By Gotabaya Rajapaksa –
I would like to thank the Board of Governors of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies for having invited me to be the Chief Guest at this occasion. I am happy to note the good work being carried out by the BCIS in the teaching of International Relations, and I am confident that all of the students being conferred diplomas today will have learnt a great deal that will help them in their future careers. Sri Lanka needs educated young people of a high calibre to contribute in various capacities and positions as it capitalises on itspresent peace and stability to transforminto a more prosperous nation.
The progress that Sri Lanka has made over the past few years from being a nation fighting terrorism to one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world is remarkable. This progress was made possible by the Government’s sincere and committed efforts to defeat the terrorist LTTE, and its hard work since the dawn of peace to resolve all post-war issues and facilitate rapid economic development. The remarkableservice rendered by the Armed Forces during the Humanitarian Operation that rid the country of terrorism is well known, but its role assisting this post-war progress has been similarly laudable and is worthy of wider recognition.
After the successful conclusion of the Humanitarian Operation in May 2009, the Government was faced with a number of significant post-war challenges. The most pressing issues included the accommodation and welfare of nearly three hundred thousand civilians, demining, reconstruction of infrastructure and facilities, resettlement of the IDPs, and the rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres and their reintegration to society. The Government was also tasked withthe disarming of armed groups, restoring democracy in the North and East after many years of suppression, and promoting economic activity in those areas. The military played an important role in meeting nearly all of these challenges.
During the Humanitarian Operation, as the Armed Forces progressed further and further into LTTE held territory, the LTTE moved the people out of their towns and villages as it retreated to its strongholds. The civilian population was to be used as the LTTE’s human shield. Further, to prevent the advance of the military, the LTTE created obstacles by laying thousands of anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines and improvised explosive devices in the towns and villages left behind. As a result, after the war ended, 295,873 internally displaced people were unable to return to their homes until their homes were demined and made safe for human occupation once again.
Accommodating and ensuring the welfare of such a large number of people during the demining process was a very significant challenge.However, it was a challenge that the Government had prepared for since the latter half of 2008. After a national consultation conference with key officials in Government, the UN and other relevant agencies, work on creating welfare villages to house the IDPs began. Once the most suitable locations were identified, the military played a critical role in establishing the villages by providingmanpower and expertise to prepare their infrastructure and facilities. Once the welfare villages were set up, the delivery of services to IDPs was coordinated through a National Steering Committee comprising several Ministries, UN agencies and other organisations as well as District level committees. However, the military provided administrative assistance as well as staff for day-to-day operation of the villages.
The facilities provided in the welfare villages were to a very good standard. Each welfare village was divided into blocks of shelters, and each block had separate kitchens, toilets, bathing areas and child friendly spaces. Provision of water exceeded World Health Organisation standards, and steps were taken to provide quality food and nutrition. Particular care was taken to ensure proper healthcare and as a result, the health of the IDPs improved dramatically within a short span of months. Educational facilities were set up for children, while vocational training facilities were set up for capacity building and empowerment of adults. Much effort went into promoting religious, spiritual and cultural activities, and kovils, churches and mosques were set up through community consultation. Although there was some ill informed speculation by various parties during the initial stages, the welfare villages were a tremendous success story by any standard.
While the IDPs were being accommodated in this fashion, demining and reconstruction in the towns and villages they had left behind was accelerated. In total, it was suspected that mines had been laid in over 5,000 square kilometres of land. A number of international agencies, including groups from India, Denmark and the United Kingdom, assisted the Government in the demining process. However, the largest single extent of land for demining was entrusted to the Sri Lanka Army. These regions totalled almost 1,500 square kilometres, including several of the most densely mined areas.
Demining was carried out in stages. The first priority was demining the towns and villages; the second priority was demining the agricultural areas; and the third priority was demining the forested regions. I am very happy to note that the first two priority areas have been almost completely cleared of mines. The extent of the problem caused by the LTTE can be seen from the fact that nearly 470,000 antipersonnel mines, 1400 anti-tank mines and more than 388,000 unexploded improvised explosive devices have been recovered to date. Demining continues in a few areas where heavy fighting took place during the last stages of the war, but these will also be cleared in the very near future.
