– by Shenali D Waduge –
Making the keynote address at the 3rd consecutive Sri Lanka Army organized ‘Defence Seminar-2013 on the theme ‘Post-Conflict Sri Lanka: Challenges and Regional Stability’, held from 3rd to 5th September at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo, Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivered a spectacular and visonary speech to the more than 300 participants including 66 foreign delegates from 29 countries.
The 1st Defence Seminar focused on Lessons Learnt by the Sri Lankan Defence establishment in defeating LTTE terrorism.
The 2nd Defence Seminar focused on Post-war efforts to create lasting peace and stability examining steps under 5 areas of Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation.
Secretary Defence on Sri Lanka’s immediate post-war challenge successes
- Accommodating and ensuring the welfare of nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons
- Demining and Reconstruction of Infrastructure/facilities – nearly 5000sq.km of land demined.
- Resettling the IDPs in their places of origin (All IDPs in welfare camps were resettled from October 2009 – August 2012) inclusive of other displaced persons. This achievement took 3 years and 3 months after elimination of LTTE.
- Rehabilitating nearly 12,000 ex-LTTE cadres and
- Reintegrating them to society.
Independent Surveys 1:
UNHCR survey confirmed Sri Lanka’s resettlement success (Nov 2012-Mar 2013) assessing Sri Lanka against global standard of Inter Agency Standing Committee Framework for Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons – Sri Lanka is mentioned under–
a) access to personal and other documentation without discrimination
b) family reunification
c) access to effective remedies and justice
d) safety and security
e) access to livelihoods
f) participation in public affairs
Note: Only 29% of respondents had negative views on military presence.
Independent Surveys 2:
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Field Mission survey (May-June 2013)
- ‘remarkable improvement in infrastructure development in many sectors including transportation, communication, roads, railways and health facilities’
- Survey observed that there was no visible presence of armed military personnel in uniforms that military support was primarily for ‘immediate and development needs of the population’ (building houses, shelter, water, sanitation, scholarships for schools and children, vocational training, organizing tours for people of North to visit other parts of Sri Lanka) – efforts to help civilians return to normal life.
Independent Surveys 3: Foreign Researchers/Dr. Kruglanski & Dr. Gelfland of the University of Maryland
- LTTE cadres showed reduction in support for violence after rehabilitation program
Other successfully completed post-war challenges:
- Setting up Livelihood Assistance programs
- Material Assistance programs – donation of fishing gear, utilities for farming, provision of livestock and seeds for agriculture
Secretary Defence on shifting military from combat with terrorists to cooperation with civilians/society:
- Gradual reduction of military camps/troops but military will remain for strategic security reasons.
- Engineering battalions engaged in reconstruction and national development programs
- Redrawing internal security policies and procedures and expanding intelligence units
- Handing over to police the maintenance of law and order – establishment of more police stations and recruitment of Tamil speaking police personnel
- Helping restore civil administration mechanism
- Disarming former armed groups
- Civilian properties in the process of being handed over once legal proof of ownership is established.
- Removing restrictions previously placed for security reasons (movement in high security zones, limitation to fishing, restrictions in trade of classified items) Palaly cantonment is open to all with free access to airport and Kankasanthurai harbour.
- Releasing detainees for involvement in LTTE activities while a handful remains in detention for prosecution. Database of all detainees available with police. Lawyers, family, Human Rights Commission and ICRC given access to them
- Repealing of Emergency Regulations in August 2011
Secretary Defence responds to allegations against Military : Number of Civilian Casualties
Number of civilian casualties (during final stage of war) ranged from 7000 to more than 40,000. The allegations were all guestimates without sources and ignored independent and credible sources (Dept of Census & Statistics/UNICEF/LLRC).
Department of Census and Statistics ‘Enumeration of Vital Events’ in Northern Province (June-Aug 2011) field data collected in July 2011 by 2500 Tamil and Muslim Government servants from North. Report revealed:
a. 7896 deaths due to unnatural causes (Jan-May 2009) included LTTE cadres killed in action,
b. 2635 persons reported as untraceable (parents/next of kin had not recovered their bodies or knew their whereabouts)
c. Of 2360 cases investigations reveal that 1625 persons had been forcibly recruited by the LTTE.
d. Only 26 instances of people reported by the next of kin who had surrendered to the Security Forces and subsequently disappeared.
Secretary Defence on reasons for civilian deaths/missing
- civilians killed by LTTE trying to escape to Govt controlled areas,
- civilians detained and killed by LTTE for other reasons
- civilian deaths from being forcefully used in combat by LTTE
- civilians deaths from crossfire
- civilians reported dead but likely to have escaped or illegally migrated overseas. An unknown number of persons have left Sri Lanka and are now living overseas. The countries hosting them have not revealed their details to the Government of Sri Lanka.
