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Sunday, 30 January 2011

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Army has nothing to hide, says Army Commander

The Sri Lanka Army (SLA), which is getting ready to showcase its military success in annihilating the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit - the LTTE at the forthcoming international seminar in May, said it does not have anything to hide from the world as it followed all humanitarian laws to safeguard the civilians caught in the conflict in 2009.

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya told the Sunday Observer, that had it not been for the political commitment of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and guidance of Secretary Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Army would not have had the opportunity to destroy the LTTE, which could not to defeated for over three decades.

“We are the same Army that fought the LTTE for over 27 years. But we wouldn’t have been able to destroy the LTTE if not for the political commitment, which was vital but missing throughout the past years. This time there were no orders to the military to halt the operations half way”, he said.

He said that Sri Lanka achieved the military victory not merely due to the military might but due to the continuous political commitment of President Rajapaksa who said an emphatic ‘No’ until the battle ended on May 19, 2009.

Speaking on the SLA’s role in the development process, public relations in the post conflict era and also its involvement in day-to-day activities the Army Chief said as the guardians of the nation the Army would assist the people in any situation.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Can you outline the responsibilities of a peace time army?

A: Peace time army has a responsibility to provide military assistance to civil authorities, if it has the resources and expertise to do so. The Army can assist the civil Ministry, the civil police, civil community and also the peace keeping missions. Having completed the war two years ago, we are stabilising and consolidating the areas that were liberated. Where, the displacement was high, we had a heavy responsibility to help the people.

A peace time army is basically involved in its routine duties such as in house training and assisting the government in national level projects, where the help of the security forces are required.

The Army is generally known as the guardian of the nation. In this context, the Army needs to help the government in times of contingencies. We should be there to stabilize the situation such as development or peace keeping or in a human disaster. We are a well trained force to face any situation.

In the post conflict era the Army beans a huge responsibility, especially to be a part of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s drive to make Sri Lanka the ‘Wonder of Asia’.

The Army has a huge resources and we are planning to help nation development in a big way. The Army does not want its soldiers to be in barracks and they bear the brunt of development activities inability the government can save lots of money.

We will continue to engage in development activities and the little profit we get will be used for the welfare of the soldiers.

Q: In the last interview with the Sunday Observer you said your biggest task was to covert a combat force into a peace time Army. How far you have succeeded in realign the target?

A: Yes, it is still a challenge to the Army since those who joined the army during the last several years have not seen a peace time army and a peaceful country for that matter. From the day one they were with the guns and now we make them realise through training in different aspects that they should also be a part of the day-to-day life of the community. Majority of those who served only in the battle areas are now getting the opportunity to be involved with the people. The Army is successfully meeting the challenge of being a peace time Army.

Q: What are the other challenges that the Army is facing in reaching this target?

A: The main challenge for us is to provide the basic facilities required by the soldiers. The Army which had a man-power of over 120,000 was further expanded by an additional 80,000 during the conflict. Today we have a force of over 200,000 and need to provide facilities for each and every soldier in the Army.

We are now considering taking stock of what we have and we don’t. We try our best to make the lives of soldiers comfortable. We are in the process of constructing permanent camps to provide them proper accommodation and other facilities.

Q: Are you satisfied with the Army’s involvement in rebuilding the North and the East?

A: Yes, of course. I think it is going on well. We could be proud of what we have done and are doing in rebuilding the North and the East. The Army is fully committed to assist those who were rescued by it. We are doing lots of things in the Northern and the Eastern development drive. The civil administration is resuming its role.

Q: How do you see the rapport between the soldiers and civilians in these areas?

A: People have a great respect to the Security forces because they can’t forget the fact that it was the Army that saved their lives from the clutches of the LTTE. Even before ending the war, we helped the people in the liberated areas to return to their day to day lives.

We have launched development projects including infrastructure for the betterment of their future. We are building their houses and clean their wells. Sometimes soldiers help these people with their money. People have now realized what the soldiers are really doing. Earlier they only knew what the LTTE was telling about the Army and now they have realized the truth in their own experience. They know how humane is the Army and all the assistance is very much appreciated. They have much respect for the soldiers and they appreciate their contribution. The recent example was the disaster relief given by the security forces during the floods and landslides. People in the East openly say that had it not been for the Army they would not have survived.

Q: The Army’s involvement in the day to day activities in the North and the East and the rest of the country is claimed in certain quarters as a step towards militarization of the country. What is your response?

A: As the Army is the guardians of the nation, we have no politics in the Army. We are fulfilling our responsibility. The Army should be there to help the people at any time in any situation. Whether it is security or development or disaster, we have to intervene to save the lives and bring the situation under control.

People with different motives can view this differently but we are helping people to better their livelihoods.

Q: The Increasing number of cases of murder, assault, theft and disappearances has disrupted the normalcy in Jaffna. Why cannot the military control this situation?

A: I am not very sure whether these reports are very correct. The security Forces Commander in Jaffna very clearly said that the situation was brought under control and those who are responsible have been arrested. Normally these things happen in any country and not only in Jaffna but also in rest of the country. The primary responsibility of controlling such situations lies with the Police, which maintains law and order during the peace time. The Army too is playing a major role but it is mostly a supportive one to help the police. The story that going around is an exaggerated version and I know that in the recent past there was not a single such incident reported.

Q: You said that the situation has been exaggerated. Do you mean that this is solely a political slogan to get some mileage?

A: Yes, that is possible. We have just finished off the ruthless LTTE terrorism and don’t forget that the LTTE remnants still exist.

Though there is no possibility for them to engage in any military activity, they still have their motives.

These segments want to show for the benefit of those who are living abroad that there is no peace in Sri Lanka. Some countries have warned that those who sought asylum will not be granted refugee states as the situation is improving.

