March 25, 2007 / 11:44 PM / 10 years ago

Sri Lanka's two-decade civil war

March 26 (Reuters) - Tamil Tiger rebels bombed an air force base by Sri Lanka’s international airport north of Colombo on Monday in the group’s first confirmed air raid, and warned more such attacks would follow.

Following is a chronology of key incidents in Sri Lanka’s civil war, which has killed around 68,000 people since it erupted in 1983.

-- 1948 - Island of Ceylon gains independence from Britain, country is later renamed Sri Lanka.

-- 1956 - Government makes majority Sinhala language the language of state. Minority Tamils say they feel marginalised.

-- 1976 - As some Tamils take up arms against the state, militant Velupillai Prabhakaran forms the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

-- 1983 - Tiger attack in north kills several soldiers, triggering vast 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. Tigers renege on pact, refuse to disarm and begin three years of fighting that kills 1,000 Indian soldiers. India withdraws, leaving LTTE in control of northern city of Jaffna.

-- 1990 - Talks fail, Tigers over-run police stations in east. "Second Eelam War" begins.

-- 1991 - Suspected Tiger suicide bomber kills former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in south India. The next year, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa is killed in suicide blast.

-- 1995 - Then-President Chandrika Kumaratunga agrees 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 is wounded in another attack as bombs become frequent.

-- 2001 - Tiger attack on main international airport destroys half of Sri Lankan Airlines fleet. Economic growth ceases. Sept 11, 2001 attacks raise Tiger worries of U.S. action against them.

-- 2002 - After Norwegian mediation, two sides sign ceasefire.

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

-- 2004 - Eastern Tiger commander Karuna Amman breaks with LTTE. Tiger offensive regains control of east. Tigers say Karuna is operating with government backing. Tsunami slams into north and east coast.

-- 2005 - Courts block post-tsunami aid-sharing deal with Tigers. Suspected Tiger assassin kills foreign minister. Rebel election boycott helps bring in perceived hardline anti-Tiger president, Mahinda Rajapakse. Attacks on military rise, raising fears of return to war.

-- 2006 - After string of attacks in January, two sides meet in Geneva in February where they renew commitment to 2002 truce and agree to talk again. But by April, naval battles, air strikes and bomb blasts become more common and many fear they are seeing start of "Eelam War 4".

By late July, heavy ground fighting starts after dispute over rebel-held water supply in the east, which spills over into northern Jaffna peninsula. Both sides meet again in Geneva on Oct. 28-29 but talks fail. Artillery battles follow in Jaffna.

-- 2007 - Government troops capture the key Tiger eastern stronghold of Vakarai, the rebels’ last remaining stretch of coast in the east and a vital supply route, in a major military offensive. Tens of thousands of civilians are displaced by weeks of fighting and flee rebel-held territory to refugee camps.

In March, the Tigers launch their first confirmed air raid on a military base next to the island’s only international airport, north of Colombo. Three airmen are killed and 16 wounded and the rebels warn more such attacks will follow.

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