Sri Lanka today is one of the most secure and stable countries in the entire …

Sri Lanka today is one of the most secure and stable countries in
the entire world-Secretary Defence

Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban
Development Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa today (24 Nov), delivering the key
note speech at the Inaugural National Conference on Reconciliation: “The
Way Forward for Post Conflict Sri Lanka” said “Sri Lanka today is not
only one of the most secure and stable countries in Asia but in the
entire world.”

The Secretary briefly explained how the LTTE unleashed
its terror on the citizens of this country, starting from the
assignation of Mr. Alfred Duraiappa, the Mayor of Jaffna, in 1975 to the
end of Humanitarian Operation concluded in May 2009.

Further the Secretary Defence went on to explain that
how the countrymen irrespective of ethnicity, religion or political
affiliation, are reaping the rewards of peace, and he said that freedom
of movement, restoration of democracy and improvement of the country’s
economy are significant achievements with the return peace. “The return
of peace, the restoration of freedom and democracy, and the prospect of
a resurgent economy have all been made possible by the success of the
Humanitarian Operation that put an end to the terrorist activities of
the LTTE” he said.

The full text of the speech:

I am grateful to the Honourable G. L. Pieris, Minister
of External Affairs, for having invited me to deliver the keynote
address at the inaugural National Conference on Reconciliation, hosted
by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and
Strategic Studies. The late Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar was a great
servant of this nation, whose determined and selfless contributions to
Sri Lanka were tragically cut short by an LTTE sniper in August 2005.
During his life, Mr. Kadirgamar strongly believed that “People who live
in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans”. As this country builds
its future on the foundation of peace resulting from the defeat of
terrorism, these are words for us all to remember.

Sri Lanka’s experience with terrorism began in the
1970s. By the time His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
assumed office in December 2005, terrorist activities in this country
had continued for nearly thirty years. During these 3 decades, the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam unleashed waves of terror that caused
untold suffering for all Sri Lankans. The list of its atrocities is
long. The LTTE carried out ethnic cleansing in the North and parts of
the East, brutally driving out more than 100,000 Sinhalese and Muslim
civilians from their homes. The LTTE attacked places of worship
including the Sri Maha Bodhiya, the Temple of the Tooth, several
churches, and also carried out massacres at Mosques. The LTTE’s
countless attacks on the vulnerable villages near areas they dominated,
together with the bombs they unleashed in the rest of the country,
killed approximately 9,800 civilians and grievously wounded more than
10,000.

The LTTE continually attacked vital national
infrastructure in its bid to disrupt normal life and cause maximum
casualties to civilians. Its attack on the Central Bank in the heart of
Colombo in 1996 killed 86 and wounded more than 1,300, and it also put
at risk the entire financial system whilst badly damaging much of the
financial hub. Its numerous attacks on the Kolonnawa oil refinery, as
well as its attacks on the Kelanitissa and Kerawalapitiya power plants
were intended to cripple the country by attacking its energy
infrastructure. Its attack carried out at the International Airport in
2001 destroyed several passenger aircraft and caused untold damage to
the entire tourism industry. Its attack on the Central Bus Stand in Fort
killed over 100 people and injured close to 300, and its numerous
attacks on train and buses all over the country killed hundreds more,
spreading panic in the country at large. The LTTE was relentless in its
use of suicide cadres, car bombs, truck bombs, and even light aircraft
in carrying out these attacks to destabilise Sri Lankan society, and it
showed sophistication and ruthlessness beyond any other terrorist group
in the world in pursuing its objectives.

The LTTE’s skill at political assassinations was
another defining feature of its campaign of terror. Mr. Alfred Duraiappa,
the Mayor of Jaffna, was the LTTE’s first political target in 1975.
Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne was killed in a bomb attack carried
out in 1991. Former Deputy Minister of Defence Lalith Athulathmudali was
killed in 1993. Opposition Presidential Candidate Gamini Dissanayake was
killed along with Parliamentarians G. M. Premachandra, Weerasinghe
Mallimarachchi, Ossie Abeygunasekara, and numerous others in a bombing
just before the Presidential Election in 1994. Killings by the LTTE
continued through to the recent past, with Ministers D. M. Dassanayake
and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle being killed in 2008. The most notable
assassinations carried out by the LTTE were the killing of former Indian
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the killing of serving Sri
Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. In sum, the LTTE killed 7
Cabinet Ministers, 37 Parliamentarians and more than 50 office bearing
political figures during its terror campaign. Its intention was to
undermine Sri Lanka’s democracy.

