TIMELINE: Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war

Sun May 17, 2009 2:48am EDT

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(Reuters) - Sri Lanka's military on Sunday said it had freed all the civilians held as human shields by the Tamil Tiger rebels, signaling acceleration in the final battle of the Indian Ocean island nation's quarter-century war.

Following are some key events in the 25-year conflict between Tamil separatist rebels and the Sri Lankan government.

1983 - Tiger attack in north kills 13 soldiers, triggering anti-Tamil riots in capital, Colombo. Hundreds die, thousands flee. Start of what Tigers call "First Eelam War."

1987 - Having earlier armed Tigers, India sends troops to enforce truce it brokered. Tigers renege, refuse to disarm and begin three years of fighting that kills 1,000 Indian soldiers.

1990 - India withdraws. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) control northern city of Jaffna. "Second Eelam War" begins.

1991 - Suspected Tiger suicide bomber kills former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in southern India. Two years later, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa assassinated in separate suicide attack. LTTE blamed in both.

1995 - President Chandrika Kumaratunga agrees to truce with rebels. "Eelam War 3" begins when rebels sink naval craft. Tigers lose Jaffna to government forces.

1995-2001 - War rages across north and east. Suicide attack on central bank in Colombo kills around 100. Kumaratunga wounded in another attack.

2002 - Landmark ceasefire signed after Norwegian mediation.

2003 - Tigers pull out of peace talks, ceasefire holds.

2004-2005 - Tamil Tiger eastern commander Colonel Karuna Amman breaks away from LTTE and takes 6,000 fighters with him Suspected Tiger assassin kills foreign minister. Anti-Tiger hard-liner Mahinda Rajapaksa wins presidency.

2006 - Fighting flares in April-July, raising fears of start of "Eelam War 4." New talks fail in Geneva in October.

2007 - Government captures Tiger's eastern strongholds.

2008 - Government annuls ceasefire in early January and launches massive offensive.

January 2, 2009 - Troops seize Tiger's de facto capital, Kilinochchi.

April 17 - Rebels call for a truce after two-day government fighting pause expires. Government rejects the call as a ruse.

April 20 - Sri Lanka gives the rebels 24 hours to surrender as tens of thousands of civilians flee battle zone. Exodus tops 115,000 in just a week.

April 26 - Tigers declare unilateral ceasefire. Sri Lanka calls it "a joke" and says LTTE must surrender.

May 16 - Military takes control of entire coastline for first time since war began. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking during meeting of developing nations in Jordan, says the LTTE has been defeated militarily, even as heavy fighting rages.

May 17 - More than 70 LTTE fighters disguised as civilians killed while trying to flee by boat. Many more blow themselves up in suicide attacks as army battles to finish them off. Military declares all civilians freed; says number in excess of 50,000 over four days. Rumors swirl about fate of LTTE founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

(Writing by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by David Fox)

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