By Shenali Waduge
It was a shock to most and explains why sections are reluctant still to praise or even acknowledge the defeat of LTTE terrorism achieved in 3 years of a conflict that has lasted 30 years of Sri Lanka’s 64years of independence. Terrorists are enemies of peace and it remains a puzzle why a country should be chided instead of praised for defeating terrorists. Nonetheless, a country that was able to defeat terrorism took on the next challenge posed by the world. The result in just three years following the military and humanitarian success achieved in May 2009 is no secondary achievement and the world must finally laud Sri Lanka in particular the armed forces for meeting those challenges.
The 2012 conference under the theme “Towards a Lasting Peace and Stability” proudly communicated to the world Sri Lanka’s success in its handling of reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconciliation – the 5Rs, following a 6+1 Rehabilitation program created, designed and implemented by the military that leaves little room for criticism other than constructive for no military in the world has been able to show such results. The sheer professionalism put into organizing an international event bringing together over 160 delegates from 60 nations was no small task and learning from the inaugural conference held in 2011, the armed forces took care of the minutest detail to showcase its prowess in merging civil-military cooperation.
In the keynote address one of the finest made by any public official, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse with precision ran through every area that the Sri Lankan military addressed in a program that was indigenously designed.
There is no military that has saved 295,873 civilians and it is against this actual number that unverifiable figures are thrown to demean that success citing genocide and intentional civilian killing. Next came the calls to resettle people without taking into consideration the possible dangers of the land areas that LTTE had mined in areas it controlled for decades. The irony is that much of these insults were endorsed by the very agencies that had offices inside the LTTE-areas who were privy to the atrocities that LTTE committed and quite aptly calls for investigations on their role as suggested by MP Rajiva Wijesinghe in his presentation for their links with LTTE. Such insults have got nullified by the scale of achievements that the military has achieved.
98% of the 5000 sq.km demining process is now complete and by end of August 2012 the entire process is to be declared complete and ready for occupation. Anyone aware of demining would know how arduous a task it is and it is to the credit of the Sri Lankan army that they prioritized by clearing first the main towns and villages as well as the agricultural land and what is now left is the forest areas. Critics need to be mindful that these were all areas that had been neglected since the early 1980s.
When the world demands development and resettlement of civilians they fail to take into account that the northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka were neglected by the LTTE that cared little to uplift the needs of its own people except to build plush bunkers, sophisticated LTTE offices and homes for LTTE families. Many of the land people once owned are now claimed by others who had been living in the premises for over 10 years. These are legally acceptable factors critics ignore to consider. The challenge was to bridge the decades of neglect to roads, schools, railways, other infrastructure and even hospitals. The infrastructure development was spearheaded by several Presidential Task Forces and road network has been expedited with railways from Omanthai to Palali to be complete in 2013, Medawachchiya to Madhu to be complete in 2013 and Palali to Kankasanthurai to be complete in 2014. The emphasis made towards developing agricultural infrastructure has enabled the people of the North to return to their agri-business, fishing etc and anyone traveling north will see the green surroundings. The entire country is now open for its people to travel north to south and south to north and they will naturally renew the ties that became severed because of factors that have nothing to do with “ethnic” rivalries. The influx of foreign visitors including expats also reveals the level of stability and security restored by the armed forces. This is another area that needs to be clearly articulated as espoused by Indian MP Subramaniam Swamy during his presentation.
The rescued civilians contrary to the international propaganda communicated of being put up in “internment camps” were put up in 5 welfare villages. Water, sanitation, food and nutrition concerns were all looked into, special psychiatric and psychological support, yoga and sports facilities were provided, happiness centers for kids were created, classes were held for children who had been denied education by the LTTE and all these achievements serve to nullify the lies and falsehoods promoted over media. There remains only a few thousands to be resettled once the final stages of the demining is over – once the UNDP gives the certificate of approval. Over 150 delegations have visited these welfare villages though none of their statements praising the level of satisfaction ever gets much publicity.
The conference delegates watched in awe how former LTTE child combatants were performing dances, singing one of whom went on to become a lead actor in a film and another who gave his account of how the LTTE kidnapped him at the age of 11 and soon to complete rehabilitation to finally be reunited with his family. A mass marriage under the auspices of the military enabled former LTTE combatants to marry and with state assistance begin their married life on a plot of land engaging in an employment taught to them.
In another first which naturally does not get highlighted or given due recognition is the fact that ALL child combatants were given a presidential pardon and were afforded the opportunity to return to studies and nurture the talents that for years they had been denied by the LTTE. The 594 child combatants were put through a program of vocational training, spiritual development, counseling, aesthetic and drama and reunified with their families. These children have even been able to sit for competitive exams for the first time in their lives. 46 vocational courses offered have enabled these children to choose from an array of self-employment opportunities that has become further facilitated by the Government offering to facilitate loans without security. From a total of 11989 LTTE cadres who had either surrendered or been caught in combat only 636 remain in 4 rehabilitation centers while 393 ex-combatants will face formal charges and legal action will be taken against them.
Some ex-combatants have even been absorbed into the civil defense force and are now involved in development activities. For all those that seem to enjoy referring to Sri Lanka’s police and armed forces being exclusively “Sinhalese” need to be told that it was the LTTE that put an end to Tamils joining the police by killing Tamil policemen on duty and those returning home from duty. Close to 800 Tamil police officers have already been recruited though it is prudent to ensure all armed forces and police personnel are sufficiently literate in Tamil which the Tri-lingual policy launched in 2011 will help facilitate.