The overall impact of the LTTE’s terrorism was
devastating. In addition to the thousands of casualties it caused, the
aura of fear and uncertainty it created had a severe impact on all Sri
Lankans. In areas outside the LTTE’s control, ordinary peoples’
day-to-day lives were transformed. Parents did not travel together in
the same vehicle for fear of orphaning their children by getting caught
in a bomb blast. Students’ school attendance dropped every time rumours
spread about impending terrorist attacks. Law and order deteriorated as
terrorism fostered crime and corruption. The underworld became more
powerful and its members gained access to arms and ammunition from
various armed groups operating in the country at large. An entire
generation grew up under a veil of fear.

In areas under LTTE dominance, matters were even
worse. The LTTE did not tolerate any opposition. It assassinated
democratic leaders and intellectuals in the Tamil community in order to
style itself the sole representative of the Tamil people. In this
effort, it killed such democratic politicians as former Opposition
Leader A. Amirthalingam, Secretary General of the Tamil United
Liberation Front, Mr. Y. Yogeshwaran and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam of the
same party, Mr. Sam Thambimuttu and Mr. K Pathmabanda of the EPRLF.

In addition to moderate politicians, the LTTE also
assassinated the leaders of other armed groups in these areas, including
C. Thanabalasingham of the TNT, K Sundaram of PLOTE and Sri Sabaratnam
of TELO. On occasion, the LTTE even wiped out the entire command
structure of groups it saw as opponents. By eliminating all rivals, the
LTTE was able to keep the people in the areas it dominated under a
virtual dictatorship. Though it pretended, at its height, to have a
judicial system and a police force, these were shams constructed to
disguise a territory ruled at gunpoint. No one in those areas was truly
safe; no one was truly free.

Apart from all this, the simple fact that a ruthless
terrorist group was operational in the country and dominated parts of
its territory had a devastating impact on Sri Lanka’s prospects. The
economy stagnated. Infrastructure development could not be given due
priority. Large areas of fertile land were inaccessible for agriculture.
Restrictions on sea movements affected the fishing industry. Bad
publicity and adverse travel advisories kept tourists away.
Industrialisation was virtually halted as both local and foreign
investment slowed to a trickle. Many of our best and brightest sought to
build safer lives for themselves away from Sri Lanka, resulting in brain
drain. Most of the economic growth that took place was localised in the
Western Province and the largest cities in the other provinces. The
North and East were virtually isolated. The political, social and
economic costs of terrorism set back Sri Lanka’s national progress by
many years.

When His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to
the Presidency in 2005, he had a mandate from the people to end the
terrorist conflict once and for all. This was a daunting task. Four
previous Presidents as well as several successive Governments comprising
various political parties had grappled with the issue of LTTE terrorism
without success. Over the years, a range of different approaches
including military campaigns, peace talks, and even international
mediation had been tried. None had succeeded.

The first peace talks took place in 1985 in Thimpu,
Bhutan. The LTTE was one of several Tamil groups participating in these
talks. During the ceasefire granted by the Government to facilitate the
talks, it strengthened itself militarily by obtaining AK-47 machine
guns, Rocket Propelled Grenades and explosives. After the talks failed,
the LTTE used the military advantage it had gained to systematically
attack and decimate the other Tamil groups. By 1987, when the Indian
intervention occurred at a time the Sri Lankan Government was in a
position to end the conflict militarily, the LTTE was the dominant
militant group. Its refusal to surrender arms and its many provocations
during that period led to the Indian Peace Keeping Force becoming
combatants in the conflict. Eventually, more than 1,100 soldiers of the
IPKF were killed and over 2,700 wounded in combat with the LTTE.

