Military Wiki
1987–89 JVP Insurrection
Part of the Cold War
Date1987 – 1989
LocationSri Lanka
Result Sri Lankan Government victory
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka JVP
Commanders and leaders
Sri Lanka Junius Richard Jayewardene
Sri Lanka Ranasinghe Premadasa
Sri Lanka Lalith Athulathmudali
Sri Lanka Ranjan Wijeratne
Rohana Wijeweera
Upatissa Gamanayake
Saman Piyasiri Fernando

The 1987–89 JVP insurrection (also known as the 1989 Revolt) was the second unsuccessful armed revolt conducted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna against the Government of Sri Lanka under President J. R. Jayewardene. Unlike the first unsuccessful JVP insurrection of 1971, the second insurrection was not an open revolt, but appeared to be a low intensity conflict that lasted from 1987 to 1989 with the JVP resorting to subversion, assassinations, raids and attacks on military and civilian targets.

1971 JVP uprising

Formed in the 1960s by radical Marxist Rohana Wijeweera, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) launched an open revolt against the government under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike in April 1971. Caught off guard the government was able to subdue the insurgency in a matter of weeks. The insurgency lead to the death of 4-5000 (unofficial) people and over 20,000 suspected rebels, mostly youth, were arrested in the amnesty period that followed. The arrested youth were released after rehabilitation.

Rohana Wijeweera and the leaders of the insurgency were sentenced to prison terms and the JVP banned. However all of them were released in 1977 by J. R. Jayewardene after the UNP formed a government after they won the general election.

Early 1980s

During the early 1980s, as the Tamil insurgency to the north became more intense, there was a marked shift in the ideology and goals of the JVP. Initially Marxist in orientation, and claiming to represent the oppressed of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities, the group emerged increasingly as a Sinhalese nationalist organization opposing any compromise with the Tamil insurgency. Rohana Wijeweera recorded the third place at the presidential elections in 1982 and the Jayawardena government did not like their up rise. There are no convincing evidence as to say whether JVP actively involved in 1983 ethnic riots but it was once again banned with several other left wing parties and its leadership went underground.

The group's activities intensified in the second half of 1987 in the wake of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The prospect of Tamil autonomy in the north together with the presence of Indian troops stirred up a wave of Sinhalese nationalism and a sudden growth of anti-government violence. During 1987 a new group emerged that was an offshoot of the JVP—the Patriotic Liberation Organization (Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya—DJV) led by Saman Piyasiri Fernando or Keerthi Vijayabahu a person who led the JVP after the death of Rohana Wijeweera. The DJV claimed responsibility for the August 1987 assassination attempts on the president and prime minister. In addition, the group launched a campaign of intimidation against the ruling party, killing more than seventy Members of Parliament between July and November.

Along with the group's renewed violence came a renewed fear of infiltration of the armed forces. Following the successful raid of the Pallekelle army camp in May 1987, the government conducted an investigation that resulted in the discharge of thirty-seven soldiers suspected of having links with the JVP. In order to prevent a repetition of the 1971 uprising, the government considered lifting the ban on the JVP in early 1988 and permitting the group to participate again in the political arena. With Wijeweera still underground, however, the JVP had no clear leadership at the time, and it was uncertain whether it had the cohesion to mount any coordinated offensive, either military or political, against the government.


Adroitly exploiting the arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the widespread nationalist sentiments of large sections of the Sinhala people, the JVP began to terrorise both the state machinery and those sections of civil society opposed to its thinking and almost brought the State to its knees.

Organised in cells of three people and based around Matara in the south, the JVP murdered probably thousands of people and crippled the country with violently-enforced hartals (general strikes) for two years. Government forces captured and killed JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and his deputy in November 1989 in Colombo; by early 1990 they had killed or imprisoned the remaining JVP politburo and detained an estimated 7,000 JVP members. Although the Government won a decisive military victory there were credible accusations of brutality and extrajudicial killings.

Prominent attacks by the JVP during the insurrection include 1987 grenade attack in the Sri Lankan Parliament and 1989 Temple of the Tooth attack.


According to international terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna's research, JVP killed 30 politicians, 23 academics, 1 clergy, 2 government officials, 89 civilians and 61 service personnel, from July 1987 to January 1990. Rest of the killings (21 armed fighters) are attributed to state or state sponsored death squads.[a] A European delegation estimated the total death toll to be 60,000, while more conservative estimates have placed the death toll at 35,000, with the vast majority being perpetrated by state-sponsored death squads.[1]


Following the insurrection, the JVP was relaunched and participated in electoral politics. At the parliamentary elections held on 2 April 2004, the party was part of the United People's Freedom Alliance that won 45.6% of the popular vote and 105 out of 225 seats. As the second partner in this alliance it became part of the government. It also supported the winning candidate Mahinda Rajapakse in the 2005 parliamentary election. Along with the UNP it supported General Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 presidential election.

See also


a. ^ Gunaratna, Rohan. (1998). Pg.353, Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security, Colombo: South Asian Network on Conflict Research. ISBN 955-8093-00-9

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).