Security, reconciliation and development:
Future challenges facing Sri Lanka
Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and
Order, Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the Olcott Oration
The Olcott Oration is one of the annual events organised to
commemorate the founder of Ananda College, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott.
As a result of Col. Olcott’s vision to promote the English medium of
instructions for Buddhist students, Ananda College began its historic
journey as the Buddhist English School in Maliban Street, in 1886, under
the able stewardship of C.W. Leadbeater. The founding of this school can
be considered a key milestone in the nationalist revival that introduced
our cultural values into the formal education system despite colonial
rule. This revival was influential in our struggle for independence,
and, considering the role of Ananda in moulding many of the key
individuals in recent events, one could even say that it was
instrumental in the recent national victory over terrorism.
As a result of this victory, I stand before you today at a pivotal
stage in our country’s history. Sri Lanka is emerging from the shadow of
a terrorist war that affected every part of our lives for decades.
During those years, a deep-seated sense of uncertainty affected our
prosperity, our economy, and even our social and cultural values. There
was an inescapable veil of fear cast over our day-to-day lives.
Following the defeat of the LTTE and the elimination of its core
leadership during our historic military success earlier this year, this
sense of unease and this veil of fear have finally begun to lift.
With the dawn of peace, Sri Lanka has a historic opportunity to
consolidate the security of the nation; to heal old wounds and
strengthen ties between the communities; and to revive our economy and
recapture the decades of lost opportunities. When we reflect on the
years when terrorism plagued our nation, it’s important to realise that
the true victory is not just in defeating the LTTE, but in regaining
what we had lost, passing down the benefits of peace to our citizens,
and guiding our nation to its proper place in the world. Instead of
falling into the traps of complacency, petty rivalry, and divisive
politics that have so often been our downfall, we must unite as a nation
and build a better future together. It is only then that the true reward
of our victory over terrorism will be fully realised.
We have several challenges ahead of us today. We need to ensure that
our country is secure from all future threats. Consolidating the peace
that was achieved after so much sacrifice has to be a key priority.
Similarly, we must use the window of opportunity granted by the end of
terrorism to ensure reconciliation between our communities. Together
with these goals, we must also engineer an economic revival that uplifts
the standard of living of all our people. These challenges of security,
reconciliation and development must be our focus from now on.
Although the LTTE has been defeated, it is important to note that it
is mainly the military wing that has been dismantled. Their vast
international network of sympathisers and criminal associates who funded
and facilitated their separatist ambitions, as well as some of their
military cadres, are still operating outside Sri Lanka. It is only when
these elements have also been defeated that we can claim to have truly
secured our nation. To prevent the LTTE raising its head again, we
should act now and act decisively to bring about their defeat.
Bringing about the permanent defeat of separatism remains a top
priority of the President and the Government of Sri Lanka. Several
initiatives have been taken in this regard. These include the
strengthening of relationships with key foreign nations and the
collaboration of our intelligence services with their counterparts in
other parts of the world.
These efforts enabled us to capture Kumaran Pathmanadan, the newly
appointed leader of the LTTE, within two months of the defeat of the
terrorists in Sri Lanka.
We need to continue these initiatives if we are to destroy the LTTE’s
international network and ensure the confiscation of their assets.
From the very beginning, strengthening relationships with our key
allies remained a top priority of the President. The relationship
developed over the past four years with our closest ally, India helped
us in many ways in our war against terrorism. Having their support
greatly helped reduce the pressure mounted by other nations, which
allowed us to proceed with our humanitarian operations unhindered. It is
very important that we strengthen this key relationship even further in
the years to come.
Significant support was also received from other key allies due to
the efforts of President and the Government to strengthen our
long-standing bilateral ties. They, too, helped us withstand the
pressure being directed by the international community to leave the war
These countries also provided us vital material assistance towards
the war effort, when barriers were put in place that prevented our
obtaining military hardware from our Western allies.
Although it had been virtually ignored in the past, South East Asia
was another region we focused on. The close ties we developed with this
important region helped us counter and obstruct the LTTE’s activities
However, there is still a lot more to be done, and developing these
relationships even further will be vital to our efforts to permanently
dismantle the LTTE’s international network.
If this task is to be achieved successfully, we also need to focus on
countering the propaganda offensives still being launched by LTTE
sympathisers around the world. This propaganda effort, together with the
petty electoral politics of key Western States, have distorted the view
some countries have of our war against terrorism.
It is essential that the West understands that Sri Lanka’s war
against terrorism is a little different from theirs; the LTTE used many
of the same networks as other international terrorist groups; they
perfected the use of suicide attacks as a tactical tool; they operated
extortion networks in other nations to fund their separatist ambitions.
When taken together with their complete disregard for the lives of
innocent civilians, it should be clear that there is little
philosophical difference between terrorist groups the world over.
