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Sri Lanka's National Security - Part 1:

Sri Lanka, stable and peaceful

Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world today. Its citizens enjoy the benefits of peace and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves. At the same time, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources.

Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa with former Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya. (File photo)

Guarding against these threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the government, because national security is the foundation of freedom and prosperity. As such, the government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as defense, foreign policy, economic affairs and internal law and order. It must formulate a comprehensive national security strategy to deal with them.

A viable national security strategy must constantly align ends with means, goals with resources, and objectives with the tools required to accomplish them. The strategy needs to be aligned with the aspirations of the people, and it must have public support.

Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism, and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges. The government must make every effort to keep aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured.

This article on Sri Lanka's national security concerns, examines the following areas: * Sri Lanka's overall national security context, * The primary threats to Sri Lanka's national security at present and * The strategies being formulated in response to these threats.

National security

In the early years of independence, national security did not need to be a primary concern of the government of Ceylon. As an independent dominion of Great Britain, and as a non-aligned nation with excellent relationships within and outside the region, Ceylon faced few pressing threats.

 An LTTE Sea Tiger fast attack fiberglass boat passing a LTTE supply freighter sunken by the Sri Lanka Air Force just north of the village of Mullaitivu, North-eastern Sri Lanka.
 
De-mining technicians from the UK charity HALO Trust at work early in the morningn the edges of a paddy field near Thunukkai, northern Sri Lanka.
 

As a result, the attention given to national security was minimal, as was the emphasis placed on the country's defense apparatus. The military was largely ceremonial. It only had to assist the government on occasions when there were issues such as public sector work stoppages or riots.

The need to strengthen law enforcement and the armed forces to protect the nation against internal or external threats was not seen as a pressing concern. The attempted coup d'‚tat in 1962 further reduced the attention given to the defense apparatus by the government.

Fearing that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had been the case in some neighboring countries during this period, funding for the armed forces was drastically reduced and recruitments curtailed.

Unaware

Ceylon's weak military was not in a good position to deal with the first major threat to its national security, which came as the 1971 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Insurrection (also known as the 1971 Revolt).

Although investigations into JVP activities had been going on for some time, cutbacks to intelligence services, including the closure of the special branch of the police in 1970, had left the government largely unaware of the scale of the insurrection it was facing. The nation's military was not up to the task.

In response to the government's appeals for help, India and Pakistan sent in troops to secure critical installations while essential equipment and ammunition was provided by Britain and the Soviet Union.

Although the insurrection was successfully suppressed within a short time, it had many consequences. Perhaps the most crucial from a historical perspective was that national security became a much greater concern for the government and for the public.

As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding national security was one of its foremost priorities.

In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest threat to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist groups in the North and East. As the conflict worsened in the early 1980s, particularly after the riots of 1983, the threat of terrorism loomed large not only in the North and East but throughout the country.

The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the likelihood of its attacks in public places fostered a deep insecurity amongst the people. There was significant loss of life and of property, and economic development foundered. Instability grew as arms and ammunition started to flow to criminal elements in the underworld.

By the late 1980s, the second JVP insurrection caused the further deterioration of the security situation throughout Sri Lanka. The increasing instability and violence prompted more intrusive security measures.

INGOs

As the terrorism situation worsened, there was also an increasing involvement of foreign powers and the international community in Sri Lanka's internal affairs. During the early stages of terrorism, India trained LTTE cadres at bases in Tamil Nadu.

Many leaders of other separatist groups also frequented that state. It is also important to note that several international non-governmental organisations that were based in the North and East first started to cooperate with the terrorist groups active in those areas during this period. In 1985, India facilitated talks between the government of Sri Lanka and the separatist groups; these talks were held in Thimpu, Bhutan. The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the separatists.

These demands, if granted, would have gravely affected Sri Lanka's sovereignty and the government had no choice but to refuse them. Fighting soon resumed. By this time, the conflict transformed into one between the state and the LTTE, which had used the ceasefire granted for the Thimpu talks to destroy rival separatist groups.

Threats

As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to national security by the government also increased.

A new ministerial position was created for national security. The military was also significantly strengthened, with larger recruitment drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to counter the growing threats.

With its improved abilities, the military made progress in fighting the LTTE. Changes were also made within the structure of the military. The need for a coordinated effort to combat terrorism led to the establishment of a joint operation command to coordinate the three armed services, police and intelligence services in counter-terrorism operations.

