By Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s younger sibling and secretary of the Defence and Urban Development ministry is arguably the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka.
It is an open knowledge that the retired colonel of the Gajaba Regiment calls the shots in the Country’s defence establishment.
Even bitter critics of the Defence secretary acknowledge the fact that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is frank and forthright in ,propounding ,explaining ,defending or rationalizing defence related policy measures. He does not mince his words when addressing public fora on these matters.
On January 10th this year Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivered a public lecture on the topic ‘Future Challenges to National Security in Sri Lanka’ .It was organized by Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited and held at the auditorium of the Institute.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke extensively on the continuous separatist threat facing the Country despite winng the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) two and a half years ago. He warned that overseas based LTTE linked groupswere trying to encourage and facilitate a resumption of an armed struggle in Sri Lanka. He also emphasized that a strong military presence was necessary in the areas where the LTTE had been active.
The defence secretary dealt with issues such as the reorganisation of the LTTE in the international arena,the possible re-emergence of terrorism within Sri Lanka,the efforts by some to take Sri Lanka’s internal issues in front of international bodies ,the challenges posed by the regional geopolitical situation and the possibility of creating instability within Sri Lanka through indirect means.
I think the lecture clearly defined the parameters of the defence policy adopted by the Rajapaksa regime. This “Defence perspective” needs to be understood clearly by all those who pursue goals such as Reconciliation,normalcy, de-militarization, democratization,disarming of para-militaries,restoration of civil administration,relaxation of military control, reduction of security measures etc. It is this “Defence perspective” that will be of paramount importance in these spheres for quite some time.
I am therefore posting the full text of the defence secretary’s lecture on my blog with the hope that it would stimulate an informed, constructive discussion in which light rather than heat would be generated.
Here it is Friends– DBS Jeyaraj
Future challenges of national security in Sri Lanka
By Gotabaya Rajapaksa
I consider it a pleasure and a privilege to have been invited to deliver the first Public Lecture at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on the topic, “Future Challenges of National Security in Sri Lanka”.
Although Sri Lanka today is one of the most stable and secure countries in the Asian region, it needs to be understood that national security is still a critical issue for us. It was less than three short years ago that the LTTE was defeated, after having caused enormous suffering for all Sri Lankans for three decades. The LTTE’s military defeat in May 2009 was a pivotal event in Sri Lanka’s history. It lifted the veil of fear that hung over daily life and impacted each and every Sri Lankan for a generation. It eliminated the primary obstacle to Sri Lanka’s future prospects and brought back a long overdue sense of peace and stability to our people. It is vital that we do not take any of this for granted. Sri Lanka still has enemies, and they are still at work to bring back disharmony and conflict to our nation.
There are several threats that will be covered during the course of this lecture. These include:
-The reorganisation of the LTTE in the international arena
-The possible re-emergence of terrorism within Sri Lanka
-The efforts by some to take Sri Lanka’s internal issues in front of international bodies
-The challenges posed by the regional geopolitical situation
-The possibility of creating instability within Sri Lanka through indirect means.
The first threat to consider is the on-going activities of LTTE linked organisations outside Sri Lanka. Despite the military defeat of the LTTE and the elimination of its top leadership two and a half years ago, the rump of the LTTE’s global establishment is still active. There are ex-LTTE cadres, pro-LTTE activists and LTTE sympathisers still operating in various guises through various groups in many countries around the world.
After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s former head of procurement Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over the LTTE’s international network. However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by Nediyawan, who was a follower of Manivannan (alias Castro), the former head of the LTTE’s international network. The key reason for the emergence of a breakaway faction was that while KP’s group declared they would continue their struggle for a separate state through democratic means, Nediyawan’s group felt that objective could only be achieved by following the violent ideology preached by Prabhakaran.
Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the leadership of his organisation and worked towards establishing a “Government in Exile”. This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. Its primary objective is to lobby Foreign Governments for the establishment of a separate state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The so-called “Transnational Government” has more than twenty so-called “Ministers” and an advisory committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists. Even at the start of this year, Rudrakumaran not only outlined the group’s clear intention to intensify its lobbying of foreign Governments to support a separate state, but also stated its hope to encourage the resumption of direct struggles within Sri Lanka.
