The 1971 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection (also known as the 1971 Revolt) was the first of two unsuccessful armed revolts conducted by the communist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) against the Government of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The revolt began on 5 April 1971 and lasted till June 1971. The insurgents were able to capture and hold several towns and rural areas for several weeks until they were recaptured by the armed forces. Even though its first attempt to seize power in 1971 was quickly crushed by force, in 1987 this group launched another far more potent insurgency in the south, central and western regions of the country.
While the insurrection began in 1971, first attacks took place in 1970. The JVP fought against the right-wing United National Party (UNP) before launching an islandwide militant opposition to the newly elected pro-socialist United Front Government.
The socialist background of the government drew attention from many states that needed to support it. The Soviet Union sent 60 troops of its air-forces, and India took responsibility of guard the forts; it successfully stopped
North Korean vessels, a Chinese Freighter that raided the harbours. While China sent diplomatic aid, it was alleged for supporting the JVP. Allegedly the Chinese diplomats contacted the Koreans who brought weapons and ammunition for the JVP. Diplomatic ties between Ceylon and United States severed as well.
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a dominion in 1948 with a conservative government formed under the premiership of D. S. Senanayake who had been instrumental in the negotiations with the British government that led to self-rule. He founded the United National Party (UNP) by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-dominion parties which won a majority in parliament at the general election. The UNP was defeated in 1956 when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike became prime minister on a wave of nationalist sentiment. His wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike entered politics following his assassination and became the world's first female prime minister in 1960. Due to successive governments, varying economic policies, regular strikes the economic out look of Ceylon in the 1960s had fallen below what it was when it gained independence in 1948. This had even led to an attempted coup in 1962.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
During the late 1960s a movement named as the JVP was initiated by Rohana Wijeweera a former medical student from the Lumumba University and a former functionary of the Ceylon Communist Party (Maoist). He had been at odds with party leaders and impatient with its lack of revolutionary purpose and formed his own movement in 1965 with like minded youth. Wijeweera's apparent expulsion from the Peking-wing of the Ceylonese Communist Party in 1966 triggered him to form his own party followed by his Marxist ideologies which eventually was referred to as the Sinhalese Marxist Group. Along with Wijeweera, three of his close supporters emerged as the leaders of this new movement, these were Sanath, Karunnarathe and Loku Athula. Initially identified simply as the New Left, this group drew on students and unemployed youths from rural areas, most of them in the 16- to 25-year-old range who felt that their economic interests had been neglected by the nation's leftist coalitions. The standard program of indoctrination, the so-called "Five Lectures", included discussions of Indian imperialism (expansionism), the growing economic crisis, the failure of the island's communist and socialist parties and the need for a sudden, violent seizure of power.
Between 1967 and 1970 the group expanded rapidly, gaining control of the student socialist movement at a number of major university campuses which included the Socialist Students' Union and winning recruits and sympathizers within the armed forces, some of whom actually provided sketches of police stations, airports and military facilities that were important to the initial success of the revolt. In order to draw the newer members more tightly into the organization and to prepare them for a coming confrontation, Wijeweera opened "education camps" in several remote areas along the south and south-western coasts. These camps provided training in Marxism-Leninism and basic military skills. The Central Committee was formed at Madampella in 1969. By 1970 a special CID unit under ASP K. C. de Silva was investigating the "Che Guevara clique", whom then opposition leader Sirima Bandaranaike had made a reference to in her May Day speech in 1970.
While developing secret cells and regional commands, Wijeweera's group also began to take a more public role during the elections of 1970. His cadres campaigned openly for the Socialist United Front (UF), but at the same time distributed posters and pamphlets promising violent rebellion if Bandaranaike did not address the interests of the proletariat. In a manifesto issued during this period, the group used the name Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (lit: People's Liberation Front) for the first time. Because of the subversive tone of these publications, the United National Party government had Wijeweera arrested before the elections in May, but the victorious UF ordered his release in July 1970. In the politically tolerant atmosphere of the next few months, as the new government attempted to win over a wide variety of unorthodox leftist groups, the JVP intensified both the public campaign and the secret preparations for a revolt. Although their group was relatively small, the members hoped to immobilize the government by selective kidnapping and sudden, simultaneous strikes against the security forces throughout the island. Some of the necessary weapons had been bought with funds supplied by the members. Majority of the party funding came from a string of robberies carried out by the outfit. For the most part, however, they decided to rely on raids against police stations and army camps to secure weapons, and they manufactured their own bombs.
