1971 JVP insurrection
The 1971 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection (also known as the 1971 Revolt) was the first of two unsuccessful armed revolts conducted by the communist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) against the government of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The revolt began on 5 April 1971, and lasted until June of that year. The insurgents held towns and rural areas for several weeks, until the regions were recaptured by the armed forces. Although this first attempt to seize power was quickly crushed by force, in 1987 the JVP launched a stronger insurgency in the island's southern, central and western regions.
|1971 JVP insurrection|
|Part of the Cold War|
Attack on the Deniyaya police station
|Commanders and leaders|
D. V. Hunter
Wijesena Vidanage (Sanath) †
N. Jayasinghe (Loku Athula)
P. Kumarasiri (POW)
7000 Army |
1900 Air Force
Soviet Air Forces: 60
10,000–12,000 combatants |
80,000 followers (estimate)
|Casualties and losses|
Police: 37 killed; 195 woundedArmed Forces: 26 killed; 310 wounded; 1 Aircraft lost
Several arrested, multiple North Korean supply vessels captured by the Ceylon navy and Indian navy
Several leaders arrested[a]
The insurrection formally began in 1971, but the first attacks took place in 1970. The JVP fought the right-wing United National Party (UNP) before launching an island-wide, militant opposition to the newly-elected, pro-socialist United Front government.
The government's socialist background drew the attention of many states which needed to support it. The Soviet Union sent 60 air-force troops; India guarded the forts, stopping North Korean vessels and a Chinese freighter which raided the harbors. Although China provided diplomatic aid, it was accused of supporting the JVP; Chinese diplomats allegedly contacted North Korea, which supplied weapons and ammunition to the JVP. Diplomatic ties between Ceylon and United States were severed.
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a dominion in 1948 with a conservative government formed under the premiership of D. S. Senanayake, who had been instrumental in the negotiations with the British government which led to self-rule. He founded the United National Party (UNP), amalgamating three right-leaning pro-dominion parties which won a majority in parliament at the general election. The UNP was defeated in 1956, when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike became prime minister on a wave of nationalist sentiment. His wife, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, entered politics after his assassination and became the world's first female prime minister in 1960. Due to successive governments, varying economic policies and frequent strikes, Ceylon's economic outlook during the 1960s had fallen below what it was when it gained independence in 1948; this led to an attempted coup in 1962.
Janatha Vimukthi PeramunaEdit
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) movement was founded during the late 1960s by Rohana Wijeweera, a former Lumumba University medical student and Ceylon Communist Party functionary. At odds with party leaders and impatient with its lack of revolutionary purpose, Wijeweera formed the movement in 1965 with other like-minded young people. He was apparently expelled from the Maoist wing of the Ceylonese Communist Party the following year, and brought his Marxist ideology to what became known as the Sinhalese Marxist Group. Along with Wijeweera, three close supporters emerged as the leaders of the new movement: Sanath, Karunnarathe and Loku Athula.[clarification needed] Initially known also as the New Left, the group attracted students and unemployed rural youth (most between ages 16 and 25) who felt that their economic interests had been neglected by the nation's leftist coalitions. The standard program of indoctrination, the "Five Lectures", included discussions of Indian imperialism (expansionism), the growing economic crisis, the failure of the island's communist and socialist parties, and the need for a sudden, violent seizure of power.
The JVP expanded rapidly between 1967 and 1970, gaining control of the student socialist movement on a number of major university campuses (including the Socialist Students Union) and receiving recruits and sympathizers from the armed forces; some provided sketches of police stations, airports, and military facilities, a factor in the revolt's initial success. To draw new members further into the organization and prepare them for a coming confrontation, Wijeweera opened "education camps" in remote areas of the south and south-western coasts which provided training in Marxism–Leninism and basic military skills. The movement's central committee was formed at Madampella in 1969. A CID unit under ASP K. C. de Silva was investigating the "Che Guevara clique" by 1970, when opposition leader Sirima Bandaranaike referred to it in her May Day speech.