Another prominent LTTE-linked group is the British Tamils Forum, which is an umbrella organisation established in the United Kingdom with the aim of mustering support from the immigrant Tamil community and local politicians for the division of Sri Lanka. One of the primary objectives of this group has been to influence the thinking of the British Government in favour of the LTTE’s interests. Evolving from the BTF is the Global Tamils Forum, which emerged in February 2010. The head of the GTF is the so-called Father Emmanuel, a Priest who was once hailed by Prabhakaran as “a freedom fighter who has given leadership to a movement committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam”. Father Emmanuel has been engaged in a propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka for many years, targeting Tamil expatriates, Foreign Governments and International Organisations. Under his guidance, the GTF has successfully won over a number of politicians from various political parties in European countries as well as the United States, Australia, Canada, and India to support the separatist cause. In addition, the GTF and the BTF have courted officials within international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and various non-governmental organisations to obtain their support.
In the meanwhile, Nediyawan’s group, known as The Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly or the Tamil National Council, has been working with other international groups to promote the separatist cause in many parts of the world. Nediyawan’s group has control over most of the assets of the LTTE’s international organisation. It also presently controls the more than 350 Tamil schools that function in Europe supposedly for the promotion of Tamil language and culture. In reality, these schools aim to inculcate separatist sentiments and hatred towards the Sinhalese amongst 2nd and 3rd generation Tamils living abroad.
The on-going indoctrination of the students in these schools is a matter of grave concern. It affects a significant number of children all over Europe. These LTTE-linked Tamil schools have a student population of approximately 6500 in Germany, 5800 in Switzerland, 5000 in France and nearly 2000 more in the rest of Europe. These are large numbers. A proportion of the school fees charged from these students is directed into the coffers of LTTE-linked organisations. So is the income generated from events organised by these schools. It should also be noted that during the war, these schools functioned as a selection ground for future terrorists. In certain schools, the administration made arrangements for batches of students to undergo military training in the Wanni. Some of these students fought against the Security Forces during the Humanitarian Operation. Others returned to their countries and continue to work towards the separatist objective from outside Sri Lanka.
Some evidence has emerged in recent times that the on-going conflict within the various factions of the rump LTTE organisations has led to some control of the Tamil schools passing to Rudrakumaran’s faction. In this struggle, the Rudrakumaran faction was aided by Vinayagam, a senior LTTE intelligence cadre who fled Sri Lanka during the last stages of the Humanitarian Operation. Other LTTE cadres, including Achchudan, Samraj and Shankar who managed to leave Sri Lanka before the LTTE’s defeat, continue to work independently in various pro-separatist activities. While also working with the other LTTE-linked groups from time to time, these LTTE cadres are responsible for various criminal activities in the countries they reside in.
One of the most high profile of these criminal activities is the trafficking of persons internationally. Charging between 15,000 and 30,000 US dollars per person, they use the remnants of the LTTE’s international shipping operation to smuggle people to western countries. The voyages of the “Sun Sea” and “Ocean Lady” vessels from South East Asia to Canada in 2010 are well known examples of this activity. The money raised will be used to further promote the separatist cause, and perhaps even sponsor future terrorist activities in Sri Lanka.
Irrespective of the conflicts that may exist within the various LTTE-linked groups just mentioned, we must understand that all of them are united by a common agenda. Their unwavering intent is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective. These include:
-The winning of international opinion for the separatist cause
-Increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka in various areas; and very particularly through pushing for international investigations into war crimes and claims of genocide
-Undermining all efforts of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka to create a better future for its citizens, and
-Continuing to push for the resumption of conflict within Sri Lanka
It is important to note that many of these LTTE-linked groups claim that they no longer have any interest in terrorism. Most of them say they engage only in political activism and not violence. Almost all of them pretend to have a democratic face. But make no mistake. The Tiger has not changed its stripes. The modus operandi of the LTTE linked organisations remains as unchanged as their agenda. There is no doubt that these groups will continue trying to create an enabling environment for a separate state internationally, while also encouraging the resumption of an armed struggle within Sri Lanka.