By 1970, the JVP had started recruiting and training cadre at camps in Kurunegala, Akmeemana, Tissamaharama, Elpitiya and Anuradhapura. Classes teaching the "Five Lectures" where being held in various parts of the island mostly in secluded locations such as cemeteries. They had raised a force of around 10,000 full-time members, however had stopped recruiting in 1971. The movement was based on cells of five members with a leader and there were several such cells in a police station area with an area leader. The area leaders selected a district leader to head the district. The district leaders made up the Central Committee. Above the Central Committee was the Politburo made up of 12 people including Wijeweera. All communication was by code by couriers, with the district secretaries communicating the messages from the Politburo met every two months in Colombo.
The cells began arming themselves with shotguns, with each member expected to have one with 10 cartridges as well as blue uniforms, military boots and haversacks. Home made bombs were prepared, with some exploding in the process. Such as on 17 December 1970, when Victor Ivan alias 'Podi Athula' lost his left hand and was critically wounded when grenade exploded while being tested. The JVP published its own paper, the "Janatha Vimukthi" (people's liberation) and carried out several robberies to raise funds such as the Okkampitiya bank robbery, the Badulla mail bag robbery, the Ambalangoda bank robbery and the York Street robbery. Its members were asked to raise funds using personal means. The JVP team handed over rs. 30,000 stolen from the York Street to 'Podi Athula' for the manufacture of bombs.
Ceylon's defense establishment
Since its formation in 1949, the Ceylon's armed forces functioned as an internal security force assisting the Ceylon Police Force during strikes and riots. Following the attempted coup in 1962, the armed forces had faced major cuts in funding and recruitment as well as joint operations. The armed forces were ill-equipped and not prepared for a large scale insurrection. The Ceylon Army had several infantry regiments armed with World War II-era weapons, armored cars, mortars and anti aircraft guns. It lacked tanks, field artillery, sub machine guns and other modern weapons; peace time ammunition stocks were found to be adequate to sustain only one week of offensive operations. The Royal Ceylon Navy, which had suffered the most from the fall out of the attempted coup with recruitment frozen till 1969, had only a single frigate in its fleet. It had to deploy its crew on shore duty and were thereby incapable of preventing the JVP from gaining aid by sea. The Royal Ceylon Air Force had mothballed its jet trainers after plans for introducing jet fighters where scrapped and was limited to a small fleet of light transport aircraft and helicopters, which made up two flying squadrons and a few pilots.
Government's initial response
The Government received multiple warnings of the preparations undertaken by the JVP, yet failed to comprehend the scale of the insurrection that was about to unfold. This resulted in its unpreparedness to counter it. Early warnings came from the Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which had been traditionally tasked with internal security by the late 1969 and early 1970, when they had established the "Che Guevara Desk" under ASP K. C. de Silva. John Attygalle, the former Inspector General of Police who had been appointed special security advisor to the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence, submitted a report on the potential threat from the new group to Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake's government. The government instructed the police to arrest Wijeweera and he was taken in to custody in May 1970. However, following the 1970 general election, the newly elected Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike had Wijeweera released from police custody. Reports from the previous administration were overlooked. Her new administration undertook changes to the Police force, removing officers and disbanding units perceived to be loyal to the previous administration. These changes effected the CID. The new government was fearful of a potential coup against it from the security forces, led by officers loyal to the previous administration. Bandaranaike's cousin and a volunteer officer, Captain Anuruddha Ratwatte was promoted Lieutenant Colonel and appointed commanding officer of the Army's Field Security Detachment tasked with identifying such officers. Captain Denzil Kobbekaduwa who led the investigations instead reported that a more substantial treat to the government was posed from the JVP. Police investigations were started into bomb making factories.