Developing secret cells and regional commands, Wijeweera's group also began to take a more public role during that year's elections. His cadres campaigned openly for the socialist United Front (UF), also distributing posters and pamphlets promising violent rebellion if Bandaranaike did not address proletarian interests. In a manifesto issued during this period, the group used the name "Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna" (People's Liberation Front) for the first time. Because of the subversive tone of his publications, the United National Party government had Wijeweera arrested before the elections in May; the victorious UF ordered his release in July 1970. In the politically-tolerant atmosphere of the next few months, as the new government attempted to win over a variety of unorthodox leftist groups, the JVP intensified its public campaign and secret preparations for a revolt. Although their group was relatively small, the members hoped to immobilize the government by selective kidnapping and sudden, simultaneous strikes against security forces throughout the island. Some of the necessary weapons had been bought with funds supplied by members, but most party funding came from a string of robberies. The JVP decided to rely on raids against police stations and army camps to secure weapons, and they manufactured their own bombs.
By 1970, the movement had begun recruiting and training cadres at camps in Kurunegala, Akmeemana, Tissamaharama, Elpitiya and Anuradhapura. Classes delivering the "Five Lectures" were held throughout the island, primarily in secluded locations such as cemeteries. After raising a force of about 10,000 full-time members, the JVP stopped recruiting in 1971. The movement was based on five-member cells with a leader, and there were several such cells in a police-station area with an area leader. The area leaders selected a district leader, and the district leaders made up the Central Committee. Above the Central Committee was a 12-member politburo which included Wijeweera. Communications were in code by couriers, with the district secretaries communicating messages from the Politburo (which met every two months in Colombo).
The cells began arming themselves with shotguns; each member was expected to have a shotgun, 10 cartridges, blue uniforms, military boots, and haversacks. Home-made bombs were prepared, with some exploding in the process; on 17 December 1970, Victor Ivan (alias Podi Athula) lost his left hand and was critically injured when a grenade exploded while being tested. The JVP published a newspaper (the Janatha Vimukthi, or People's Liberation), and carried out several robberies – including the Okkampitiya and Ambalangoda bank robberies, the Badulla mailbag robbery and the York Street robbery – to raise money. Members were also asked to contribute personal funds. The JVP gave ₨30,000 stolen from York Street to Podi Athula to manufacture bombs.
Ceylon's defense establishmentEdit
Since its formation in 1949, Ceylon's armed forces were an internal security force assisting the Ceylon Police during strikes and riots. After the attempted coup in 1962, the armed forces had major cuts in funding, recruitment and joint operations, and were unprepared for a large-scale insurrection. The Ceylon Army had several infantry regiments armed with World War II-era weapons, armored cars, mortars and anti-aircraft guns; it lacked tanks, field artillery, submachine guns and other modern weapons, and peacetime ammunition stocks could sustain only one week of offensive operations. The Royal Ceylon Navy, which had suffered the most from the fallout of the attempted coup (its recruitment had been frozen until 1969) had only one frigate in its fleet. It had to deploy its crew on shore duty, and was incapable of preventing the JVP from obtaining aid by sea. The Royal Ceylon Air Force had mothballed its jet trainers after plans for introducing jet fighters were scrapped, and was limited to a small fleet of light-transport aircraft and helicopters: two flying squadrons and a few pilots.
Initial government responseEdit
The government received multiple warnings of preparations undertaken by the JVP, but failed to comprehend the scale of the insurrection and was unprepared to counter it. Early warnings came from the Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which had been tasked with internal security with its late-1969 and early-1970 establishment of the "Che Guevara Desk" under ASP K. C. de Silva. John Attygalle, former Inspector General of Police who had been appointed special security advisor to the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence, submitted a report on the new group's potential threat to Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake's government. The government instructed the police to arrest Wijeweera, who was taken into custody in May 1970. After the 1970 general election, however, newly-elected Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike had Wijeweera released from police custody; reports from the previous administration were overlooked. Bandaranaike's new administration made changes to the police force, removing officers and disbanding units perceived as disloyal. These changes affected the CID; the new government was fearful of another coup by security forces loyal to the previous administration. Bandaranaike's cousin and volunteer captain Anuruddha Ratwatte was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed commanding officer of the Army's Field Security Detachment, tasked with identifying potentially-disloyal officers. Captain Denzil Kobbekaduwa (who led the investigations) reported that a more substantial threat to the government was posed by the JVP, and police investigation of bomb-making factories began.