To understand why the LTTE linked organisations remain so powerful, we need to understand the electoral politics of western nations. The stances that Governments adopt are a consequence of their internal politics. Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and many parts of Europe have very large immigrant Tamil populations. These populations form notable voting blocs within electoral constituencies in those countries. Although the number of radicalised elements within the overall Tamil population is small, they are politically very active. These radicalised elements and LTTE-linked groups use skilful propaganda to project their anti-Sri Lanka objectives as goals the entire Tamil population is interested in.
A number of local politicians, state officials and even parliamentarians have been elected due to the voting power of such minority blocs in many countries. Quite often in western democracies, voter turnout is very low among traditional populations but high among immigrants. That is why the propaganda of the LTTE-linked groups is taken so seriously: politicians see courting immigrant Tamil votes as an aid to getting into power. Take the United Kingdom for example. When running for re-election as Mayor of London in 2008, Ken Livingstone sought the active support of the British Tamils Forum during his campaign. A number of Parliamentarians, (Keith Vaz, Simon Hughes and Andrew Pelling), all joined a protest march against the Humanitarian Operation organised by the BTF in London in January 2009. These were all attempts to court an important voting bloc in their constituencies.
The power wielded by the ex-LTTE groups in the domestic politics of foreign nations is not limited to its claim to speak for a significant vote base.
The financial strength possessed by the rump of the LTTE’s international network is also a formidable factor. Historically, the LTTE was able to raise large amounts of funds from the immigrant Tamil community through various means. These included funds generated through front organisations pretending to be involved in charitable works in Sri Lanka, through fundraising events and institutions including the Tamil schools, and through illegal activities such as extortion, drug smuggling and human trafficking.
At the time of its defeat, the global network of the LTTE had a lot of funds at its disposal. While control of these funds was somewhat dispersed after the elimination of the LTTE’s top leadership, and the breaking into factions of the remaining organisation, these assets are still out there. Through their current activities, the LTTE-linked groups are still able to generate a lot of income. This income enables them to forge close links with powerful individuals in the international community. For example, after losing her seat in parliament in 2010, British MP Joan Ryan was almost immediately hired by the Global Tamils Forum to be its Chief Executive.
The sympathy afforded to the LTTE-linked organisations by members of certain foreign Governments due to voting pressure and financial motivation is only one dimension of the problem. The LTTE-linked organisations also work tirelessly to canvass powerful individuals and groups within the larger international community to support its cause. This includes influential figures within global bodies such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth, members of various Rights groups and Non Governmental Organisations, and international media personalities. Financial support is sometimes offered to the organisations themselves. For example, Amnesty International recently accepted more than 50,000 dollars raised by the Canadian Tamil Congress. Through such activism, LTTE-linked groups in various countries systematically persuade individuals and groups in influential positions to accept their propaganda. It is little surprise that Amnesty International was one of the three groups that organised a screening of Channel 4’s propaganda programme at the European Parliament a few months ago. The influence the rump of the LTTE has on such international organisations allows it to demonise the Sri Lankan Government and portrays this country in the most negative of lights. As a result, a lot of pressure is built on the Government in the international arena.
This problem is perhaps most acute in the international media. The LTTE has long maintained close links with certain media establishments and individual journalists in order to promote its interests. These links have paid the LTTE great dividends. During the Humanitarian Operation, a number of international media organisations displayed great bias against the Sri Lankan Government. Supposedly respectable media outfits such as the United Kingdom’s Channel Four and others have even taken to broadcasting what seems to be little more than LTTE propaganda during the past two years. Although they are promoted as objective reports, these propagandist programmes have cast LTTE combatants in the role of neutral observers and reported baseless allegations and fabrications as pure fact. Because of their supposed objectivity and the general ignorance of foreign nationals about the true picture in Sri Lanka, these programmes can greatly influence foreign opinion against this country. This is a grave threat to our national security, because it contributes to an increasingly enabling environment for the separatist cause on the world stage.