Q: Sri Lanka will celebrate the second anniversary of the war victory. How do you view the country’s situation since May 19, 2009?

A: We are proud that Sri Lanka is the first country in the 21st century that defeated terrorism. The LTTE is not an ordinary terrorist organization but the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit. Sri Lanka Army is proud of being the major player in defeating the LTTE. That is why the armies of the world want to learn lessons form us on how we defeated the LTTE.

Sri Lanka achieved this victory not merely because of the military might but due to political commitment of President Rajapaksa who said an emphatic ‘No’ until we end the battle on May 19, 2009.

We are the same Army which fought the LTTE for over 27 years. We could not finish the LTTE if not for the political commitment, the vital component which was missing throughout those past years. This time there was no orders to the military to halt the operations half way.

This time we got the full blessings of the President who was fully committed to end terrorism in Sri Lanka. The military might plus political leadership brought out the military victory.

Since May 19, 2009, the security situation has improved tremendously and this has resulted in bringing lots of investors into the country.

During this short period of time, Sri Lanka has achieved progress in many spheres - economically and socially- due to the stabilized security situation in the country. People are free to go anywhere in the country and the country’s economy is booming.

The President’s next target is to achieve wonder of Asia, soon.

Q: Human rights groups have urged the UN to take action against Sri Lanka for the alleged war crimes during the final stages of the battle. Can’t you comment.

A: Anybody can accuse an army which fought the world’s most ruthless terrorists for committing war crimes. But the truth was the LTTE held over 300,000 innocent civilians under them and the Army saved them all. Sri Lanka Army committing war crimes is just an allegation and if any body can come out with proper details on the alleged incidents of war crimes, it would possible for us to investigate them. But, these are mere allegations based on heresay.

I think the international seminar on- Sri Lanka’s experience on defeating terrorism would be a fine platform for those who accuse the Sri Lankan security forces for war crimes to clear their doubts. It is an opportunity for them to understand how we had conducted the operation.

What I say is that the war crimes allegations were levelled at us by those who don’t want to see Sri Lanka becoming economically and socially stabilized. They want to put pressure on us through various means and allegations of war crimes are one good weapon for them to achieve their ulterior motives.

It is sad to note that our own people - Tamils and some politicians- accuse and arouse international groups to voice against Sri Lanka. While the majority of Tamils living abroad are doing so for their survival in those countries, the politicians want to gain mileage out of it.

As the former Security Forces Commander of Vanni I am aware of what really happened and how the government, from President Rajapaksa to Secretary Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was committed to protect the civilians during the humanitarian operation. The Secretary Defence himself had spelt out what measurers should be taken to ensure a disciplined military order throughout the operation and to make it a humanitarian operation.

Human rights were introduced as a subject to the Army and courses were conducted to educate the soldiers on human rights.

Over 140,000 soldiers, including officers, have completed the courses and the Army had been trained how they should conduct the operation to protect the civilians.

We maintained the true meaning of the operation which was called humanitarian operation. There was no single case of rape or killing by the soldiers during and after the battle.

It was the greatest achievement that the Army can be proud of. During the post conflict era the soldiers have a great deal of involvement with the people but no such cases were reported. We have proved ourselves and each and every soldier is committed to maintain that good name.

Q: At a time the UNSG’s expert panel is trying to investigate the alleged war crimes, SLA will hold an international seminar to share its success story on defeating the LTTE.

A: I personally think we are late. We could have done this as soon as we ended the battle. If we had that opportunity, we would not have faced these allegations as the entire world would have been aware of what we have done.

Those who throw allegations could have clarified their doubts as the military officials who had conducted the operation are called to explain how they conducted the operation.

Apart from those who took part in the battle, the international counter terrorist experts and representatives of UN agencies who worked during those days are invited for the seminar that has been scheduled to be held in Colombo with the participation of over 100 military personnel from 54 countries.

Q: Will the doors open for media at the seminar?

A: Yes, media will to play a vital role in the seminar as they could highlight the truth. On the other hand Sri Lanka does not have anything to hide. As I said earlier we have done a humanitarian operation and followed international humanitarian law and added more measurers in our military strategies to protect civilians held by the LTTE as hostages. We will launch a special website for the seminar to have daily updates.

Q: The Army is still occupying certain civilian facilities in designated high security zones in the North. When will they be handed back?

A: There was a lot of criticisms over the Army’s involvement in retail business activity. Will the Army always intervene when there is such a situation?

When the vegetable prices were soaring, the Army was given the responsibility of selling vegetables at low prices. The main aim of the project was to bring down the prices of vegetables and to give a fair price to the farmers who had been duped by the middlemen.

We wanted to give relief to the farmers as sometimes they don’t get a price to cover the initial cost of production. In this project there is no middlemen and the Army doesn’t add the transport cost to the selling prices. The Army has proved that vegetable prices can be brought down.

We have proved that businessmen are unnecessarily burdening people with high prices.

Q: The Police are already recruiting Tamil youth from the North and the East. Will the Army organise a similar recruitment drive among the Tamil youth?

A: There is no restriction and any Sri Lankan citizen can join the Army. But at the moment we don’t want to recruit soldiers as we are already a huge Army.

Q: How successful you have been in apprehending deserters and how many have been rounded up so far?

A: We apprehending deserters as there are serious allegations that they are involved in various crimes in the country. We have arrested over 980 in December and will continue to make arrests. According to our records there are over 40,000 Army deserters and the Army is in the process of identifying them according to the units they belonged to.

Those, who have specialized training such as Commandos and soldiers in Special Forces, will be arrested. Action will be taken against them soon.

They willa be rehabilitated depending on their activities as deserters and their involvement in crimes and such activities. If they are out of the Army for a short spell, they will be given the opportunity to re-join the Army.

 

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