The military used battle formations for the first time, and the national intelligence bureau was set up to coordinate the intelligence services at a national level.

Accord

In 1987, the successful Vadamarachchi Operation enabled the government to regain control of much of the North, leaving the LTTE on the brink of defeat. At this point, India intervened directly in the conflict by air dropping humanitarian relief supplies over Jaffna.

This led to the abandonment of the Vadamarachchi Operation, and the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord. An Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) was introduced to the North of Sri Lanka, where it soon got embroiled in conflict with the LTTE.

After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew in October 1990 and fighting resumed between the LTTE and government forces.

Although there were periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity of the war grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the country.

Bombings

The military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat. Specialized units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces Regiment of the Army, ans the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the LTTE in the North and East.

In addition to its battles with the military, the LTTE also frequently carried out attacks against civilians throughout the country. Numerous bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing thousands.

Hundreds more were massacred in vulnerable villages near LTTE dominated territory. Critical installations and economic targets such as the International Airport, Central Bank, and the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery were also ruthlessly attacked.

To contain this serious threat to national security, precautionary measures had to be greatly increased throughout the country. This led to the visible presence of soldiers on the streets, the widespread use of checkpoints, frequent cordon and search operations, and the constant upholding of the Emergency Regulations, which gave wide-ranging powers to the military and law enforcement agencies. The entire country was effectively on a war footing.

Co-chairs

In 2002, the government signed a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE under Norwegian mediation. This launched the next major phase in the internationalization of Sri Lankan problem. Norway was joined by the European Union, the United States, and Japan, which together comprised the four co-chairs of the Sri Lankan peace process.

A Sri Lanka monitoring mission was also established, comprising members from Nordic countries, to supervise the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. Despite their presence, the LTTE continued to create instability in the country assassinating its key opponents including Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and carrying out periodic attacks against civilians.

In 2006, the LTTE provoked a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital Maavilaru Sluice Gate. This affected the right to water of thousands of households, and even affected national food security by preventing the flow of water to many thousands of acres of agricultural land.

The government intervened with a limited operation to reopen the sluice gate, but was met with large-scale attacks by the LTTE on several fronts. This led to the widening of the military campaign into the humanitarian operation that ultimately freed Sri Lanka from terrorism.

During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its offensive abilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadres in its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket propelled grenades and light aircraft.

Combating such an enemy that employed guerrilla tactics required the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to grow significantly. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the number of army personnel grew from 120,000 to over 200,000; its nine divisions were increased to 20; its 44 brigades expanded to 71; and its 149 battalions increased to 284. The navy and the air force were also expanded significantly, and given tasks beyond their classic role. The upholding of security throughout the country also required the Police and Special Task Force to be strengthened, and the Civil Defense Force was revamped and significantly expanded.

Influence

Because of the internationalization of the Sri Lankan situation during previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on the progress of the humanitarian operation. By keeping Indian leaders constantly informed about what was happening on the ground, and by skillfully managing relationships with other nations, it was possible for Sri Lanka's battle against terrorism to continue unimpeded.

Nevertheless, towards the end of terrorism in 2009, the foreign ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and attempted, without success, to intervene in the military campaign. Efforts by external parties to end the humanitarian operation reflect the tremendous influence that the LTTE's international network had on foreign capitals. Many in the international community willfully ignored the fact that the government of Sri Lanka is duty-bound to protect its citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war ended and peace dawned in 2009, this bias against the government led to Sri Lanka being taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Although the initial resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and successfully passed.

Responsibilities

Today Sri Lanka is a country enjoying the full benefits of peace, and it is engaged in a concerted push to accelerate its economic development and bring prosperity to its citizens.

The country has much to catch up on. Three decades of conflict cost Sri Lanka countless opportunities for growth: foreign and local investment suffered due to fears about the terrorism; tourists did not visit the country, and many of its best and brightest went overseas to build better futures for themselves. Countries such as Singapore, which was in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when it reached independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period. At least partially, this is because they did not have a major conflict with which to contend. Sri Lanka's prospects, on the other hand, were greatly curtailed as a result of the war.

This is why the biggest responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka, even in today's post terrorism situation, is to ensure the continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there will be no economic development.

Sri Lanka's national security should be addressed in the context of its history, the realities of its present situation, and most critically from the perspective of the several responsibilities of the state. The state must ensure that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation is maintained, and that there are no threats to the safety of its population. Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country can raise their living standard is also critical in order to prevent internal problems from recurring in the future.