In 1970, a parcel sent by the People's Socialist Republic of Albania containing Chinese-made rifles was captured by the police; other similar incidents occurred at the beginning of the insurgency. The Party of Labour of Albania had sent a delegation early in 1965, meeting Wijeweera.: 9–10
Wijeweera also visited North Koreans in the country, who congratulated him. He sent a JVP member to the Middle East to forge a link with the South Yemen National Liberation Front. The envoy returned with a letter from the government promising to ship weapons to the island if possible, hinting at aid from South Yemen diplomats to the JVP.
Decision to attackEdit
The JVP held its last public rally before the insurrection on 27 February 1971 at Colombo's Hyde Park, where Wijeweera said: "Let the revolution of the workers, farmers, and soldiers be triumphant". On 5 March, after an accidental explosion in one of the JVP bomb factories which killed five members, police found 58 bombs in a hut in Nelundeniya, Kegalle District. Wijeweera traveled around the country, but was arrested on 13 March in Ampara by a special police team and later transferred to the Jaffna Prison. The government declared a state of emergency on 16 March, but no military mobilization took place. A meeting was held at the Vidyodaya University sangaramaya (temple) by the JVP politburo on 2 April in response to a request by Wijeweera that posters and leaflets calling for his release be published and, if the insurgency began, 500 cadres be sent to Jaffna to break him out of prison. The group, consisting of S. V. A .Piyathilaka, Lionel Bopage, Jayadeva Uyangoda, Sunanda Deshpriya, Loku Athula, W. T. Karunarathne, Susi L. Wickrama, Wijesena Vidanage (alias Sanath), Somasiri Kumanayake and Anura Ranjith Kurukulasooriya, decided that all police stations in the country would be attacked on 5 April at 11:00 pm. The JVP believed that police stations were the government's principal local element of power, and hoped that disabling them would encourage local populations to rise up in their support. The district leader for Monaragala and Wellawaya was not at the meeting, and the decision to attack was conveyed to them in a telegram that read: "JVP Appuhamy expired. Funeral 5.". The Wellawaya leader interpreted the order as to attack on the morning of 5 April, not in the evening.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2019)
Four missions were planned and assigned to the nationwide 5 April attack. The main responsibility for the attacks was given to the student wing, which Wijeweera had called the "Red Guard". The first of the four missions was to attack the Panagoda Cantonment, which was one of the country's largest military installations and housed a large arsenal. Piyasiri was in charge of the attack by 800 students, who were divided into groups of twenty-five; a smaller attack was to be made on RCyAF Katunayake. The second mission, led by Nimal, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Sanath Kumar, and Lal Pieries with more than 50 students, was to abduct the prime minister. The third mission, led by Bopage, was to capture of the city of Colombo. The capital was divided into five areas: Colombo South, Colombo North, Kandy Road, Colombo Central, and Kotte. The insurgents were to attack police stations along the way, obtaining arms and ammunition from them. The targets were Welikada Prison, Srawasthi, Radio Ceylon and the homes of government officials, including Justice Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the Army Commander and the IGP. The fourth mission was to rescue Wijeweera from prison in Jaffna.
Planning for the countrywide insurrection was hasty and poorly coordinated, with some district leaders not informed until the morning of the uprising. At 5:20 am on 5 April, the Wellawaya police station was attacked and two police constables killed. The Wellawaya attack had preempted the initial wave of simultaneous attacks planned by the JVP, which lost the element of surprise. After news about the attack in Wellawaya, the government began frantic preparations for further attacks. A curfew was declared, all police stations were warned of an impending attack, and the armed forces were mobilized by Major General D. S. Attygalle, Commander of the Ceylon Army. After dawn on 5 April, General Attygalle ordered army units of the Gemunu Watch from Diyatalawa to Wellawaya. Major Gratian Silva, Army HQ GSO 1 (Ops), and DIG Rudra Rajasingham flew by helicopter to Wellawaya that morning to inspect the ground situation in Wellawaya and report to Attygalle and the Inspector General of Police (IGP). At 7:00 am, Radio Ceylon reported the attack and warned of further attacks.