While this problem seems to be mostly international, we must realise there is a possibility, though a remote one at this stage, that terrorists will reorganise within this country. As mentioned before, one of the stated objectives of the LTTE-linked groups abroad is to encourage and facilitate the resumption of an armed struggle in Sri Lanka. There is ample evidence that members of these groups, as well as LTTE cadres who managed to flee Sri Lanka during the Humanitarian Operation, are consistently trying to contact various people within this country and encourage them to regroup militarily.
We must not forget that there are also LTTE cadres who escaped detection and detention during the Humanitarian Operation, and are still at large in our society. Unlike the detainees and surrendered cadres, these individuals have not undergone rehabilitation and their terrorist intentions may remain unchanged. Even among the cadres who were rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, there could still be some individuals who have not entirely given up their belief in militancy.
Although the power of the Government to impede the activities of the LTTE-linked organisations abroad is limited, it has a much greater level of control within Sri Lanka. The Defence establishment is well aware of the potential threat of terrorism that continues to exist within this country. Action is being taken to guard against that potential threat becoming a real one. One of the primary ways to guard against the re-emergence of terrorism is the strengthening of our intelligence network. Intelligence is a critical tool in the fight against terrorism. During the Humanitarian Operation, numerous attempts to set off bombs in civilian areas and attacks on political targets were foiled through the work of our intelligence services.
I have confidence that the regrouping of armed cadres and the re-emergence of terrorism can be similarly curtailed through these services. At the same time, it is of critical importance that the Security Forces maintain a strong presence in areas that were traditionally used by the LTTE for terrorist activities.
Unfortunately, there are some parties even within Sri Lanka that question why the Defence establishment continues to be so large and why so much money is allocated in the national budget for the Defence Ministry. These parties seem to have forgotten the lessons of the recent past. We all know how the LTTE sprang up from being a small group of armed militants into one of the world’s largest and deadliest terrorist organisations within a short number of years. At its peak, the LTTE had more than 30,000 cadres, and had an extremely sophisticated land fighting force, a deadly naval wing and a fledgling air wing. During the terrorist war the LTTE waged against this nation, approximately 30,000 military personnel lost their lives, more than 25,000 became disabled and many thousands of civilians perished at its hands.
The LTTE was a deadly threat, and it is only two and a half years since its military arm was defeated. We are very much aware of the efforts being undertaken in the international arena by the LTTE-linked groups to keep the separatist cause alive. The regrouping and reorganising of terrorists within Sri Lanka is still a threat to our national security. It is only logical that the Government takes every precaution it can to guard against it. Maintaining a sizeable Army and establishing camps in strategic locations throughout Sri Lanka is essential. This is particularly true of the jungle areas in which the LTTE established camps, and through which it conducted its terrorist operations against our Security Forces.
Similarly, we are aware that one of the greatest strengths of the LTTE was its ability to smuggle weapons acquired through funds raised abroad into Sri Lanka through the sea. The LTTE was the only terrorist organisation in the world to develop an offensive air capability. It acquired this strength through light aircraft smuggled into Sri Lanka by way of the sea. In addition, it also smuggled in surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, artillery guns, heavy and medium mortar, armoured vehicles and enormous amounts of ammunition and explosives through the sea. To guard against the possibility of such things happening again, as well as to prevent other criminal activities including human trafficking, drug trafficking and also to prevent piracy in this region, it is essential that the capabilities of the Sri Lanka Navy be strengthened to enable it to dominate the sea.
In sum, even though the war ended two and a half years ago, there is still a need for the continued existence of a strong military within Sri Lanka. This is a fact that the vast majority of Sri Lankans are more than happy with. However, it is also a fact that a handful of people and groups with vested interests exploit in the political arena. They use the existence of a large military within Sri Lanka to manufacture claims about the “militarisation” of this country. The thrust of the complaint is that the military has a pervasive influence on day-to-day affairs, particularly in the North and East. This is a wilful distortion of the actual picture.
