Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Tamil Tigers from Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

The short name of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan guerrilla organization formed in 1972 with the aim of establishing an independent state in the northeast of the country, where there is a Tamil majority. Its members display a tiger-like ferocity and strength in their determination. Eelam is the name of the desired Tamil homeland.


Summary Article: Tamil Tigers from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Tamil separatist guerrilla movement based in northen Sri Lanka with a stronghold in the Jaffna peninsula. It was formed by Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1975. The movement's civil war against the country's Sinhalese majority community and governments began in the late 1970s with demands for an autonomous Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, known as Eelam (the Tamil name for the island that used to be called Ceylon).

Separatist violence by the LTTE escalated from 1983, fuelled by Hindu Tamil complaints of discrimination by the country's Sinhalese Buddhist majority. The LTTE's early members were young, educated, middle-class extremists. However, by 1987 the LTTE had a disciplined force of around 8,000 recruits, some trained by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon, with de facto control over the whole Jaffna region. In response, the Sri Lankan government called in a 7,000-strong Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to attempt to disarm the guerrillas. LTTE militants fled to new rural guerrilla bases in the east.

A 13-month ceasefire was negotiated with the LTTE 1989–90, who entered into negotiations with the government after the IPKF was withdrawn. However, fighting resumed in June 1990 and LTTE terrorists were implicated in the assassinations of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993.

Early in 1995, a three-month ceasefire was maintained by the LTTE, with the new, more sympathetic, government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in power. However, from mid-1995 a major new government military offensive was launched to drive the LTTE from the Jaffna peninsula. This resulted in the LTTE setting up a new headquarters in Kilinochchi.

Since 1983, the civil war in Sri Lanka, which has been complicated by the periodic involvement of the Marxist Sinhalese-extremist People's Liberation Front (JVP), has claimed more than 50,000 lives and wrecked the economy. In January 1998, following bombing outrages at Sri Lanka's holiest Buddhist site in Kandy, the Tamil Tigers were outlawed.

In December 1999 a Tamil suicide bomber killed 20 people. President Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka survived the attack, and was re-elected three days later. In January 2000 another Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew herself up on the doorstep of the office of Prime Minister Bandaranaike in Colombo, killing herself and 12 others. Soon after, a prominent pro-rebel politician, Kumar Ponnambalam Jr, was killed by a gunman. Later in January, the Tamil Tigers claimed responsibility for an explosion in a town in the north of Sri Lanka, in which 11 people were killed and 78 injured. This illustrates the difficulty faced by Norwegian diplomats who, in the last week of January 2000, had the task of bringing together the government and the Tamil Tigers for talks.

Tamil Tigers renewed attacks on Colombo in June 2000 when a government minister and 22 others were blown up by a suicide bomber during a parade to honour soldiers who had died fighting the rebel Tamils. Later the same week a further three people were killed in a separate suicide bombing.

The violence continued in 2001, when the Tamil Tigers set a landmine that blew up a bus carrying sailors, 17 of whom died.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Sri Lanka: Tamil-Sinhalese Conflict in India's Backyard
Encyclopedia of Modern Ethnic Conflict

Timeline ca. 545 BCE The island's indigenous people are conquered by Buddhists from India, the forebears of contemporary Sri Lanka's Sinhalese

Full text Article Tamil Tigers
Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations

“The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.” Guerrillas , and terrorists , based mainly in the Jaffna peninsula . They conducted a long war of...

Full text Article Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A Sri Lankan guerrilla group that has been fighting government forces since 1983. The Tigers claim to represent the Tamil minority in...

See more from Credo