Several JVP cadres were arrested at Viharamahadevi Park on 5 April as they prepared to abduct (or assassinate) Prime Minister Bandaranaike at her residence in Rosemead Place. This was followed by a quick citywide curfew and more arrests in Kotahena and Borella, with large numbers of bombs, weapons, and medical equipment meant to be used in the planned attack on the city. At 8:00 pm, Attygalle, IGP Stanley Senanayake and Lieutenant Colonel Anuruddha Ratwatte arrived at the prime minister's residence and briefed her on the attack on Wellawaya and an impending attack that night. Soon afterwards, the prime minister left for Temple Trees (her official residence) with General Attygalle, Captain A.R.P. (Kalu) Wijeratne, and her normal escort. Temple Trees became the center of government operations during the crisis, and its security was strengthened. It was a refuge for the ministers, most of whom were from leftist parties. Helicopter patrols around the capital began as rumors spread that the JVP was marching on Colombo.
First wave of attacksEdit
With a curfew imposed and suspects being arrested, some JVP leaders went into hiding. The attack began as planned. Ninety-two police stations across the country were attacked simultaneously by JVP groups armed with shotguns, bombs, and Molotov cocktails; five (in Deniyaya, Uragaha, Rajangane, Kataragama and Warakapola) were overrun by the insurgents, and 43 were abandoned by the police for "strategic reasons" during the following days. Fifty-seven police stations were damaged. The insurgents cut telephone and power lines, and blocked roads with trees. The Hanwella police station, near Colombo, was attacked on 6 April and defended with army reinforcements from the Panagoda Cantonment. The No. 4 Squadron of the Royal Ceylon Air Force deployed its three Bell 206A JetRanger helicopters, which began flying missions to remote police stations to supply them with weapons and ammunition; over the following days, the helicopters returned wounded to hospitals. RCyAF Ekala was also attacked. The police withdrew personnel from smaller police stations. The rebels had taken control of Matara District and the city of Ambalangoda in Galle District by 10 April, and came close to capturing the remainder of Southern Province except for Galle and Matara (which had two Dutch colonial forts and small army garrisons). However, none of the JVP's four major missions succeeded. The abduction of the prime minister failed, with arrests of JVP members in Colombo on 5 April. The Panagoda Cantonment and Colombo were never attacked, because the members did not assemble. Jaffna Prison was attacked on the night of 5 April to rescue Wijeweera. The cadre booked a bus to the prison, and Pyatilake led the attack. It failed, however, when police reinforcements arrived; many of the attackers were arrested, and some killed. Attacks on the Jaffna police station and Karainagar naval detachment also failed, with four insurgents killed on 6 April at Elephant Pass.
North Korean involvementEdit
North Korea used revolutionary propaganda daily in newspapers; North Korean newspapers quoted Kim Il-Sung about revolution, and the government of Sri Lanka was suspicious of the country's motives. JVP bases contained Juche literature distributed by the North Korean high commission in the country, which helped to develop the party. On 15 May 1971, 18 North Koreans affiliated with the JVP were arrested. Indian patrol boats deployed around the island stopped two North Korean vessels, capturing weapons, food parcels and literature; the vessels may have been headed to JVP-controlled territory to reinforce it against the Ceylonese army. Aid may also have come through the Ceylon-North Korea Friendship Association, which had branches throughout the country.
Chinese influence and alleged supportEdit
In April, a Chinese freighter raided a harbour; it was turned back by Indian patrol boats assisting Ceylon's coast guard. Shortly after the Wellawaya attack, a Chinese vessel stocked with weapons anchored near the island. Although its crew said that the weapons were ordered from Tanzania, the Ceylonese government said that the weapons were for the JVP.