- deaths not occurring during Humanitarian Operation but reported to claim compensation
- false reporting
UNICEF with Probation and Child Care Commission of North and Government Agent of Vavuniya – Family Reunification Project (confirms and corroborates with Sri Lanka’s findings)
- 2564 tracing applications received by July 2011
- 1888 applications related to missing adults
- 676 applications related to missing children
- 64% parents of missing children claimed LTTE had recruited their children.
Secretary Defence on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report
- LLRC concluded that there was No DELIBERATE targeting of civilians by Sri Lankan Military
- LTTE responsible for violations of international humanitarian law
Secretary Defence on International Commentaries on Post-Conflict
- Negative feedback on Reconciliation – lacked holistic perspective did not consider ground realities as reconciliation is a process and takes time to accomplish and cannot give overnight results.
- Negative feedback ignored type of rule under LTTE – people of the North and parts of East had no democratic freedoms – no room for dissent, no alternate views, everyone disagreeing with LTTE were silenced. People living amongst LTTE were taught to hate the Sinhalese and the State. Removing 30 years of indoctrination inspite of resettlement, reconstruction and even rehabilitation is not easy.
Secretary Defence on Democratic Process in Sri Lanka (contrary to the statement by Navi Pillai claiming Sri Lanka was heading towards an Authoritarian rule)
- Provincial Council elections held in Eastern Province in 2008 before the Humanitarian Operation ended
- Local Authority elections for Jaffna Municipal Council / Vavuniya Urban Council in August 2009
- Presidential Election held in 2010
- General Elections held in 2010
- Local authority elections held island-wide in 2011
- Provincial Council elections to be held in September 2013 – the 1st after 1989 elections of merged North-East province through 13th amendment. North-East demerged in 2006.
Secretary Defence on LTTE-fronts continuing to pose threat to Sri Lanka
- LTTE’s extensive international network remains intact and their propaganda needs to be effectively countered.
- Extremist elements within Tamil expat community part of this network
- Their intent is to divide Sri Lanka
- Strategies used include winning international opinion for separatist cause, increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka, undermining Government efforts for reconciliation and economic development, attempting to resume conflict by reorganizing local militant activities
- These LTTE-linked groups influence foreign NGOs, foreign parliamentarians and even fund local groups masquerading as democratic
- The LTTE international network comprises
a. Tamil Coordinating Committee based in Norway led by Nediyawan
b. Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam in US led by Rudrakumaran
c. LTTE headquarter group in France led by Vinayagam
d. Global Tamil Forum led by Father Emmanuel who coordinates all above groups.
- Foreign Service and Foreign Ministry despite lack of resources need to counter by communicating the true picture globally.
Secretary Defence on Threats from Extremist Groups (including those involved in previous insurgencies)
- Groups attempting to mobilize people to take up extreme left wing causes
- Groups radicalizing students / the public and encouraging them to take to the streets in protest
- Increase in communalism amongst ethnic groups – increased insularity of ethnic groups may lead to fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity into ethno-religious lines
- Some in the Tamil community who identify more with Tamil Nadu than with fellow Sri Lankans.
- Some foreign groups encouraging Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves with global Muslim community distancing them from integrating with other communities
- Muslim fundamentalism spreading all over the world and in Asia and concerns Sri Lanka’s Law Enforcement agencies and Security Forces.
- Extremist groups have been in transit in Sri Lanka and may promote Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka
- Consequence of increasing narrow-mindedness of minority ethnic groups is emergence of hardline groups within majority community which will lead to further tensions and a vicious cycle affecting overall unity.
Secretary Defence on Organized Crime
- Rise of terrorism and insurrection required state to procure arms and ammunition some of which have fallen into criminal hands.
- Rise of underworld engaged in organized crime – drugs, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom, financial frauds, seizing land illegally are a handful of activities that need to be tackled.
Secretary Defence on Media Freedom
- Legitimate media channels, newspapers, websites freely operate in Sri Lanka
- Some illegal sources also engage in false propaganda to damage the country’s image internationally.
- Negative image campaigning will impact on tourism, foreign investment and even trade
- Media organizations (every citizen and political group) must exercise their democratic freedoms with responsibility – they should not engage in unlawful activity under the guise of exercising their freedoms.
Secretary Defence on India and Sri Lanka’s strategic geographical location in South Asia
- Continued inter-linking domestic issues between Sri Lanka and India (India’s sensitivity to events in Sri Lanka due to influence of Tamil Nadu state on Tamil issues especially at times of elections)
- Bilateral issues – increasing incidents of illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu fishermen on Sri Lankan waters
- India is the most important and powerful country in South Asia, but Sri Lanka is a completely independent sovereign nation which India is aware of
- Critical that both India and Sri Lanka retain a meaningful and close relationship despite issues arising between them
Secretary Defence on Sri Lanka’s relationship with China
- China’s involvement in Sri Lanka is purely diplomatic and economic
- China has been one of Sri Lanka’s foremost development partners contributing richly to key economic development projects.