Call for aid
In 1970, a parcel sent by People's Socialist Republic of Albania, was captured by the police, it contained Chinese-made rifles. Incidents of this manner took place occasionally following the beginning of the insurgency. Party of Labour of Albania already had sent its members early in 1965, they met the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera.:9–10
Wijeweera also visited some North Koreans in the country and was congratulated by them. He further sent a member of the organization to the middle east to build a link to the South Yemen National Liberation Front. He returned with a letter from the government. They promised to ship weapons to the island if possible. The letter read about possible diplomatic aid from South Yemen diplomats to the JVP.
Decision to attack
On 27 February 1971 JVP held its last public rally before the insurrection at Colombo's Hyde Park, here Wijeweera stated that "Let the revolution of the workers, farmers and soldiers be triumphant". On 5 March 1971, after an accidental explosion in one of the JVP bomb factories killing five members, the police found 58 bombs in a hut in Nelundeniya, Kegalla District. Wijeweera went on to travel around the country, but was arrested on 13 March in Ampara by a special police team and was later transferred to the Jaffna Prison. On 16 March the government declared a state of emergency, but no military preparedness or mobilization took place. On 2 April a meeting was held at the Sangaramaya (Temple) at Vidyodaya University. The meeting was held by the top leaders of the JVP politburo in response to a request by Wijeweera that posters and leaflets calling for his release be published, and that in the event of the insurgency starting, 500 cadres be sent to Jaffna to break him out of prison. That day the group made up of S.V.A.Piyathilaka, Lionel Bopage, Jayadeva Uyangoda, Sunanda Deshpriya, Loku Athula, W.T. Karunarathne, Susi L. Wickrama, Wijesena Vidanage alias Sanath, Somasiri Kumanayake, and Anura Ranjith Kurukulasooriya decided that all police stations in the country would be attacked on the night of 5 April at 11:00 pm. Since the JVP had considered that local police stations were the governments principle element of power locally. They hoped to remove this presence of power and see the local populaces raise up in their support bring about a revolution. The district leader for Monaragala and Wellawaya was not present at the meeting, the decision to attack was conwayed to them via a telegram that read "JVP Appuhamy expired. Funeral 5."'. The Wellawaya leader took the order to attack on the morning of 5 April, and not the evening as had been agreed at the meeting.
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JVP plan of attack
It was discussed and agreed on 2 April, a countrywide insurrection would be launched on 5 April evening. Four important missions were planned and assigned. Major responsibly of these attacks were entrusted to the student wing, which Wijeweera had once called the "Red Guard". The first of four important and riskful tasks, was the attack on the Panagoda Cantonment, which was one of the largest military installations in the country and housed a large arsenal. Piyasiri was in charge of this attack with 800 students, divided into groups of twenty five each assigned to the task. A smaller attack was to be stage on RCyAF Katunayake. The second mission was to abduct the Prime Minister. Attack was to be led by Nimal, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Sanath Kumar and Lal Pieries with over 50 students. Third mission was the capture of the city of Colombo under Bopage. Colombo was divided into five areas, Colombo South, Colombo North, Kandy Road, Colombo Central, and Kotte. The carders were to attack police stations along the way gaining arms and ammunition from these. Key targets were, Welikada Prison, Srawasthi, Radio Ceylon and several residences of government officials such as Justice Minister, Felix Dias Bandaranaike; Army Commander and the IGP. The fourth mission was rescue Wijeweera from prison in Jaffna.
The Wellawaya attack
The planning for the countrywide insurrection was hasty and poorly coordinated; some of the district leaders were not informed until the morning of the uprising. At dawn (5.20 am) on 5 April 1971 the Wellawaya police station came under attack with two police constables were killed. The Wellawaya attack had preempted the initial wave of simultaneous attacks planned by the JVP. They lost the key element of surprise. Following news from the attack in Wellawaya, an alerted government began frantic preparations to face further attacks. A curfew was declared and all police stations were warned of an impending attack, the armed forces began to mobilize by Major General D. S. Attygalle, Commander of the Ceylon Army. After dawn on 5 April, General Attygalle ordered army units of the Gemunu Watch from Diyatalawa to Wellawaya, where the initial attack had taken place. Major Gratian Silva, Army HQ GSO 1 (Ops) and DIG Rudra Rajasingham flew by helicopter to Wellawaya that morning to inspect the ground situation in Wellawaya reporting Attygalle and the Inspector General of Police (IGP). At 7 am, Radio Ceylon reported the attack and warned for further attacks.