An unfamiliar ship was seen off the JVP-controlled coast of Matara; according to an eye-witness, it was larger than any ship the Sri Lanka Navy had at the time. Another man grabbed a gun to shoot at it, but the ship was too far away.
Government forces responded by first securing Colombo, other cities and large towns with sizable police and military garrisons. Roadblocks were set up; bridges, ports and airports were secured, overstretching the armed forces (which began mobilizing its reservists). Army, navy, and air-force personnel were initially deployed on ground duty in a defensive posture; in most areas, the police were able to hold out themselves. The government considered the situation dire during the insurrection's early days; its small-arms ammunition was expected to run out in a week, and the shooting of naval ratings by a fellow rating in Jaffna stoked fears of JVP infiltration of the armed forces.
During this time, the JVP took advantage of military and law-enforcement weakness by easily capturing large portions of the country. Many army convoys were ambushed; initial government offensives were pushed back in areas such as Matara, where local member of parliament Sumanapala Dahanayake was wounded accompanying the first joint army and police expedition into rebel-held areas.
Short of weapons and ammunition, Bandaranaike telegraphed a request for support to friendly countries. The response from many governments was swift. The United Kingdom was the first to respond positively, allowing the Ceylonese government uses an Air Ceylon Trident to ferry small arms and ammunition from its bases in Singapore. Pakistan responded with an airlift of supplies, troops, and helicopters to Ratmalana Airport, taking over the airport's defense and freeing Ceylonese troops for other duties. India did not receive the cable, and the Indian High Commissioner in Ceylon was sent back to India with the aid request on 13 April. Units of the Indian Army Southern Command were airlifted from Bangalore and Madras (Chennai) to RCyAF Katunayake, and five Chetak helicopters from the 104th Helicopter Squadron followed with arms and ammunition. The squadron logged 573 flying hours on as many as 1,122 sorties in Ceylon. One hundred fifty Indian Gorkhas took over securing RCyAF Katunayake. The Indian Navy deployed four frigates, setting up a naval cordon around Ceylon; the Royal Ceylon Navy had deployed its sailors on ground operations and harbor defense, the latter later taken over by Indian and Pakistani troops. Australia donated 5,000 rifles.
RAF heavy transports flew in six Bell 47-G2 helicopters and ammunition purchased from Singapore on 17 April. Ceylon received the most aid from the Soviet Union, with its Air Force flying in five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17F fighter bombers, a MiG-15 UTI trainer, and two Kamov Ka-26 helicopters. The Soviet Union also sent 12 light mortars; Yugoslavia supplied four 76mm mountain guns, and China supplied 30 85mm Type 60 anti-tank guns. The Soviet Union donated 10 BTR-152 armored personnel carriers. Although China supplied 30,000 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, it was still suspected of supporting the JVP.
The United States said that it was aware that the JVP was not the organization which attacked the US embassy in Ceylon, but had no specific intention to militarily aid the government. The previous government had requested helicopter parts, however, and the US military fulfilled the request.
Within days of the insurrection's start, the armed forces began offensive operations after the initial wave of attacks ended. Personnel from all three armed services deployed with the mobilization of reservists (most of whom were World War II veterans), and regular troops were freed from guard duty as Pakistani and Indian troops defended key installations. Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) S. A. Dissanayake was appointed Additional Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence, and coordinated the government's defense from the situation room at Temple Trees. Local military coordinating officers, appointed from the three branches of the armed forces for each district, were tasked with carrying out local counter-insurgency operations. The RCyAF took five Hunting Jet Provosts which had been mothballed in 1970, serviced and armed them in three days, and flew them from RCyAF Chinabay to RCyAF Katunayake (attacking rebel locations en route). Several weeks later, the Jet Provosts were joined by the Bell 47-G2 in ground attacks. With additional supplies flowing in, government forces intensified their offensives into insurgent-held areas. The insurgents who had seized large parts of the island from their initial assault failed to consolidate their holdings or expand into other areas; local JVP committees raised a red flag in a captured area, and did little else. Widespread looting and damage to state property took place, and several civilians were murdered by the insurgents. After three weeks of fighting, the government regained control of all but a few remote areas. In most cases, the government regained control of townships; insurgent groups melted away into the jungle and continued to operate, with some groups operating into early 1972. The government announced two amnesties in May and June 1971, airdropping leaflets encouraging the insurgents to surrender. Without food, weapons, and leadership, many youths surrendered; other groups were surrounded and captured. Two JVP leaders, Sanath (Wijesena Vidanage) and Susil, were killed in confrontations with the armed forces; Loku Athula, who led the remnants of his group into the jungles of Wilpathu, was wounded and captured. Many youths were detained in rehabilitation camps for months. The official arrest total was 5,067 (of whom 1,117 were from Colombo), but arrests of up to 20,000 were claimed. The government imposed strict censorship of all domestic and foreign news during the period.
