Suvarna Garge (Editor)

1989 Valvettiturai massacre

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Non-fatal injuries  43
Location  Valvettithurai, Sri Lanka
Location  Valvettithurai
Date  3 August 1989
Total number of deaths  64
Weapons  Cannon, Grenade
1989 Valvettiturai massacre
Target  Sri Lankan Tamil civilians
Attack type  Shooting, Burning, Shelling
Perpetrators  Indian Army soldiers belonging to the Indian Peace Keeping Force
Similar  Kebithigollewa massacre, Lionair Flight 602, Air Lanka Flight 512

1989 valvettiturai massacre

The 1989 Valvettiturai massacre occurred on August 2 and 3, 1989 in the small coastal town of Valvettiturai, on the Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka. Approximately 64 minority Sri Lankan Tamil civilians were killed by soldiers belonging to the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The massacre followed an attack on the soldiers by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres. The rebel attack had left six Indian soldiers, including an officer, dead and another 10 injured. Indian authorities claimed that the civilians were caught in crossfire. Journalists such as Rita Sebastian of the Indian Express, David Husego of the Financial Times and local human rights groups such as the University Teachers for Human Rights have reported quoting eyewitness accounts that it was a massacre of civilians. George Fernandes, who later served as defense minister of India (1998–2004), called the massacre India’s My Lai.


Background information

During the British colonial period, when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, most civil service jobs were (roughly 60%) held by minority Sri Lankan Tamils who were approximately 15% of the population. This was due to the availability of western style education provided by American missionaries and others in the Tamil dominant Jaffna Peninsula. The preponderance of Tamils over their natural share of the population was used by populist majority Sinhalese politicians to come to political power by promising to elevate the Sinhalese people. These measures as well as riots and pogroms that targeted the minority Sri Lankan Tamils led to the formation of a number of rebel groups advocating independence for Tamils. Following the 1983 Black July pogrom full scale civil war began between the government and the rebel groups.

In 1987 the government of Sri Lanka and India entered into an agreement and invited the Indian Army to be used as peacekeepers. Eventually the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) came into conflict with one of the rebel groups namely the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During October 1987 the Indian forces trying to wrest control of the Jaffna town stormed the Jaffna hospital resulting in the deaths of a number of staff and patients. By November 1987 the Indian Army was in nominal control of all major towns within the Jaffna Peninsula. But the LTTE after removing most of its fighting cadres south of the peninsula maintained a steady barrage of typical guerilla style attacks throughout 1988 and 1989. This period also saw huge loss of civilian life, claimed rapes and number of instances of mass massacres.

The attack

On August 2, 1989, around 11:15 two Indian patrols numbering 30 men approached the Valvettiturai market square on foot when gunfire was heard. This was a crowded market area and was full of people. The ambush by LTTE of the IPKF foot patrol in a crowded market area caught everyone including the civilians by surprise. Six IPKF soldiers were killed and another 10 injured. Following the initial confrontation many troops started moving into town and the LTTE ambush party left the area. A number of people were killed and burnt inside shops. Many people of all ages and both sexes were made to sit in the town square and three rounds were fired into them killing four persons. Many hundreds of civilians took refuge in the spacious houses of one Mr. Subramaniam and Mr. Sivaganesh. Approximately 300 people were in these houses.

At 13:30 Indian soldiers entered the house of Mr. Subramaniam and killed him along with eight others in the house. At 16:00 Indian soldiers entered the house of Sivaganesh, took 8 men to a cowshed and shot them but 4 survived. By the end of the day the VVT Citizens’ Committee reported that 52 dead persons had been identified. On August 3 the IPKF imposed a curfew and rounded up large number of young men. About 75 youths were made to roll on the road and were assaulted and 6 killed. Some who did not know about the curfew in nearby villages were also shot and killed.

Many of the injured civilians were given first aid by local medical practitioners and were taken to the nearby Oorani government hospital. Some injured had walked to Point Pedro hospital, 5 miles away by late evening on 2 August. The arrival of injured civilians at the Point Pedro hospital prompted Mme. Jacqueline, the nursing sister from the Médecins Sans Frontières, to attempt to send an ambulance to the scene of the mass killings. She was refused permission to reach the scene of the killings. It was reported that no attempt was made to help the injured by the Indian military officials. After the relaxing of the curfew on August 4, those who survived the massacre reached the major hospitals for treatment.


According to the Financial Times report, the Indians believe that the incident resulted from a deliberate provocation by the LTTE intended to trigger an overwhelming Indian response; thus tarnishing the IPKF’s image, during sensitive negotiations to leave the island nation. The Indian embassy claimed that 24 civilians were killed in crossfire. A later report on All India Radio claimed that 18 LTTE personnel and 12 civilians were killed. The statement by the Chief Minister of the North East Mr. Varadarajaperumal dismissed the local media reports as exaggerations. According to an affidavit by an eyewitness, very next day, the Commanding Officer of Vadamaradchi (region), Brigadier Shankar Prasad, the Deputy Commander, Col Aujla, and the Udupiddy Commanding Officer, Colonel Sharma met some of the survivors and apologized. George Fernandes who served as India's defence minister from 1998 to 2004 termed the massacres as India’s My Lai.


1989 Valvettiturai massacre Wikipedia