By 1989, the LTTE was weakened and once again sought
the respite of a ceasefire. As a gesture of goodwill, the Government
requested the IPKF to leave Sri Lanka. In June 1990, in the middle of
peace talks with the Government, the LTTE unilaterally broke the
ceasefire and returned to violence. It launched severe attacks against
Muslim civilians, killing nearly 150 during prayers at Kathankudy and
more than 170 in Eravur, Batticalao. It then expelled the 75,000 Muslim
residents of Jaffna. LTTE violence continued until October 1994, when
the Government once again offered to negotiate in the hope of a peaceful
settlement. The ceasefire entered into was once again unilaterally
broken by the LTTE in 1995 when they destroyed naval gunboats at
Trincomalee harbour. Not long after, the LTTE used Surface to Air
missiles obtained during the preceding ceasefire to shoot down aircraft
of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Despite the long history of LTTE treachery during
peace talks, the Government of Sri Lanka continued trying to end the
conflict through peaceful means. In 2001, the Norwegian facilitated
peace process commenced. The LTTE never took action to address any
substantive issues during this period. Instead, it exploited all the
concessions granted under the ceasefire to strengthen itself militarily.
The LTTE acquired new arms, ammunition and equipment, including light
aircraft. The LTTE recruited more cadres, including child soldiers, and
its strength grew to approximately 25,000. Although the peace process
was stalled and the ceasefire was nominally in place, it was clear that
the LTTE was gearing up for war just as it had done during each previous
peace process.

Despite the LTTE’s history of insincerity and its
opportunism during the ceasefire period, the President was keen to
restart the stalled peace process as soon as he was elected into office.
His intention was to resolve the conflict peacefully. Towards this end,
he repeatedly requested the LTTE to come for direct talks with the
Government. Instead of responding genuinely, the LTTE misused the
attempted peace talks in 2006 and intensified its provocative behaviour.
It relentlessly attacked key military targets, including our
highest-ranking officers, and continued to carry out acts of mindless
violence against innocent civilians.

The Government bore these provocations with patience
for many months, until the LTTE threatened a major humanitarian disaster
by shutting down the sluice gates at Maavilaru in July 2006. This was a
key irrigation canal for agriculture in the East, and its closure cut
off water to thousands of acres of farmland and over five thousand
households. Over 9,500 Muslims, 8,000 Sinhalese and 4,400 Tamils were
left without access to water by this inhuman act, and immediate action
was needed to prevent a major catastrophe. When all peaceful efforts to
resolve the problem failed, the Government had no option but to launch a
limited military operation to reopen the sluice gates.

During the initial stages of that operation, the LTTE
attacked military positions around the Trincomalee harbour and launched
attacks in the North shortly afterwards. It was clear that the closure
of the Maavilaru sluice gate had only been the LTTE’s first move in a
well-planned offensive. Because of the immediate threat to strategic
military positions, the Government expanded the limited operation that
had been launched to liberate Maavilaru. Considering the long history of
the LTTE’s atrocities against the people of Sri Lanka and its repeated
rejections of all efforts for a peaceful settlement, including those
efforts with international mediation, the Government decided to rid the
country of the LTTE menace once and for all. In three and a half years,
that objective was achieved.

Today, Sri Lanka is a nation at peace. As a result of
the Humanitarian Operation to defeat terrorism, the primary obstacle to
Sri Lanka’s prospects-the LTTE-has been removed. In looking back at what
has happened over the last two years, the benefits this country has
gained through the dismantling the LTTE are very clear. The senseless
killing has stopped. Irrespective of ethnicity, religion or political
affiliation, all Sri Lankans are reaping the rewards of peace. The
quality of life has improved tremendously. With the constant threat of
terrorism removed, people can live their lives in full and without fear.
Sri Lanka today is not only one of the most secure and stable countries
in Asia but in the entire world.

Perhaps the most heartening outcome of the dawn of
peace has been the freedom of movement that all Sri Lankans finally
enjoy. People are able to travel throughout the entire country without
being impeded; the numbers travelling from North to South, and vice
versa, are truly remarkable. The number of expatriates travelling to the
North is also extremely noteworthy. Thousands of people from nearly 100
countries have returned to Sri Lanka to visit the homes they left behind
during the dark days of the conflict. This is a very encouraging sign,
and one of the great benefits of the restoration of peace.