Instead of accepting the propaganda offensive of terrorist sympathisers
in their corridors of power, the countries that are still mounting
pressure on Sri Lanka should understand that we all face similar
challenges. Instead of criticising our success, they should learn from
Strengthening our relationships with these countries and countering
the efforts of the pro-terrorist lobbies there are significant
challenges facing our nation today.
The financial network of the LTTE was allowed to operate in some of
these countries for far too long, and the funds they raised allowed the
terrorists to equip themselves with large stockpiles of sophisticated
weaponry - stockpiles that are still being discovered in our clearing
operations today. Although we will make sure that the LTTE cannot raise
its head again in Sri Lanka, the continued existence of these financial
networks is a danger to our country. Persuading western countries that
they must help Sri Lanka more meaningfully to combat this threat
requires us to unite as a nation and speak with one voice, instead of
being weakened and divided by petty considerations.
In addition to taking care of the external threats that could arise
from the LTTE’s international network, the challenge of ensuring our
security includes our taking preventative measures within Sri Lanka.
The capabilities of our Defence Forces need to be further
strengthened by maintaining high standards of professionalism and
sophistication so that our service personnel can carry out their duties
even more effectively. The surveillance and rapid response capabilities
of the Sri Lanka Navy have to be enhanced to protect our entire
coastline and make sure that no arms or personnel can infiltrate our
A key area that needed attention during the course of our operations,
our intelligence services, needs to be further strengthened as we seek
out and dismantle the LTTE’s network within Sri Lanka. It is also very
important that the terrorist cadres who surrendered or were detained are
rehabilitated so that their thinking changes and they see the propaganda
they were fed by the LTTE for the lies they were. This rehabilitation
will allow them to re-enter society as productive citizens in the long
Finally, we need to make sure that the unsafe areas in the North are
cleared swiftly, and that the former victims of the LTTE’s regime are
resettled in their villages as soon as possible. Once normality returns,
and these people see the far higher quality of life and opportunities
available to them following the LTTE’s defeat, we will be able to win
their hearts and minds.
This is a critical challenge that needs to be successfully met if we
are to fully secure the peace we have won. Reconciliation between the
communities is vital, as is the establishment of a democratic framework
and institutions in areas formerly under the LTTE’s occupation.
There is a lot of agitation in the international community as well as
within Sri Lanka regarding the situation of the internally displaced.
This range from well-meaning concern to absurd conspiracy theories
directed against the Government by pro-LTTE lobbyists in the West. I
want to make it very clear that we are doing the best we can to speed up
the processes involved.
However, it would be an irresponsible act to resettle the IDPs in
unsafe areas. When the LTTE was defeated, they strewed landmines over
vast areas, hoping to make them unsafe for years if not decades.
Through the concentrated effort of the Government together with
assistance from allied nations, we are confident that these areas can be
de-mined and made safe for people much sooner than that. As more areas
are cleared, the displaced will be resettled in their towns and
villages; already almost half the IDPs have been sent back.
There are other responsibilities of the Government involved here,
apart from mine clearing and resettlement.
During the last three decades, although the Government continued to
provide normal services including electricity, water, health and
education to the North, there was not enough development there. The LTTE
did not use these resources properly, and the Non Governmental
Organisations that were supposed to be engaged in development work were
ineffective. As a result, the infrastructure of this region, including
its road networks, electricity grids, telecommunication networks,
irrigation channels etc. are underdeveloped. A lot of attention needs to
be paid to upgrading this infrastructure if the region is to prosper.
Agriculture, which has been ignored for so long despite its high
potential, is another area that needs a great deal of work. Therefore,
together with our de-mining programs, these efforts to develop
infrastructure, facilitate economic growth and raise the standard of
living in this region are of the utmost importance.
There is another pressing requirement that needs to be discussed as
far as the liberated areas are concerned, and that is the return of
Under the LTTE’s occupation, the people in these areas lived under a
brutal fascist dictatorship. Their lives were not their own. They had no
freedom.Their children - often as young as thirteen or fourteen - were
abducted from their classrooms, conscripted as soldiers, and robbed of
their innocence. No one had the ability to protest. The people could not
speak freely, and they had no one to speak up on their behalf. Over the
years, most of the moderate Tamil voices, most of the progressives
people and the humanists, had been silenced by the LTTE. The parallel
state that it tried so hard to display, with its so-called judicial
system and its so-called police force, was an illusion designed to hide
the brutality of their de facto rule. To usher the victims of the LTTE
to a true democracy is another critical challenge for the Government
today. Facing it successfully will be essential as far as both
reconciliation and national security are concerned.
