June 1987, Sri Lanka Air Force Base, SLAF Katunayake and the Kotelawala Defence Academy were attacked and weapons and ammunition were stolen, while four of the attackers were killed. DJV claimed responsibility and the Criminal Investigation Department investigation resulted in 13 JVP members arrested. On 18 August, when the first parliamentary group meeting took place after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, assassination attempt was made on the president and prime minister, resulting in the deaths of two, including a Member of Parliament (MP). Lalith Athulathmudali, the Minister National Security and Deputy Minister of Defence was severely wounded.[2] The investigation into the raid on the Pallekelle army camp in April 1987, resulted in the discharge of thirty-seven soldiers suspected of having links with the JVP.

Murder and intimidation[edit]

The DJV thereafter launched a campaign of intimidation against the government and the ruling United National Party (UNP) party, killing more than seventy members of parliament between July and November 1989.[3] Organised in cells of three people and based around Matara in the south, the JVP murdered probably thousands of people and crippled the country with violently-enforced hartals (general strikes) for two years. Individuals or organizations were warned or intimidated with messages dropped in the night to homes or posters or graffiti that appeared over night. Those that did not cooperate were brutally killed, with the repercussions extended to their family members. Executions were mostly carried out at night with armed groups coming to the homes of the victims and carrying them away to be tortured, executed and left as an example, while occasional bombings took place. In most cases the funerals of these victims were not allowed by the JVP, traditional final rights were not allowed and the caskets were to be carried below knee level as a mark of disrespect. With these techniques of fear and intimidation the JVP was able to bring the country to stand still. Acts of sabotage were common, with destruction of government property, electric transformers were a common target. Killings took place in both urban and rural areas and the government seemed powerless in the face of it. One of the key police officers leading the effort to counter the JVP, Senior Superintendent of Police Terrence Perera, Director of Counter Subversive Unit was killed by the JVP gunmen in Battaramulla on 3 December 1987 and Harsha Abhayawardene, UNP General Secretary was killed by the JVP gunmen in Wellawatte on 23 December 1987. Killings continued into 1987, on 7 February Mervyn Cooray, Member of Parliament for Panadura survived an assassination attempt, on 1 May; Nandalal Fernando the new UNP General Secretary was killed; G.V.S. de Silva, Galle District Minister was shot dead that month; Lionel Jayatilleke, Minister of Relief and Rehabilitation was shot dead on 26 September 1988 and on 21 October Tudor Keerthinanda, UNP Working Committee Member was killed. 1989 saw the killing of Senior Superintendent of Police Bennet Perera, former Director - CID, who was gunned down, at Mount Lavinia on 1 May 1989, Assistant Superintendent of Police Shahabdeen, Security Officer - Minister of Transport was killed on 23 August 1989, Captain B. M. Perera of the military police was shot dead in Moratuwa on 12 September 1989. Close to 50 school principals were killed, along with tea planters (Tea estate superintendents), public servants and clergy between 1988 and 1989 for defying JVP orders sent via short memos known as chits. Many professionals were also killed for defying JVP orders these included Dr Gladys Jayawardene, Chairperson, State Pharmaceuticals Corporation; D. C. Athukorale, Chief Engineer, Colombo Port Authority; Liayana Pathirana, Working Director, Salt Corporation. 102 Sri Lanka Freedom Party supporters and 64 United Socialist Alliance supporters were also killed. over 30 Buddhist monks were killed. Many businessmen were killed including the Shanmugam brothers, K. Gunaratnam and Shabeer Hussain. Several Indian expats were also killed, including Mr. and Mrs. Banshall working at the Pelwatta Sugar Factory, D. K. Sundaram, P. Nadar Weeramuni and Ann Herchoi.[4]

Notable attacks[edit]

Although much of the insurgency was a low intensity conflict, with targeted assassinations and intimidation. Major attacks include the 1987 grenade attack in the Sri Lankan Parliament and 1989 Temple of the Tooth attack. In addition the militant wing of the JVP led by Saman Piyasiri Fernando staged several major attacks on military installations in the south of the island. These included;