- Sri Lanka’s relationship with China should not be regarded as a threat by any other nation.
Secretary Defence on Regional Issues Sri Lanka faces due to Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic position
- Asian region becoming increasingly important in global affairs
- India and China increasing economic and military development bring Asian region into global focus
- Western Governments may attempt to influence Sri Lanka to align to their interests in the Asian region
- Power politics between nations will affect Sri Lanka’s relations with these nations.
Secretary Defence on Maritime Security
- Sri Lanka does not have land borders
- Sri Lanka does need to protect its maritime security and prevent transnational crimes – drugs, smuggling, arms smuggling and human trafficking, maritime assets within Exclusive Economic Zone, safeguarding Sea Lines of Communication against piracy.
Secretary Defence on National Economy
- War suppressed economic potential and held back Sri Lanka’s growth
- History reveals that majority of problems were fundamentally economic (insurrections of 1970s, 1980s even LTTE manipulated economic aspect along ethnic /racial lines)
- Post-war needs to address unequal development / rural underdevelopment and uplift standard of living in rural areas to standards enjoyed in cities.
- Establishing highways to connect distant cities – reduce travel time.
- Rural masses must not feel marginalized or feel economic compulsion to move to cities (education, healthcare, meaningful employment without leaving their places of origin)
- Need to promote tourism, foreign direct investment, industrial development, value addition in agriculture, service economy
- Retain talented young people and encourage them to remain in Sri Lanka.
- Keeping with our traditional way of living develop our agriculture, animal husbandry and seek self-sufficiency.
- Adapt 5-hub strategy to develop Sri Lanka as a Knowledge Hub, Commercial Hub, Naval and Maritime Hub, Aviation Hub and Energy Hub.
- Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport is a long term plan to derive economic potential to maximize on volume of ships that pass through the sea lines making the Hambantota region as an industrial and transhipment cargo hub.
Secretary Defence on Sri Lanka’s Future
- Being able to navigate present issues (national security, geo-politics etc) will determine Sri Lanka’s destiny.
- Looking ahead positively and confidently without focusing on issues inherited from the past
- People need to develop mentality beyond that of a developing nation shedding Third World Mentality.
- All Sri Lankans must accept challenge and move forward together into a shared future as one Sri Lankan nation.
Secretary Defence on Safeguarding Democracy
- Handling subversive elements from using modern communication technology (internet, global news media, mobile phones etc) to attempting to disseminate wrong information and arouse people negatively.
Secretary Defence on future challenges:
- Preventing the re-emergence of terrorism
- Establishing effective methods to project Sri Lanka to the international community
- Suppressing the emergence of other extremist groups
- Preventing further ethnic divisions and communal violence
- Challenges of maritime security and border control
- Curtailing the growth of organised crime, and
- New challenges in safeguarding a just and wholesome democracy.
Secretary Defence on way forward:
- Secretary Defence on a Government obligations:
- Ensure national reconciliation is achieved
- Move Sri Lanka into the future together as one nation without fragmentation into groups based on ethnicity, religion, caste or place of origin.
- Ensure all Sri Lankans have same opportunities and unobstructed access to state services
- Ensure Sri Lanka is a peaceful, stable and rapidly development democracy.
- Holding elections after restoring normalcy to North and East provinces
- Issues delayed due to terrorism must be attended to
- Economic issues as a result of global economic conditions need to be solved gradually instead of using them as political slogans.
- Secretary Defence on People’s obligations:
- People must move forward as a nation – united by what we have in common.
- People must not stay locked in a post-conflict mentality
- People must remove from ‘Third-World Mentality’
- People must understand freedoms guaranteed through democracy must be exercised with responsibility. Ex: right to public assembly – freedom to demonstrate on issues that they feel are important does not give freedom to engage in violent protest, incite violence or act in other undemocratic ways. Then they would have exploited and abused their democratic freedoms. When this happens other people with vested interests use this to turn the situation to their advantage and project a negative image of the country internationally as well as amongst the locals themselves.
- Secretary Defence on Politicians/political Party’s obligations:
- Political parties must promote the interests of the nation without focusing on one group
- Political parties must bring all ethnicities and cultures together into one Sri Lankan identity so that the nation can progress.
- Main political parties must stop politicizing divisive issues for petty political gain
A fine picture of Sri Lanka’s future was articulated in the key note address by the Secretary Defence covering the immediate post-war challenges, the achievements of the armed forces in their new role of capacity building in cooperation with civilians and society. It has heralded a distinctly unique partnership one that combines the value-added logistical capabilities and discipline of the armed forces with the new challenges that face a Sri Lanka journeying towards a future without terrorism and ushering a new chapter in uniting nations of the Asian continent for regional stability, economic growth and overall a shared future.