With every criticism raised being nullified with the achievements of the military, the frenzy to continue onslaughts has not abated and the most recent accusation is the “militarization” of the northern and eastern areas in a bid to project a picture of unwanted military personnel in these areas. Associated to the accusations of “militarization” nullified by the Defense Secretary himself was the fact that even prior to the LTTE’s terrorist onslaught the Government of Sri Lanka had key military bases throughout the north. Therefore, military bases were nothing that was new to be surprised or fussed over. The next arduous tasked to the military is to disarm all armed groups that had taken arms to protect themselves against LTTE and there is little doubt that the military would expeditiously attend to this requirement also.
Dr. Subramaniam Swamy has set the record straight about the gratitude of ordinary Tamils towards the victory citing that other than the Tamil politicians and naturally some elements of the LTTE Diaspora the rest are happy with the outcome and the defeat of the LTTE and these synergize with many other non-politically motivated references to how grateful the Tamil people are to the armed forces especially seen in the non-Jaffna dominated areas of the northern peninsula where the popularity of the armed forces are at an all time high wherein they are treated with more respect than the Tamil politicians selling stories for international mileage. It is for these reasons that when the military is invited as chief guests to public and even school events jealous sections attempt to severe the blossoming ties.
Undoubtedly the military has taken an unconventional and unorthodox role but proudly shown its contribution towards nation-building through demining, housing and shelter programs and the ongoing disarming of armed groups. The soldiers who have built homes for the rescued Tamil civilians do not have proper homes of their own, the soldiers who have been subject to false international humiliation campaigns were those that handed out their own food rations to the Tamil civilians that had been deprived of food by the LTTE, the soldiers whom are accused of genocide and mass murder were the one’s who carried Tamil civilians to safety, giving drinking water to quench the thirst and medical aid to those injured. Every single humanitarian gesture of Sri Lanka’s armed forces can be proved while the accusers have only unverifiable, inflated rhetoric which become “accepted” in view of the international positions they hold none of which have served to give any relief to the people of war torn areas in the 30 years that terrorism prevailed. It was only after the entry of the armed forces that the entire north and east are now abuzz. It is a momentum that ordinary Tamils do not want to lose but that sight is something those desiring to continue the “conflict” cannot bear to watch.
Reconciliation is the area that Sri Lanka will next be targeted upon. Reconciliation cannot take place to timelines, it cannot take place simply because someone orders so from abroad or even from Colombo. Reconciliation takes time and it has no hierarchy and it reports to no one. It is a natural process of relationship building that takes into factors that are both tangible and intangible. Reconciliation can never be hurried and it cannot be delegated especially to external parties. There are no benchmarks and there are no templates and while Sri Lanka has developed an indigenous model to handle the 5Rs, we can confidently say it cannot be replicated. In other words – Sri Lanka has accepted the challenges, our armed forces have achieved what no military has achieved and every accusation has been nullified by facts and proof and what remains to be said is that we now need space to heal and we do not need any interference whatsoever from any external countries outside of our territorial waters.
When truth is misconstrued, when facts are twisted with falsehoods when praise is replaced with accusations we have only to say that an army internationally referred to as “Sinhalese army” is responsible for supplying blood to the entire people of the North because the Tamils do not wish to donate blood to their own due to caste differences. If Sri Lanka’s army were as cruel as is being projected would they give their own blood to save Tamils? Anyone challenging this can speak to Security Forces Commander Jaffna – Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe to reconfirm. Can any of the unverifiable sources referred to in the Darusman Report remotely come close to challenging the achievements of the Sri Lanka armed forces? Hardly.
Let not anyone deny the Sri Lanka armed forces their due credit for the tremendous work they have done post-conflict for it comes in par with the historic military victory they achieved over terrorism. Sri Lanka chose its own model for rehabilitation while countries accusing Sri Lanka make profit from incarceration. The role of the military post-conflict has not only helped build bridges the fact that the very army once projected as the foe and enemy are the one’s the Tamil people now look up to giving a greater meaning to their role which the military has accepted with humbleness seen in the manner they conducted the 2nd successive international conference.
Excellent presentations led by Defense Secretary Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse were followed by made by Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe and Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne chaired by Secretary to the Presidential Task Force – Mr. S. B. Divaratne. Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe (Com Gen. Rehabilitation), Brig. Dharshana Hettiarachchi and Maj Gen A W J C de Silva.
Ministers G.L.Pieris, Mahinda Samarasinghe, MP Rajiva Wijesinghe also spoke.
Foreign Speakers were headed by MP Subrananium Swamy, Maj. Gen. Shergil, Brig Gen (Retd) Dr. Russell Howard – USA, Maj Gen (Retd) Dr. Douglas Stone – USA, Prof. Arie Kruglanski (USA), Sir Bill Jeffrey – UK, Col James Robinson – USA.
Other speakers were Mrs. Imelda Sukumar (former GA Jaffna and present Secretary Ministry of Social Services), Dr. Malkanthi Hettiarachchi, Dr. Safras, Ajit Nivard Cabraal (Governor Central Bank) and summed up to perfection by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga (Secretary to the President) in whom the next challenge of remotivating the entire public sector now rests.
A small Asian nation such as Sri Lanka has shown how political will can with direction eliminate the scrooge of terrorism, this small nation has shown how against the odds its military carried out a dual operation that succeeded in militarily defeating the LTTE, differentiating the LTTE from Tamil Civilians, rescuing them and bringing them to safety which led LTTE combatants to realize that there was hope for them leading to their ultimate surrender and reintegration to society after a program of indigenous rehabilitation – that success is one of many firsts and the world is bound to at least acknowledge if reluctant to offer praise.
Sri Lanka remains proud of Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces and salute their achievements.
The opinions expressed are the author’s own