The official death toll was 1,200, but unofficial sources reliably estimated it at 4,000–5,000. Forty-one civilians were killed by the insurgents; thirty-seven police officers were killed and 195 wounded. Twenty-six armed-services personnel were killed (19 from the army, four from the air force, and three from the navy) and 130 were wounded (87 army, 15 air force, and 28 navy) in 1971 and 1972.
Advised by Justice Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the prime minister appointed an investigative unit headed by retired IGP Aleric Abeygunawardena to prosecute the captured insurgents. The unit was made up of crown counsels and police officers. The crown counsels were made assistant superintendents, enabling them to record statements from suspects which would be admissible in court. It soon became apparent that convicting the large number of suspects in custody within normal contemporary procedure and laws would take years.
Criminal Justice CommissionEdit
The Criminal Justice Commission was established by the government to prosecute the detained rebels expediently. The commission was composed of Chief Justice H. N. G. Fernando (chairman), Justice A. C. Alles, Justice V. T. Thamotheram, Justice H. Dheragoda and Justice T. W. Rajaratnam. In 1975, Wijeweera was sentenced to life imprisonment (later reduced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment). Many of the surviving JVP leaders received prison sentences; some, including Loku Athula and Somasiri Kumanayake, turned crown witness and were pardoned. Most of the youths in rehabilitation camps were released.
The insurgency caused ₨2.7 million in damage to public and private property; other institutions lost ₨3 million, and the RCyAF lost an aircraft. Over ₨450 million earmarked for capital development was not spent as intended due to the insurgency. Ceylon severed diplomatic ties with North Korea based on information that the country supported the JVP, and diplomatic relations were not reestablished in 2014. Under the six years of emergency rule following the uprising, the JVP remained dormant. After the victory of the United National Party in the 1977 elections, however, the new government tried to broaden its mandate with a period of political tolerance. Wijeweera was freed, the ban on the party was lifted, and the JVP entered the arena of legal political competition. As a candidate in the 1982 presidential elections, Wijeweera finished fourth with over 250,000 votes (compared with winner J. R. Jayewardene's 3.2 million).
The JVP began a second insurrection, which lasted from 1987 to 1989 and was more of a low intensity conflict than an open revolution. The movement fought with a well-organized military wing, capable of attacking and capturing large components of the Sri Lankan Army.
Incentives for resurgenceEdit
Two incentives for a renewed insurgency exist: unemployment and government. With a rapid population increase and relatively-slow economic growth, many youths who were the beneficiaries of free education are unemployed or underemployed; the unemployment rate is high relative to the output of the educational system, which the labour market has failed to address. Political factors include President Jayawardena's political strategy of oppressing the opposition; the weakness of the main opposition party (SLFP); the exclusion of those without political connections from some state jobs; the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accord, and the entry of Indian troops into Sri Lanka.
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- Official website
- THE 1971 CEYLONESE INSURRECTION – Fred Halliday
- SRI LANKA – A LOST REVOLUTION? The Inside Story of the JVP by Rohan Gunaratna
- A Lost Revolution: The JVP Insurrection 1971
- Ceylon: The JVP Uprising (Third Worldism or Socialism) – Account of the Uprising by British Libertarian Socialist group Solidarity