Sri Lanka is still under threat - warns Defence Secretary
Continuation from yesterday, of the text of Defence Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s public lecture at the SLFI recently titled ‘Future
Challenges to National Security in Sri Lanka’.
It is also important to realise that the total number of dead and
missing will include people in the several categories:
Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
*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
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.
Resettlement of IDPs
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 humanshield 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 Organizations 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
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
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
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
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 organizations 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
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 reorganization 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
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
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
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
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
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
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. Concluded