Several JVP cadres were arrested by the police at Viharamahadevi Park on 5 April as they prepared to abduct or assassinate the Prime Minister at her private residence in Rosemead place. This was follows by a quick citywide curfew and more arrests in Kotahena and Borella with large numbers of bombs, weapons and medical equipment meant to be used in the planned attack on the city. At 8 PM, Major General Attygalle, IGP Stanley Senanayake, Lieutenant Colonel Anuruddha Ratwatte arrived at the Prime Minister's private residence and briefed her on the attack at Wellawaya and impending attack that night. Soon after, Prime Minister left to Temple Trees Prime Minister's official residence accompanied by General Attygalle, Captain A.R.P. (Kalu) Wijeratne and her normal escort. Thereafter Temple Trees became the nerve center for government operations during the crisis and had its security strengthened. It also became a refuge for ministers most of whom were from leftist parties. Helicopter patrols around the capital began as rumors started that the JVP was marching on Colombo.
Initial wave of attacks
With a curfew was imposed and suspects being arrested some of the JVP leaders went into hiding. However the attack commenced as planned 92 police stations across the country were attacked simultaneously by JVP groups armed with shotguns, bombs and Molotov and five, Deniyaya, Uragaha, Rajangane, Kataragama and Warakapola overrun by the insurgents and 43 abandoned by the police for "strategic reasons" in the days that followed. Fifty-seven police stations were damaged. The insurgents cut telephone and power lines, blocked roads with trees. The Hanwella police station close to Colombo came under attack on 6 April and was beaten off with army reinforcements from the Panagoda Cantonment. The No. 4 Squadron of the Royal Ceylon Air Force deployed its three Bell 206A JetRanger helicopters, which began flying missions to remote police stations to supply the stations with weapons and ammunition. In the following days, the helicopters returned wounded to hospitals. RCyAF Ekala also came under attack. The police withdrew its personnel from smaller police stations. By 10 April the rebels had taken control of Matara District and the city of Ambalangoda in Galle District, and came close to capturing the remaining areas of Southern Province with exception of Galle and Matara which had two old Dutch colonial forts and small army garrisons. However, none of the four major missions planned by the JVP succeeded. The abduction of the Prime Minister failed with arrests of the JVP carders in Colombo on 5 April. Attack on the Panagoda Cantonment never took place as the carders didn't form up and with it the attack on Colombo didn't take place. The attack on Jaffna Prison took place on the night of 5 April with the aim of rescuing Wijeweera. The cadre booked a bus to the prison, Pyatilake led the attack. It failed when police reinforcements arrived and arrested many of the attackers, while some were killed. Attacks on the Jaffna police station and Karainagar naval detachment also failed with four of the insurgents were killed on 6 April at Elephant pass.
North Korean involvement
North Korea promoted revolutionary propaganda in News papers daily. The North Korean newspapers published quoted Kim Il-Sung's word about revolutions, the government of Sri Lanka felt suspicious about the promotion. The JVP bases stored more Juche literature given by the North Korean high commission in the country which helped develop the party. In May 15, 18 North Koreans affiliated to the JVP was arrested; the Indian patrol boats deployed around the country, was able to stop two North Korean vessels and capture multiple weapons, food parcels and literature, the vessel may have headed to the JVP controlled territory thus turning it into an organization powerful to outnumber the Ceylonese army.
The aid may have come through the Ceylon-North Korea Friendship Association which had headquarters country-wide.
Chinese influence and alleged support
In April, a Chinese freighter raided the harbours, it was turned back by the Indian patrol boats that was incharge of the coast guard of Ceylon. Shortly after the Wellawaya attack, a Chinese vessel with weapons park near the Ceylonese mainland. The crew claimed the weapons were for an order from Tanzania. However the Ceylonese government alleged that the weapons were for the JVP.