It is true that the civilian administrative system was not fully functional in the immediate aftermath of the Humanitarian Operation. Therefore, for a short period of time after May 2009, the military stepped in to fill the breach and assist in administrative activities which are carried out by civilians. However, now that the situation has normalised and the civil service is back in place, the military is no longer involved in administration. Even when it comes to the upholding of law and order, the role of the military has been drastically curtailed with the lifting of the emergency regulations. Day to day law and order activities have been completely entrusted to the Police. The claim that the military is involved in every aspect of day-to-day life in the current context is a gross misrepresentation of reality.
It must also be emphasised that, as a sovereign state, Sri Lanka has every right to set up military establishments in any part of its territory. The role of the military is ensuring the safety, security and sovereignty of this country. To do this, it must be ready to face any force that threatens the nation, whether internally or externally. That is why it is essential that military establishments, whether Army, Navy or Air Force, should be positioned in strategic locations. There are military establishments in every part of Sri Lanka. There are camps not just in the North and East, but also in the South, the hill country and in Colombo. The claim that this represents militarisation is pure nonsense.
The real reason for the claim about militarisation is that it is yet another ploy in the campaign to portray what is happening in Sri Lanka in the most negative of lights. It is a ploy aligned with the strategy of the LTTE-linked organisations to portray Sri Lanka as a nation using military might to persecute innocent Tamil people. This is a manufactured claim that is vastly at odds with Sri Lankan reality. However, it is a useful tool for the LTTE-linked organisations and the pro-separatist movement because it helps them construct an alternate reality in the eyes of foreign powers about what is happening in Sri Lanka. It is purely a political tool, and it is being deployed because the agenda of these parties has not changed.
Closely linked to the false, negative picture the LTTE-linked organisations try to project about Sri Lanka’s present is their attempt to tarnish the success of the Humanitarian Operation. Bringing Sri Lanka before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations and even to the International Criminal Court in Geneva is one of the goals of the rump of the LTTE. Having been defeated militarily, they seek to generate claims about war crimes and even try to use the term genocide in describing what happened in Sri Lanka. This is part of the strategy they employed throughout the conflict period. During the Humanitarian Operation too, it used the exact same terminology to build international pressure against Sri Lanka. It used all the influence it had cultivated over the years with foreign politicians, international organisations and media groups to try and prevent the defeat of its military organisation and save Prabhakaran and the rest of the LTTE’s leadership.
In reality, it was the LTTE that ruthlessly and frequently violated human rights and committed war crimes Aerial footage captured during the Humanitarian Operation showed to the world how LTTE cadres fired at the civilians trying to escape its clutches. Now there is more evidence coming to light about the brutal tactics it used to maintain power within its fast diminishing territory during the final stages. The LTTE tried to forcefully abduct some 600 children from families who had sought shelter in a church. When the church authorities resisted this attempt, it mercilessly shelled the church that same night. It piled up sick and wounded cadres and civilians onto a group of buses and then exploded them while they lay trapped helplessly within. During the very last days, the LTTE even exploded its ammunition dumps near civilian encampments as it realised that military defeat was inevitable.
There is little doubt that in the months and years to come, the rump of the LTTE organisation will only step up its efforts to damage Sri Lanka’s reputation in the international arena and drag this country before international bodies on war crimes charges. It represents nothing less than an effort by those keen to keep terrorism alive to disgrace the reputation of our brave professional servicemen who had the strength and courage to comprehensively eliminate terrorism from this country.
The primary issue being spoken about by the LTTE-linked organisations and their sympathisers is accountability for civilian casualties that took place during the Humanitarian Operation. In this context, there are several issues to note. First, it needs to be understood that in any conflict, a certain number of civilian casualties are bound to occur. This is particularly true in conflicts where civilians are used as a human shield by one of the warring factions, as the LTTE did. While the Government established a very clear zero casualty policy at the start of the Humanitarian Operation, this was mainly to emphasise safeguarding civilian lives as the foremost priority of the military. By maintaining this priority very clearly from the first day of operations to the last, it was possible to keep civilian casualties at a minimal level. Utmost care was always taken to minimise collateral damage during military operations. Nevertheless, as with all conflicts in all parts of the world, some civilian casualties would have taken place.