Creating a favorable international environment for Sri Lanka is similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence at bay. Securing the safety of Sri Lanka's physical assets and safeguarding its democracy are also critical.

Sri Lanka's national security must be understood within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation's defense, law and order, foreign policy and economic policy.

These four areas need to come together, creating a comprehensive national security strategy.

This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace and stability and fulfill its potential.

Sri Lanka today faces a range of security threats worthy of concern, including; * The possible re-emergence of terrorism,* The emergence of other extremist groups, * The worsening of ethnic divisions and communal violence, * The challenges of maritime security and border control * The growth of organized crime, * Foreign interference in domestic affairs,

* Non-traditional technology-driven threats, including social media.

In discussing terrorism, it is vitally important to appreciate the sheer scale of the problem that the government of Sri Lanka faced over the past three decades. Since the 1970s, the LTTE grew from a small organization of armed individuals to a large, sophisticated terrorist outfit with very advanced combat capabilities.

At its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres; access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledgling air wing. For a considerable period of the conflict, the LTTE was able to maintain the illusion of a functional state apparatus in the territories it dominated. It also had significant influence in foreign capitals as a result of its extensive international network.

Defeating the LTTE required a concerted effort on the part of the Sri Lankan government. As a result of the unwavering leadership of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this task was achieved in May of 2009.

Reconstruction

In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were a number of issues that needed immediate attention. First was the problem of nearly 300,000 internally displaced people who had been used as the LTTE's human shield during the last phases of the war. Then there was the need to demine the North and East so that those areas would be safe for human habitation.

This resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE during its retreat. Infrastructure development and reconstruction of those areas after years of neglect under the LTTE's dominance was another significant challenge to be dealt with, after which it was possible to resettle the Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their places of origin.

One of the most important issues concerned the nearly twelve thousand surrendered LTTE cadres and four thousand detained cadres.

The government took the bold step of trying to rehabilitate nearly all of them so that they could become productive citizens in the future. The vast majority of them have already been reintegrated with society.

Among other post-terrorism achievements has been the disarming of other armed groups that used to operate in the North and East, and the encouragement these groups have been given to contribute to society through democratic processes. The restrictions that used to be in force on movement, fishing, high-security zones, etc., have all been removed.

Ambush

Democracy has been completely restored, with free and fair elections taking place. Economic growth in the North and East has been truly remarkable in the recent past, and it is clear that normalcy has been restored to the people.

Despite all of these positive developments, however, the threat of terrorism re-emerging persists. One of the main reasons for the LTTE's success during its heyday was its extensive international network, which has been in operation for many decades. Following the ambush and massacre of 13 soldiers in the North by the LTTE in 1983, there was a major communal backlash against the Tamils in the rest of the country. As a result of the July 1983 riots, a large number of Tamil people left Sri Lanka and travelled to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and parts of Europe.

These countries granted asylum to the immigrants, and later granted many of them citizenship.

As such, there is a large population of immigrant Sri Lankan Tamils dispersed throughout the world. A small minority of this population supports the LTTE even to this day.

Extremist elements within this community, together with LTTE agents and operatives, including trained terrorists who fled Sri Lanka at various times during the war, comprise the LTTE's international network.

After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE's former procurement chief Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over this network and indicated that it would continue to work for the separatist cause through peaceful means.

TNC

However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by Nediyawan, who wanted to continue Prabhakaran's ideology of violence. Nediyawan's group was previously known as The Tamil Eelam People's Assembly or The Tamil National Council and is now known as the Tamil Coordinating Committee. Based in Norway, this group has been working with other international groups to promote the LTTE's separatist cause in many parts of the world.

The Tamil Coordinating Committee has control over most of the assets of the LTTE's international organization, including its media networks such as Tamil Net.

Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the leadership of the main network and began working towards establishing a “government in exile.”

This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE).

In the guise of fighting for Tamil rights, its primary objective is to lobby foreign governments for the establishment of a separate state in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

The so-called 'Transitional Government'has some twenty 'Ministers' and 'Deputy Ministers', and was formed with assistance of an advisory committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists, including foreigners who have been helping the LTTE for many years.

There has recently been a revolt within the TGTE where one third of its members loyal to Nediyawan went against the leadership of Rudrakumaran because they wished to engage in more radical action.

To be continued

 

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