Asia Crisis

FACTBOX-India's role in Sri Lanka's civil war

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Oct. 17 (Reuters) - India this week criticised Sri Lanka's escalation of its war with the Tamil Tigers, after nearly 40 legislators told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh they would quit parliament if he didn't stop the conflict in two weeks.

Analysts say India's prior involvement in the 25-year-old Sri Lankan war rules out such an intervention, and will leave Sri Lanka free to prosecute a war it is confident of winning.

Here are some facts about India's role in Sri Lanka:

* Ethnic ties have bound southern India and Sri Lanka for more than two millennia. India is now home to more than 60 million of the world's 77 million Tamils, while about 4 million live in Sri Lanka. The Palk Strait, about 40 km (25 miles) wide at its narrowest point, is all that separates the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka, traditionally the main Tamil area of the Indian Ocean island.

* When war between Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese majority -- about three-fourth of Sri Lanka's 21 million people -- erupted in 1983, India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took an active role. It hosted militant Tamil training camps in Tamil Nadu, from which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged as the most lethal group. India had both its national security and concerns about Pakistani, Chinese and United States influence in Sri Lanka in mind.

* Historians say those concerns, plus India's growing desire to establish itself as a regional power, were behind a June 4, 1987, airdrop of relief supplies to the Tamil Tiger-held Jaffna Peninsula while it was under siege by the Sri Lankan army. Faced with the prospect of a direct Indian intervention, Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene held talks with India that produced the July 29, 1987, Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The LTTE, however, was excluded.

* The deal, signed by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Jayawardene, led to the deployment the following day of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to enforce a ceasefire. It eventually grew to almost 100,000 troops-strong.

* But by October, relations between the Tigers and India fell apart, after Jayawardene threatened to redeploy the Sri Lankan army unless the IPKF took action against the LTTE. India agreed, and fighting with the LTTE erupted in full force. In January 1989, President Ranasinghe Premadasa -- elected on a platform to get the Indians out -- took power and in April gave the Indians three months to leave. He authorised a secret deal to supply the LTTE with weapons to fight the IPKF, according to a Presidential Commission report published after his death at the hands of an LTTE suicide bomber on May 1, 1993.

* India withdrew in 1990, after Rajiv Gandhi's successor, V.P. Singh, deemed the plan a total failure that had alienated the Tamil constituency in India. More than 1,200 IPKF soldiers were killed and thousands were wounded in the mission.

* A suicide bomber killed Gandhi on May 21, 1991, when he was campaigning for re-election in Tamil Nadu. An Indian Supreme Court ruling upheld the convictions of 26 people, including LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, in the assassination. The Tigers have always denied it was them.

* India since then has maintained a dual policy that urges Sri Lanka to reach a political deal to address Tamil grievances, while formally proscribing the LTTE as a terrorist group. Though few in Sri Lanka will talk about it, India does provide non-lethal military assistance to the government and has helped the Sri Lankan Navy intercept and destroy Tiger smuggling ships. Security experts say the Tigers continue to finance Tamil Nadu politicians and that the Tigers' gun and drug smuggling and other operations in and around Indian territory are viewed as a national security threat. (Writing by Bryson Hull in Colombo; Editing by Alex Richardson)