Another critical gain from peace is the holding of
free and fair elections in every part of Sri Lanka. Local authority
elections, provincial council elections, a Presidential election and a
General election have all been held over the past two years. In the
areas formerly dominated by the LTTE, people exercised their franchise
without fear for the first time in three decades. The fact that
political plurality has returned to these areas is clear from the
results of these elections. The swift restoration of democracy to those
parts of Sri Lanka previously under LTTE dominance is something to be
proud of. Further, it needs to be noted that many former militants are
now playing an active role in politics. The LTTE’s one time Eastern
Province Commander, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, also known as Karuna
Amman, is a junior Cabinet Minister. A former LTTE child soldier,
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, also known as Pillayan, is the Chief
Minister of the Eastern Province. A number of former LTTE cadres have
also become Chairmen of local government bodies. Their participation in
the political process demonstrates the robustness of Sri Lanka’s
democracy, and highlights the focus on reconciliation.

The economy is also showing marked signs of
improvement. With thousands of acres of arable land once again
accessible, and key irrigation infrastructure being restored,
agriculture is poised to expand significantly in the coming years. With
the removal of the restrictions that had to be enforced due to
terrorism, the fishing industry has already rebounded and registered
tremendous growth. With the withdrawing of adverse travel advisories and
the knowledge that the country is finally at peace, tourist arrivals
have increased significantly. Local and foreign investment is on the
rise, and new commercial activity is starting to take place in
previously ignored areas. Sri Lanka is finally in a position to realise
the economic potential that has been pent up for so many years.

The return of peace, the restoration of freedom and
democracy, and the prospect of a resurgent economy have all been made
possible by the success of the Humanitarian Operation that put an end to
the terrorist activities of the LTTE. However, it should be noted that
the rump of the LTTE is still active outside Sri Lanka, and is still
attempting to tarnish the image of this nation and set back the peace
that was achieved two years ago. We must remain vigilant, and not allow
ourselves to be divided or distracted by their destructive agenda.
Having been so closely linked with the terrorist cause, they seem unable
to let go of their outmoded ideas and face the reality of a united and
peaceful Sri Lanka. Instead of providing any support for the on-going
reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, the sole interest of these
parties is in casting aspersions against the Government.

The true commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to
all its citizens can be gauged by the actions it took in the aftermath
of the Humanitarian Operation in 2009. It is important to understand
that the Government faced several immense challenges at that time, and
it should be appreciated that these challenges were met with great
professionalism.

Without doubt, the most pressing issue of concern in
the aftermath of the Humanitarian Operation was housing the 294,000
Internally Displaced People who had served as the LTTE’s human shield.
The villages and towns they had been displaced from had been mined
heavily by the LTTE during the last stages of the Humanitarian
Operation, and it was impossible for them to safely return to their
homes until those areas had been completely demined and made safe for
habitation. Taking care of such a large number of IDPs in this way was a
tremendous undertaking that involved a concerted effort by the
Government machinery, together with assistance from various
international actors, including the UN organisations and other agencies.

While the IDPs were being looked after in the camps,
the Government, together with several Non Governmental Organisations
such as the Danish Demining Group, the Foundation Suisse de Deminage and
the Sarvatra demining group of India, worked very hard to demine the
towns and villages in the North and make them habitable once again. The
Corps of Engineers of the Sri Lanka Army did the bulk of the work, with
assistance from several foreign governments and international
organisations. As demining progressed, the internally displaced were
resettled in their places of origin.

Today, only 3,173 families remain to be resettled, and
less than 3,000 IDPs remain in camps. Most of the IDPS who are yet to be
resettled come from areas caught up in heavy fighting during the last
stages of the Humanitarian Operation. While the clearing of those areas
takes place, they will be given houses in adjacent, unaffected land and
given the option of moving back to their homes once they are certified
as safe. It must be stressed that the speed at which demining has taken
place is remarkable, considering the extent of the problem that the LTTE
caused. To date, more than 42,000 Antipersonnel Mines, 227 Antitank
Mines and more than 15,000 items of Unexploded Ordnance have been
recovered from these areas.

Another issue that faced the Government was dealing
with the more than 11,000 former LTTE cadres who surrendered or were
detained by the military during the course of the Humanitarian
Operation. All of them were sorted according to their level of
involvement in the LTTE’s activities. Cadres with known higher-level
involvement in LTTE atrocities were separated and identified for
prosecution. The vast majority of former combatants, however, had a
lower level of involvement in LTTE activities, and were therefore sent
for extensive rehabilitation programmes.