Some of those looking at the present situation in Sri Lanka are quick
to criticise the Government for not acting quickly enough. They expect
change to happen overnight, and they ignore the hard facts of reality
that have always shown us that true change is only possible with wise
planning, diligence, hard work, and time.
A good example of what is possible is the Eastern Province. At the
time it was liberated, despite the clear intention of the Government to
return it to normality as soon as possible, there were complaints by the
diaspora and the international community that not enough was being done
soon enough. There were over a 150,000 internally displaced people
waiting to be resettled. There were armed paramilitary groups on the
streets and there was talk of children being conscripted by them. There
were complaints regarding restrictions on fishing, and complaints about
restrictions on movement. There were allegations of abductions and human
There was criticism that there weren’t enough policemen who could
speak Tamil in the region. All this was just two years ago. But if you
go to the Eastern Province today, as thousands of local and foreign
tourists do on a daily basis, you will see that each and every one of
these problems have been overcome.
All paramilitary groups carrying weapons have been disarmed; they no
longer have military offices in the towns or armed personnel on the
Instead, encouraged by the President’s determination to restore
democracy as soon as possible, they are working towards a better
tomorrow through peaceful, democratic means. Their military offices have
become political offices; several former cadres are representatives of
various local political organisations; and there is representation
through the offices of the Chief Minister, the Provincial Council, Local
Government and Municipal authorities. The child conscripts have been
handed over to UNICEF and are now being rehabilitated.There are no more
complaints of abductions or human rights violations; the Sri Lanka
Police and the Defence Forces have restored law and order. Tamil
speaking policemen have been recruited, trained, and are now active in
the police stations. Freedom of movement has been established; people go
about their day-to-day lives without fear. Even the security checkpoints
and roadblocks have been reduced to a minimum level.
In addition to overcoming the problems that existed, the Government
has worked very hard to bring about economic development in the East.
The infrastructure has improved tremendously: there are brand new roads,
bridges and communication networks; there is proper electricity, water
supply, drainage and sewerage. The Government has helped the fisheries
industry, even assisting the fishermen to buy boats; it has launched
important initiatives to develop agriculture. Very recently, the
President opened a large school in Vakarai, built with the help of
Normalisation has not only set in, but the Eastern Province has
transformed into a vibrant part of Sri Lanka, rich with the promise of
future growth. All of this was achieved in just two years. That is the
track record of our Government, and examining this, instead of engaging
in wild speculation should be the order of the day.
We are confident that the same result can be obtained in the North,
and that reconciliation and national unity will be achieved in due
course.Admittedly, there is still a lot that needs to be done to heal
the wounds of the past and regain the trust that has been shaken, and we
are aware that progress will not always be smooth. But we can be
encouraged by the progress made in terms of national reconciliation in
the South over the last several years; particularly in the Western
Province and in Colombo, which is a shining example of communal
harmony.Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, by the LTTE and the
separatist forces, the majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka live outside the
North and East.
Colombo is a thriving multicultural commercial hub where all
communities live in harmony; it has a large Tamil population that has
produced many of Sri Lanka’s leading professionals and businessmen. They
lead lives of distinction in a supportive multicultural environment
where there is no communal tension. We are very confident that this
multicultural harmony can be achieved throughout all of Sri Lanka. As
our nation emerges from the shadow of terrorism into the bright light of
peace and prosperity, this is the reality that will prevail.
Another very important step remains to be taken as we embark on this
journey. That is the revival of our economy on a scale that enables our
prosperity through rapid growth and development; a resurgence that
uplifts the standards of living of each and every Sri Lankan. It is
vital that the rural masses as well as the urban populace reap the full
benefit of the peace we have achieved; economic development must reach
every city, town and village. The Government is doing its part by
developing the infrastructure and the facilities that are needed for
this resurgence to take place. It is also investing in areas where the
private sector has not yet ventured. The domestic private sector, from
small businesses and entrepreneurs to large diversified groups, must
invest in all sectors of our economy.
The recent instructions of the President for the State Banks to lower
interest rates is another step towards encouraging investment and
facilitating this revival. We also need to invite the tourists back and
bring in foreign investment. We need our educated expatriates, who left
Sri Lanka years ago to seek prosperity elsewhere, to return and work for
the betterment of their motherland.For these things to happen, it is
essential that we all unite at this pivotal stage in our history, and
speak with one voice to say that the uncertainty is no more; to say that
we are safe; to say that we are ready to create a bright and prosperous
future for all our people, irrespective of race, religion or politics.
Making maximum use of peace to unite as a nation, to bring about the
development and prosperity that this country richly deserves, and to
reap the rewards of peace, is the responsibility of all our citizens.
That is why, in closing, I wish to invite all patriotic Sri Lankans to
come together, to put their differences aside, and work towards this
resurgence as one people. This is our duty to our motherland, and we
must not let her down.”