In many of these attacks, the JVP targeted the armories capturing weapons and ammunition that it claimed to use against Indian Peace Keeping Forces.[5] In total the JVP killed 342 police personnel and 209 armed forces personnel.[4]

Threats on military families[edit]

The JVP made a serious misjudgment when, through the DJV, it called for the killing of members of the families of the security personal. This destroyed the small but significant amount of support that it enjoyed among the lower ranks of the armed forces, and made it possible for the government to justify its campaign of terror. Most notable of the attacks on families of the security personal, was the attack on family of Deputy Inspector General of Police Premadasa c. On 24 July 1988, his ancestral home in Poddala was surrounded and set ablaze by suspected members of the JVP, Udugampola's mother, brother, sister-in-law and two small children were killed in the fire. Following this Udugampola began a ruthless crackdown of the JVP in the Southern and Central provinces.[4] As a means of pacifying the support base of JVP, a wide range of acts of cruelty, including the torture and mass murder of school children, who were allegedly JVP supporters, was carried out by the state.[6][7]

Capture of Wijeweera[edit]

Government forces attached to Operation Combine captured JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera in Ulapane and brought to Colombo, where the government claimed 13 November 1989 that Wijeweera was shot and killed by H.B. Herath during a search operation. By early 1990 they had killed or imprisoned the remaining JVP politburo, including its military wing leader Saman Piyasiri Fernando and detained an estimated 7,000 JVP members. Although the Government won a decisive military victory there were credible accusations of brutality and extrajudicial killings.[8]


According to international terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna's research, JVP killed 30 politicians, 23 academics, 1 clergy, 2 government officials, 89 civilians and 61 service personnel, from July 1987 to January 1990. Rest of the killings (21 armed fighters) are attributed to state or state sponsored death squads.[a] A European delegation estimated the total death toll to be 60,000, while more conservative estimates have placed the death toll at 35,000, with the vast majority being perpetrated by state-sponsored death squads.[9]


Following the insurrection, the JVP was relaunched and participated in electoral politics. At the parliamentary elections held on 2 April 2004, the party was part of the United People's Freedom Alliance that won 45.6% of the popular vote and 105 out of 225 seats. As the second partner in this alliance it became part of the government. It also supported the winning candidate Mahinda Rajapakse in the 2005 parliamentary election. Along with the UNP it supported General Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 presidential election.

See also[edit]


a. ^ Gunaratna, Rohan. (1998). Pg.353, Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security, Colombo: South Asian Network on Conflict Research. ISBN 955-8093-00-9
  1. ^ Icon of unparalleled bravery and commitment
  2. ^ 132 Demonstrators were shot Dead and 712 Arrested During Island -wide Protests Against the Indo – Lanka Accord of July 29th 1987
  3. ^ Gunaratna, Rohan (1990). Sri Lanka, a lost revolution?: The inside story of the JVP. Institute of Fundamental Studies. ISBN 978-955-26-0004-3.
  4. ^ a b c "JVP – A never-ending power struggle". The Nation. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  5. ^ Missed opportunities, War on terror revisited
  6. ^ JVP: Lessons for the Genuine Left Archived 2007-10-13 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Gananath Obeyesekere, "Narratives of the self: Chevalier Peter Dillon's Fijian cannibal adventures", in Barbara Creed, Jeanette Hoorn, Body Trade: captivity, cannibalism and colonialism in the Pacific, Routledge, 2001, p. 100. ISBN 0-415-93884-8. "The 'time of dread' was roughly 1985-89, when ethnic Sinhalese youth took over vast areas of the country and practiced enormous atrocities; they were only eliminated by equally dreadful state terrorism."
  8. ^ Ferdinando, Shamindra. "President fails to capitalize on victory over JVP War on terror revisited". Island. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  9. ^ "SRI LANKA". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 24 June 2018.

External links[edit]