Rehabilitation was an area of particular concern to
the Government, as its intention was to reintegrate the former
combatants to normal society as soon as possible. This is an important
consideration in terms of reconciliation, and it is heartening to note
that the work done in this regard to date has been very successful. All
programmes were conducted under the close supervision of the
Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, and they were geared towards
ensuring that the former combatants could readjust to normal life and
reintegrate with society.

Psychological care was provided to all those in the
rehabilitation programme, including counselling and drama, dance and
music therapy. Spiritual and religious programmes were also conducted.
Adult cadres were given extensive vocational training and have been able
to acquire new skills to help them become productive citizens. The rapid
progress of reintegration is laudable, with over 10,300 former cadres
returned to society, and less than 700 remaining in the rehabilitation
centres.

Careful attention was given to the care of the 595
LTTE Child Soldiers in Government custody; they were rehabilitated under
a programme assisted by UNICEF, and sent back to their families within
one year. I am happy to note that several former child soldiers
successfully passed their Advanced Level examination, and some even
gained entry to medical school.

In addition to demining, resettlement and
rehabilitation, the Government has provided numerous forms of assistance
to help citizens in the North lead normal lives. Infrastructure
development is being carried out at a very rapid pace. Major programmes
are underway to develop the road network, the railway track, electricity
grid, and irrigation infrastructure. The Government has already restored
the irrigation infrastructure that had remained in a state of disrepair
for so many years. The tanks and irrigation canals are back to full
working condition and agriculture can now flourish in the North. Indeed,
a great deal of produce from this area is now coming into markets in the
rest of the country. In addition, support has been extended for the
restoration of livelihoods, with schemes in place to provide
concessionary financing to people seeking to engage in farming, fishing,
agriculture and business. Through all these means, the Government is
doing everything it can to restore normalcy to these civilians, who had
suffered for so many years during their virtual isolation from the rest
of the country because of the LTTE.

We need to understand that this long period of
isolation has caused several other issues. An entire generation grew up
knowing nothing but war. As a result of being under the LTTE for almost
thirty years, most of the civilians in these areas were brainwashed into
fearing the Government of Sri Lanka. By demonising the Government and
the majority Sinhalese, the LTTE created a fear psychosis that is only
slowly disappearing. By rehabilitating the vast majority of LTTE cadres,
looking after the Internally Displaced, demining their villages,
restoring the infrastructure, and by providing assistance for the
restoration of livelihoods, the Government of Sri Lanka has already done
a great deal to dispel this psychosis. More is required.

It is absolutely essential that the parties in the
democratic mainstream understand the grassroots level requirements of
the people and refrain from pushing a divisive agenda purely for their
own political gain. It is clear that some politicians wish to promote an
agenda not very different from what the LTTE wanted to achieve. They
make baseless allegations against the Government to this day, and have
failed to recognise the Government’s genuine efforts. Instead, they
distort the true picture of what is taking place and continue to promote
ethnic divisions for their political gain. This is extremely
unfortunate. Heritage and ethnic identity are important, and it is
important to foster them. However, instead of thinking only along ethnic
lines and continuing to focus primarily on what differentiates people at
the expense of what they have in common, we should look at forging a
national identity first and foremost as Sri Lankans.

Take Colombo as an example. The majority of people
living in Colombo today are from the Tamil and Muslim communities. They
live side by side with the Sinhalese, who comprise the largest community
in Sri Lanka. Many parts of Colombo that used to be predominantly
Sinhalese in times past are now no longer so. When you travel across the
city, you will come across a large number of Kovils, Mosques and
Churches that stand alongside Buddhist Temples. Devotees of all
religions and ethnicities participate in large numbers in religious and
cultural functions at these various institutions without any problem.
There is no communal tension in the Colombo of today; instead, it is a
shining example of a thriving multicultural hub where people of all
communities live side by side in harmony. They identify themselves first
and foremost as Sri Lankans.

Replicating the success of Colombo throughout Sri
Lanka is largely a function of time, economic development, and the
breaking down of any misperceptions that still remain. All Sri Lankans
require and deserve equality and equal opportunity. As a nation, Sri
Lanka needs to address any complaints of discrimination that exist in
society. It is fundamentally important that all Sri Lankans feel equal
to one another, and that nobody feels that their ethnicity, language,
religion, caste, gender or political beliefs stands in the way of their
opportunities.