Ascertaining the extent of these casualties has been the Government’s intention for some time.
The approach the Government has taken in this regard has been professional. The Department of Census and Statistics, which is the official Government Department for such matters, was asked to conduct a complete census of the area in question. In the questionnaire that was used, the issue of those who died or went missing during the Humanitarian Operation was directly addressed. With the completion of the census, it should be possible to identify by name all or most of such persons. The census is complete, and the report is being prepared. It will be released in the near future. What can be stated beyond doubt is that the overall number of actual deaths is nowhere near the amount claimed by various parties with various agendas. The number is certainly far too small to give any credence to the absurd accusation of genocide often made by the LTTE-linked organisations.
Second, it is also important to realise that the total number of dead and missing will include people in the several categories:
-Those who died of natural causes
-Those who died of accidents
-Those who left this country through illegal means, particularly by boat to India or to South East Asia, and from there to the West
-Those who died whilst fighting as members of the LTTE
-Those who died as a result of being coerced to fight by the LTTE
-Those who died as a result of resisting the LTTE.
It is only for the remaining deaths that the Sri Lankan Military can bear any sort of responsibility. This number is too small to lend credence to the allegation of irresponsible mass military action that is at the heart of the claims about war crimes made by the rump of the LTTE and its sympathisers.
A closely related issue to the number of civilian deaths during the Humanitarian Operation is the allegation of impunity that is levelled against the military. Again, those who level this criticism have very little understanding of the true picture. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are not some ragtag groups assembled at random and sent to war, but historic institutions with a long and distinguished track record of professionalism and discipline. The military’s officer cadre comprises people of a very high calibre. They have received ample training, including university education, not just in Sri Lanka but in prestigious military academies all over the world. The military has well-established internal mechanisms, including directorates for the upholding Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. It also has a strong military justice system to deal with offenses of any kind. During the course of the Humanitarian Operations, the specific allegations made against military personnel were investigated, and allegations considered credible are being and will be dealt with under both military and civil law.
Of course, it must also be understood that there is a distinct difference between the actions of individuals operating on their own accord outside the bounds of military obligations and any military operations undertaken for the achievement of specific military objectives. A soldier raping someone has nothing to do with military operations. It is a criminal act that can also be dealt with under the general law. However, if somebody is targeted and killed through a military operation for having been involved in terrorist activities, that is a legitimate military objective which takes place for the upholding of national security. Perhaps the best example of such an operation in recent times is the assassination of Osama bin Laden. There is an argument that he could have been captured alive. However, the position of the US Government is that bin Laden was a grave threat to national security and that he was therefore killed in a covert operation by the United States military. The same standard should be applied to situations in smaller, less powerful countries such as Sri Lanka.
Yet another issue brought into international focus by those critical of Sri Lanka is reconciliation. The principle thrust of the criticism is that not enough is being done. Here, again, there is some misunderstanding about the actual situation in Sri Lanka. Reconciliation is certainly important, but what is necessary in Sri Lanka is vastly different from what was needed in other countries about which the term is often used. Sri Lanka is not, for example, a nation that suffered from a dictatorial undemocratic Government that ruled for many years over a marginalised population. It is instead a fully-fledged democracy. During the period of the conflict, a number of Presidents and Governments from different parties were elected by the people to govern the country. Despite the conflict, all people outside the North and East lived in peace with security and dignity. Communal harmony prevailed. Even the majority population of the commercial capital is no longer Sinhalese. On the contrary, Colombo has been a shining example of multicultural coexistence for many years. Replicating its success throughout Sri Lanka is only a matter of time and economic growth. It is quite evident that the reconciliation necessary in this country is not quite the same thing that those who talk about it, particularly outside Sri Lanka, often imagine it to be.