An unrecognized ship was seen at the coast of Matara which was under JVP control. According to an eye-witness, it was larger than any ship the Sri Lanka Navy had at the time. A fellow with him grabbed a gun, but the ship was too far away.
The government's reaction
The government forces responded with first securing the capital Colombo; other cities and large towns with sizable police and military garrisons. Roadblocks were set up, and bridges, ports, and airports were secured, overstretching the small armed forces which had started mobilizing its reservists. Army, navy and air force personnel were deployed on ground duty in a defensive posture at first. In most areas, the police were able to hold out interdependently. Within the first few days the government felt the situation was dire since it was found that its small arms ammunition would run out in a week and fears of infiltration of the armed forces by the JVP members appeared when a navy rating shot fellow ratings in Jaffna.
During this time, the JVP took advantage of the weakness of the armed forces and police by capturing large areas of the country uncontested. Many army convoys were ambushed and several initial offensives were pushed back in areas like Matara, where the local member of parliament, Sumanapala Dahanayake, was wounded accompanying the first joint army and police expedition into rebel held areas in Matara.
Desperately short of weapons and ammunition, Bandaranaike issued a distress call to friendly countries for support via telegram. The response from many governments were swift. The United Kingdom was the first respond positively, and allowed the Ceylonese government use an Air Ceylon Trident to ferry small arms and ammunition from its bases in Singapore. Pakistan responded with airlifting supplies, troops and helicopters to Ratmalana Airport and took over its defence releasing Ceylonese troops for other duties. India did not properly receive the cable and the Indian High Commissioner in Ceylon was sent back to his country carrying the message for aid from the Government of Ceylon on 13 April. Units from the Indian Army Southern Command were airlifted from Bangalore and Madras (Chennai), to RCyAF Katunayake and five Chetak helicopters 104 Helicopter Squadron followed with more arms and ammunition. 104 Helicopter Squadron logged 573 flying hours spread across as many as 1122 sorties in Ceylon. 150 Indian Gorkhas took over the guarding RCyAF Katunayake and the Indian Navy deployed four frigates setting up a naval cordon around Ceylon since the Royal Ceylon Navy had deployed its sailors on ground operations and harbor defence, latter was later taken over by Indian and Pakistani troops. Australia donated 5,000 rifles.
The RAF heavy transports flew in six Bell 47-G2 helicopters on 17 April, and also ammunition purchased from Singapore. The government received the most aid from the Soviet Union, with its Air Force flying in five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17F fighter bombers, a MiG-15 UTI trainer, as well as two Kamov Ka-26 helicopters. Soviet Union also sent 12 light mortars, Yugoslav supplied 4 76 mm mountain guns and China supplied 30 85 mm Type 60 anti-tank guns. The Soviet Union donated 10 BTR-152s. China supplied 30,000 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, however China still received the allegation for supporting a JVP.
According to the United States, it was aware that the JVP was not the organization that attacked the United States embassy in Ceylon, as per this, it had no specific intention to militarily aid against the JVP. The previous government however requested helicopter spare parts; the US military brought the spare parts it requested.
Within days of the start of the insurrection, the armed forces began offensive operations after the initial wave of attacks had withered away. Personnel from all three armed services deployed for offensive operations with mobilization of reservists, most of whom were World War II veterans, and with regular troops freed from guard duty as Pakistani and Indian troops took up defense of many key installations. Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) S.A. Dissanayake was appointed Additional Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence and coordinated the government's defence activities from the situation room at Temple Trees. Local military coordinating officers were appointed from the three branches of the armed forces for each district, tasked with carrying out local counter-insurgency operations. The RCyAF, took out of storage five Hunting Jet Provosts which had been mothballed in 1970, serviced and armed them in three days and flew them from RCyAF Chinabay to RCyAF Katunayake attacking rebel locations en route. Several weeks later the Jet Provosts were joined by the Bell 47-G2 in ground attack missions. With additional supplies flowing in government forces intensified its offensives into insurgent areas. The insurgent who had gained control of large parts of the island from its initial assault, failed to consolidate their holdings or expanding into other areas. Local committees would raise Red flag in the area once it was captured and did little else. Widespread looting and damaging of state property took place and several civilian were murdered by the insurgents. After three weeks of fighting, the government regained control of all but a few remote areas. In most cases the government regained control of townships, insurgent groups melted away in the jungles from which they continued to operate, with some of these pockets lasting into early 1972. The government issued two amnesties in May and June 1971, airdropping leaflets encouraging the insurgents to surrender. Without food, weapons and leadership many youths surrendered while other groups were surrounded and captured. Two of its leaders Sanath (Wijesena Vidanage) and Susil were killed in confrontations with the armed forces and Loku Athula who led the remnants of his group into the jungles of Wilpathu was wounded and captured in a final confrontation. Large amounts of youth such detailed were sent to detention in rehabilitation camps for months until they were released. Official figure of persons arrested numbered 5,067 of which 1,117 were from Colombo. However some claim the numbers would be has high as 20,000. The government imposed a strict censorship during the period with all domestic and foreign news dispatches censored by the Competent Authority.