In actual fact, is should be noted that there are very
few such barriers prevailing in today’s society. If we look at the
Universities, it is evident that students from all communities pursue
studies in a variety of fields. In all professions, whether it is
medicine, engineering, law, academia or business, each and every
community is very well represented. Even in the one area in which
minority communities were underrepresented-that is, the military and the
police-the Government has taken action to redress the balance. Soon
after the war, the Government aggressively pursued the recruitment of
Tamil speaking policemen. Many of these policemen have already been
trained and have been posted to Police Stations in the North and East.
Steps have also been taken to encourage public servants to learn Tamil.
These initiatives will help ensure that no Sri Lankan has cause to feel
disadvantaged in their interactions with the state, irrespective of the
language they speak.

Unfortunately, the conversation in the political
sphere focuses less on such basic initiatives, and more on abstract
political ideals that will only lead to further differentiation rather
than assist reconciliation. It must be said that this is not done with
any true feeling for the needs of the people, but to safeguard existing
political advantages and further personal agendas. Race politics has
long been a crutch for politicians who do not have constructive ideas.
It is extremely sad that there are still a number of politicians in Sri
Lanka who cannot rise above this petty instinct. It is even more
unfortunate that there are some in the international community who
wittingly or unwittingly exploit this petty instinct to rekindle the
flames of communal disharmony in Sri Lanka. They do this by complaining
about certain issues in relation to the Humanitarian Operation.

The first issue they focus on is accountability. In
the aftermath of the Humanitarian Operation, various people started
making various claims about the number of civilians killed and missing
during the last stages of the conflict. Some say 10,000 people were
killed; others say 40,000, and a few make claims for even higher
numbers. I strongly emphasise that these are arbitrary figures with no
basis in reality. Nevertheless, the Government has been conscious of the
need to address this issue through a proper assessment.

The approach the Government took in this regard was a
very professional one. The Department of Census and Statistics, which is
the official Government arm for these matters, conducted a complete
census of the concerned area. In keeping with the usual practice,
Government servants of the relevant districts were tasked with carrying
out the work. In the case of the Northern Province, this meant that
Tamil Government servants were given the responsibility to conduct the
census. In the questionnaire that was used, the issue of people who died
and went missing during the Humanitarian Operation was specifically
addressed. With the completion of the census, it has been possible to
identify, specifically by name, all such persons. The census is now in
the process of finalisation, and the relevant information will be
released in the near future.

It is important to note that number of dead and
missing in this forthcoming census will include people in the following
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-for
which we have ample evidence through other sources, including aerial
footage. There is also new gruesome evidence that has come to light,
which will be made known to the public very soon, about how the LTTE
killed injured cadres and even young children who were housed in a
church during this time. 

* The final category of deaths are those that occurred
due to military action 

It is only for the deaths of people in this last
category that the Sri Lankan Military can bear any responsibility. As a
result of the census, we already know that the real number of dead and
missing is far too small to provide any substance to the absurd
allegations of genocide and war crimes that have been made against our
military by the rump of the LTTE and their cronies.

Another fact that needs to be understood very clearly
is that the Sri Lankan military was engaged in fighting a formidable
foe. The LTTE was not far behind the Sri Lankan military in the arms,
ammunition and equipment that it had at its disposal. It also had
approximately 25,000 cadres in its ranks at the time the Humanitarian
Operation commenced. During the three and a half years of this
Operation, 6,000 personnel of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces were killed in
action. Another 25,000 were severely injured. This should give some
indication of the ferocity of the fighting that was taking place.

If the extremely well trained Sri Lankan military
suffered 6,000 deaths and 25,000 serious injuries, it should be evident
the number of LTTE casualties should be comparable or higher. However,
this consideration gets almost no attention when allegations are made
about the number of dead and missing during the conflict. It is almost
as if those who make allegations about the deaths in battle are under
the impression that the Sri Lankan military was fighting phantoms. The
manifest absurdity of this underscores the lack of perspective of those
who make these claims.