Nevertheless, the Government took steps not long after the end of the Humanitarian Operation to establish the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. This Commission was mandated to study all matters connected with the conflict, including the breakdown of the ceasefire and the Humanitarian Operation. Its report has been released, and it has made certain comments on existing issues as well as recommendations to overcome them. This is a large, comprehensive report that is presently being studied. Once its contents have been assimilated, the Government will decide on how best to implement the proposals made by the Commission. It is therefore clear that the criticism levelled against the Government with regard to reconciliation is both out of context and grossly premature.
The attempt to internationalise the situation in Sri Lanka, and the harsh criticism being levelled against this country by parties with vested interests is particularly unfortunate in today’s context. The Government of Sri Lanka has done an enormous amount of work since the end of the Humanitarian Operation to bring back normalcy to a long-suffering segment of our population. Soon after the defeat of the LTTE, particular attention was paid to the North, where there were several issues that needed to be addressed urgently. The most pressing of these was resettling the 294,000 Internally Displaced People who had been the LTTE’s human shield during the last stages of the war. The areas they were displaced from had been mined heavily by the LTTE as it retreated. Demining these areas quickly was critical to resettlement, and it is pleasing to note that demining was carried out at an unprecedented pace. The Sri Lanka Army did the bulk of the work while several Non Governmental Organisations and foreign agencies provided a lot of assistance. As demining progressed, reconstruction of villages and resettlement of IDPs took place. Most of the demining work is now complete and there are less than 3,000 IDPs remaining in camps today. It has to be emphasised that these people are staying in the camps voluntarily, and that they will be resettled as soon as their villages are fully de-mined and deemed safe for occupation.
Another critical issue the Government faced involved the 11,000 former LTTE cadres who surrendered or were detained during the course of the Humanitarian Operation. Despite the fact that all of them had been engaged in terrorist activities, the Government took the bold decision to rehabilitate and reintegrate the vast majority of them to society without delay. That was a commendable decision that speaks volumes for the Government’s commitment to reconciliation, and it should be noted that such generosity has rarely been shown to similar detainees in other parts of the world. Neither in Afghanistan nor Iraq nor in any other recent conflict have combatants been rehabilitated and reintegrated with such speed.
Unfortunately, some sections of the international community are wilfully blind to this fact and continue to criticise the Government on the issue of detentions. But any examination of the facts will show the truth. There were 595 child soldiers among the 11,000 LTTE cadres in Government custody. They were rehabilitated under a programme supported by UNICEF and reunited with their families within one year. All adult cadres also underwent extensive rehabilitation programmes. Psychological care, spiritual therapy and vocational training were provided, and the vast majority of them have now been reintegrated with society. Only a small number of cadres with known higher-level involvement in LTTE activities have been earmarked for prosecution. Today, there are less than 700 detainees remaining in Government custody.
In addition to demining, resettlement and rehabilitation, the Government has also provided a great deal of assistance to citizens in the North to help them resume normal lives. Support has been given for the restoration of livelihoods. This includes concessionary financing being extended to individuals for farming, fishing, and business. Markets and other facilities to support these activities are being rapidly developed. Infrastructure development has also been expedited. Programmes are underway to rapidly develop roads, rail, electricity, and irrigation. It should be emphasised that the military is playing a key role in undertaking these development programmes, as these are considered high priority and difficult for civil organisations to handle on their own. Through all these means, the Government is working very hard to restore normalcy to those civilians who suffered for so many years because of the LTTE’s dominance in those areas.
Perhaps the most critical gain resulting from peace is the restoration of democracy and democratic institutions to that part of the country. Despite the war ending less than three years ago, local authority elections, provincial council elections, a Presidential election and a General election have all been held over the past two years. Last year in the North, people were able to exercise their franchise freely and without fear for the first time in three decades. It should be noted that international observers had few adverse comment about the conduct of all these elections. That electoral transparency and political plurality has returned to these areas is clear from the results of these elections, in which the Tamil National Alliance did well. However, the Government party ran a close second in a number of Districts. That is a significant achievement in a region that suffered for so long under a virtual dictatorship.
Apart from the threat posed by the reorganisation of LTTE-linked groups abroad and what is happening in Sri Lanka, another critical factor to consider is the broader geopolitical situation in this part of the world.
