By Mahinda Rajapaksa –
The explosion and complete destruction of the Sri Lanka Army’s central armoury located at the Salawa army camp in Kosgama has shocked the nation. I would like to express my condolences to the family of the soldier who lost his life in the disaster and wish those who have been injured, a speedy recovery. The destruction of army property and the properties of civilian residents living in the vicinity has been extensive. The central armoury of the army was established in this location in the late 1990s by the then government despite protests by politicians in the area like Dinesh Gunawardena and Bandula Gunawardane who warned against the storing of large quantities of ordnance close to residential areas.
During the war, we took special precautions to ensure the security of this installation and after 2009, the army had been gradually relocating this armoury and I am to understand that most of the ordnance in this location had been shifted temporarily to places like Veyangoda and distributed to Diyatalawa and Maduruoya for use in training. Two large farms in Oyamaduwa and Rambewa had also been identified to store the remaining ordnance on a permanent basis. But since our time no further action had been taken on this matter. Be that as it may, I am very surprised that a breakdown in security of this magnitude can occur at an installation like this. If something like this had happened during the war, the war effort would have been seriously undermined.
These installations are guarded day and night, and checked at least twice a day. Expired ordnance is regularly destroyed. There are precautions taken to minimise damage even in the case of accidents such as electricity leaks. However all those systems had failed and the authorities should inquire into why that happened. Though we still do not know for certain what caused the fire, it can be said as a general statement that when self esteem and morale are at a low ebb in a military organisation, supervision, vigilance, leadership and the general state of alertness also suffers. During the first few months of my presidency, for the first time in world history, terrorists were able to carry out a suicide attack on an army commander inside his own headquarters.
Though the immediate reason the terrorists were able to carry out such an attack were the shortcomings in the security arrangements at army headquarters at the time, the more important underlying cause was the defeatist mindset created among armed forces personnel by the 2002-2006 ceasefire. Several incidents since January last year have had the effect of seriously undermining the self esteem and morale of the armed forces to an extent unseen even during the years of the 2002 ceasefire. Any inquiry into the causes of the Kosgama disaster should also look into the general state of morale in the armed forces at present. In the meantime, I welcome the government’s announcement that they will rebuild the houses damaged by the explosion. The displaced will also have to be provided alternative accommodation until their houses are rebuilt.
*Mahinda Rajapaksa (MP) – Former President of Sri Lanka