The second major issue focused on by those who
criticise Sri Lanka concerns impunity. Again, those who level this
criticism have very little understanding of the true picture. In 2003,
Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, who was then Prime Minister, requested the
United States Department of Defence to study the situation in Sri Lanka
and make a detailed report on the conflict. The team that visited Sri
Lanka carefully analysed the threat posed by the LTTE and the capability
of the Sri Lankan military to meet that threat. This team’s report
commends the professionalism of the Sri Lankan military, with a
particular emphasis on the excellence of the officer cadre and its
wealth of practical knowledge. The report states: “The strength of the
Army is undoubtedly their impressive soldiers who endure tremendous
hardship while maintaining a fighting spirit that has prevented more
drastic defeats. They have an impressive training programme using
Special Forces and Commandos to improve their individual and small unit
training. They also have an excellent training site at Maduru Oya.”

The praise contained in this Department of Defence
report is unsurprising. Our officer cadre comprises people of high
calibre, who receive ample local training, including university
education, as well as training in many prestigious military academies
all over the world. The training of those selected to the elite Special
Forces and Commando units is comprehensive and extremely professional.
In keeping with the professionalism of the Sri Lankan military, the
Humanitarian Operation was conducted with a great deal of precision and
care.

However, it needs to be understood that during the
three and a half year period of the Humanitarian Operation, the Sri
Lankan military had to be expanded at a rapid pace. In the
circumstances, it is possible that a few individuals who lacked the
capacity to withstand the pressures of warfare with the required
composure may have been recruited. This is not a very unusual thing in
warfare, and there have been unfortunate examples of excesses by
individuals in each and every war that has been fought, whether in the
World Wars, Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq.

The most crucial thing to realise is that the Sri
Lankan military, as a professional fighting force, has robust internal
mechanisms to minimise the occurrence of crimes during warfare as well
as deal with any who commit them. With the assistance of the ICRC, the
UNDP and other organisations, Sri Lankan military personnel have
undergone extensive training on Human Rights and International
Humanitarian Law during the past several years. Training is conducted
even at the field level, and there is a strong institutional framework
to monitor alleged infringements. Human Rights cells exist in each
division, brigade and battalion of the Sri Lanka Army, and these cells
provide assistance to the inquiries of the Military Police as well as
the civil police in case of any complaints being lodged.

During the course of the Humanitarian Operations,
investigations were conducted on all allegations, including those
concerning major offenses including murder, rape and sexual abuse. Swift
action was taken by the military to punish those individuals found
guilty of such crimes. Action was also pursued in the civil courts. If,
in future, any substantial evidence is provided on crimes committed by
its personnel, the Sri Lankan military will not hesitate to take
appropriate action.

In this context, it must also be stressed that the
Government is committed to following through on its responsibilities in
terms of accountability. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation
Commission appointed by His Excellency the President in 2009 has gone
into all matters concerned with the conflict. Its report has been handed
over to the President, and if there are any specific allegations or
evidence of crimes therein, investigations will be undertaken and
necessary action taken against those involved. The Government is also
committed to implementing general recommendations made by the LLRC with
regard to reconciliation.

However, it must be borne in mind that on all these
matters, Sri Lanka will act on its own accord. As a sovereign nation
with a rich culture and a proud heritage, Sri Lanka does not need
external guidance to achieve reconciliation. This will be achieved
through an organic, local effort consistent with our culture and our
values, and not based on external ideal others try to impose on us. It
is evident that cultural norms differ from country to country. People
living in the United States of America, or Australia, or Canada, or the
United Kingdom, or any other country, have no proper understanding of
the ground situation in Sri Lanka nor do they understand our current
cultural context. It is not for outsiders to impose their values or
their judgments on Sri Lanka. It is the same Sri Lankans who suffered
from the ravages of LTTE terrorism for thirty years and who are now
reaping the rewards of peace that will find solutions to our national
issues-not outsiders.

Sri Lanka today is a nation striving to achieve
prosperity on the foundation of peace resulting from the defeat of
terrorism. Reconciliation is an essential part of this endeavour, and it
is one that will be achieved. As we step forward into a peaceful and
prosperous future, I have every confidence that all of us, irrespective
of our ethnicity, religion, caste, gender or political affiliation, will
put aside our differences and work and live together. We will first and
foremost be Sri Lankans.


 
 
 


 
 
 


 
 
 


 
 
 


 
 
 

 

 

 



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