The official death toll was 1200, but unofficial figures reliably estimated it to be around 4000–5000. 41 civilians were killed by the insurgents. 37 police officers were killed and 195 wounded. 26 armed services personnel were killed (19 army, 4 air force and 3 navy) and 130 were wounded (87 army, 15 air force and 28 navy) from 1971 to 1972.
Prosecution of insurgents
Under the advice of Justice Minister, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister appointed an Investigation Unit headed by retired IGP Aleric Abeygunawardena to carryout the investigations to prosecute the captured insurgents. The unit was made up of crown counsels and police officers. The crown counsels seconded to it from the Attorney-General's Department were granted the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police, in order to take statements of suspects which would be admissible in court. It soon became apparent that it would take years to convict the large number of suspects in custody within the normal procedure and laws of the day.
Criminal Justice Commission
The Criminal Justice Commission was thus established by the government to prosecute the detained rebels in an expedient manner. It was composed of Chief Justice H N G Fernando (Chairman), Justice A. C. Alles, Justice V T Thamotheram, Justice H Dheragoda and Justice T. W. Rajaratnam. In 1975 Wijeweera was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment later amended to 20 years rigorous imprisonment. Many of the surviving leaders of the JVP received prison sentences, other than those who turned crown witness and gained pardons, including two of the JVP leaders Loku Athula and Somasiri Kumanayake. Most of the youth in rehabilitation camps were released.
The insurgency caused 2.7 million rupees worth of damaged to public and private property, while other institutions suffered the loss of 3 million rupees and the RCyAF lost an aircraft. Over 450 million earmarked for capital development was not spent on the indent task due to the insurgency. Ceylon severed diplomatic ties with North Korea based on the information that it supported the JVP, diplomatic relations have not been reestablished since then. Under the six years of emergency rule that followed the uprising, the JVP remained dormant. After the victory of the United National Party in the 1977 elections, however, the new government attempted to broaden its mandate with a period of political tolerance. Wijeweera was freed, the ban on the party was lifted and the JVP entered the arena of legal political competition. As a candidate in the 1982 presidential elections, Wijeweera finished fourth, with more than 250,000 votes (as compared with Jayewardene's 3.2 million).
By the late the 1980s the JVP had started a second insurrection lasting from 1987 to 1989. This was more of a low intensity conflict than an open revolution as the first insurrection in 1971. The JVP this time fought using a well-orgnizaed military wing. It was capable of attacking and capturing heavy installments of the Sri Lankan Army.
Causes for resurgence
There are two categories of casual factors. The first is structural: educated unemployment. With rapid population increase and relatively slow economic growth left most youth, who were the beneficiaries of free education, unemployed or engaged in jobs which did not meet their expectation. The unemployment rate was too high when compared to the output of the education system, which the labour market failed to absorb. The second signifying factor is a sequence of political factors: President Jayawardena's political strategy of oppressing the opposition; the weakness induced in the main opposition party (SLFP); the subtle exclusion of those who lack political connections from access to state patronage; the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accord and the entry of Indian troops to Sri Lanka.
Notable people arrested
Notable people killed
Notable rebels involved
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