All of you should be aware that the part of the world between the Horn of Africa and the Pacific is becoming increasingly important in international economics, politics and military activities. Emerging economies in this region are shifting the axis of global trade and commerce away from the west. Global energy security, industrial activity and even financial stability are increasingly dependent on what is happening in the Asian region. Asia is also critical for global security, as most of the countries from which terrorist groups like al-Qaeda draw their strength lie within this region. For all these reasons, increasing global attention is being paid to Asia. Sri Lanka is situated in a uniquely strategic geographical position within this region. That fact has focused the attention of many western powers on our country. They are all keen to see that Sri Lanka never aligns itself with anyone other than them. They are particularly worried that Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly close to powers emerging from this part of the world.
In this context, there is a strong misperception that exists internationally and even in Sri Lanka about the extent of Chinese influence on this country. The fear in this regard is unfounded. China is a country that Sri Lanka has had a close relationship with for many years. The primary involvement of China in Sri Lanka is in commerce and trade. In this regard, Sri Lanka is little different to a number of countries around the world. China is fast becoming one of the world’s greatest economic powers, and its commercial links and economic influence on other nations will only increase as befits a nation of its strength. This is only natural, and not something to be unduly worried about. Sri Lanka has many friends on the global stage. China is one of them. There is no reason for anyone in Sri Lanka or outside to worry about the relationship between our two nations.
A more realistic potential threat to our national security is the possibility that certain groups may strive to create instability in Sri Lanka through indirect methods. Having seen political change accomplished in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya through uprising, some parties that have failed to achieve their objectives through democratic means might resort to such activities even here. This is only a very minor possibility, but we have already seen certain groups encouraging students to take to the streets in various protests in the recent past. To a certain extent, such protests are perfectly fine as long as they are peaceful, do not disrupt the life of the people, and does not obstruct university education overall.
Under such conditions, they are in fact an encouraging indicator of the robustness of our democracy. Unfortunately, there could be some who seek to expand these protests into something less peaceful and therefore less conducive to democratic dialogue. We need to be aware of this possibility and guard against it. The last thing Sri Lanka needs now is for our fast-tracked economic development to be derailed by instability.
Sri Lanka is a democratic nation. The true value of democracy is that engagement with the Government is not only possible but also welcome. The democratic process will sort out the disagreements that are bound to arise from time to time. The Government must and will listen to the voice of the people. Unlike the countries in which dictatorships reigned before being derailed by popular uprising, if the people wish to change the Government in Sri Lanka, they can do so without any problem at the polling booth. In actual fact, elections at every level have been held all over Sri Lanka over the last two years, and it is clear from the results that the popularity of the Government is extremely high. Any group or person trying to resort to non-democratic means to destabilise Sri Lanka because they have not achieve their objectives within the democratic process should be resisted and rejected.
In this context, it is important for all of us who believe in our motherland to stand together and work towards the betterment of the nation, irrespective of our political differences. Unfortunately there are a handful of Sri Lankans who do not seem to care for their homeland. Speaking to the media, publishing articles and making presentations at various forums, these individuals harshly criticise not only the Government because of whatever ill feelings they harbour against it, but also speak against the country as a whole. While their ability to speak in this fashion demonstrates the freedom of speech that exists in Sri Lanka, their actions are unwarranted.
Whatever disagreements one may have with the Government, speaking or writing or working against the nation itself is not just unpatriotic but treacherous. Such actions beg the question whether there is a hidden agenda behind such actions; an agenda that is not far removed from the one shared by those who seek to destabilise this country.
During the course of this lecture I have highlighted a number of national security threats that face this nation. We must face reality and guard against all eventualities. It is of vital importance for all of us to protect the peace that has been regained after so long and at such cost. We must stand firm and not allow anyone to drive this country back to the state it was in during the past thirty years. As a nation, Sri Lanka has had more than its fair share of suffering. We must all work together to put the past behind us, and work towards a brighter future for this nation and all her people.
That will be the best defence against those who seek to oppose us. Let us all work together to make this better future a reality.