With the completion of demining in each area, attention was paid to the reconstruction of infrastructure and facilities that had been long neglected under LTTE occupation. Because of the LTTE’s dominance in those areas for many years, the facilities and infrastructure had been in a very poor state. Although the Government continuously supplied services such as healthcare, education and utilities to these regions over the years, the LTTE did not allow these resources to be used properly. The NGOs that were supposed to be doing work in those areas were also ineffective. As a result, there was no economic development there. The transport networks, power supply, irrigation channels, administrative facilities and housing were all badly in need of repair.
The renovation of houses and construction of new housing units was one of the first priorities in terms of reconstruction in those areas. The Sri Lanka Army took on the responsibility to renovate more than 6,000 houses and construct nearly 7,000 new housing units in this region. The Indian Government has provided a grant to construct 43,000 houses in these areas over the next few years; 1,000 of these have already been built and handed over to beneficiaries. The next key concern was infrastructure development. Under the “Northern Spring” programme launched by the Government in 2009, essential infrastructure such as access roads, minor tanks, public buildings, hospitals and schools were upgraded quickly to facilitate speedy resettlement. Larger projects such as township development, renovation of the road network including the A-9 route, and the restoration of the railway tracks were then undertaken. The provision of electricty, water supply and sanitation, upgrading of healthcare facilities and schools has also been undertaken. The military provided immense assistance in terms of expertise, manpower and construction plant and equipment for all of these projects. It is thanks to this assistance that work has been carried out so fast, and that it has been possible to resettle so many of the IDPs so soon.
By the middle of this month, just three years and three months after the liberation of the North, the Government has successfully resettled 240,067 IDPs. As at today, only 3,054 individuals from 866 families remain in the last functioning Welfare Village, and they too will be resettled in the very near future. The resettlement of nearly three hundred thousand internally displaced people in such a short span of time is a significant and laudable achievement by any standard. In addition to resettling the people so quickly, the Government has done a lot of work to assist them in reviving their livelihoods. Financial and assistance in kind has been given for those involved in crop agriculture, fisheries, and business activities. A great deal of assistance has been provided by the military in this regard, through donations ofequipment and seeds for farmers, assisting in livestock development, setting up irrigation canals, and helping small business owners set up shops. The military has also conducted hundreds of health camps in these areas, and it has facilitated numerous religious and cultural festivals for the people.
Through all of the measures just described, the Government has facilitated the return of normalcy to the people of the North, and has provided the platform on which the people can build better futures for themselves. It is not only the civilian population that has benefited from the speedy actions taken by the Government with the assistance of the military, but also the nearly 12,000 ex-LTTE cadres who surrendered to the Security Forces at the end of the Humanitarian Operation. His Excellency the President had a very clear vision that these ex-combatants had been misled by the LTTE and deserved the opportunity to see the error of their ways. From the first day onwards, our intention was to rehabilitate the vast majority of these ex-LTTE cadres and reintegrate them to society as quickly as possible.
A special UNICEF supported rehabilitation programme was organised for the 594 child soldiers who surrendered. They were given proper counselling, formal education, and given numerous opportunities to participate in spiritual development activities and positive values cultivation. All of the child soldiers were rehabilitated and reunited with their families within one year. The adult beneficiaries of rehabilitation underwent extensive programmes to de-radicalise them and equip them with the ability to return to normal life in society. It is important to note that organisations like the IOM and UNICEF, visiting diplomats, media personnel, lawyers and family members of beneficiaries were given access to the rehabilitation centres. The rehabilitation programmes were organised by various Government Ministries and Departments together with UN Agencies and many local and international Non Governmental Organisations. Theoperation of the centres themselves was greatly assisted by the military, under the direct supervision of the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation.
During the first year itself, 121 beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme were reintegrated to society. 5,227 were reintegrated in 2010; 5,027 were reintegrated in 2011; and 598 have been reintegrated so far this year. Many of the LTTE cadres who were detained during the war have also been rehabilitated and reintegrated, whilst only about 560 have been identified for prosecution. Only 636 beneficiaries still remain in rehabilitation, because they require more time to recover from LTTE indoctrination and regain the full capability to lead normal lives. Research conducted by two American academics, Dr.Kruglanski and Dr.Gelfland of the University of Maryland, College Park, has indicated that there is a significant decline in the support of violence amongst all beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme, including even the most hard-core cadres. This amply supports the Government’s decision torehabilitating and reintegrating the ex-LTTE cadres so quickly.
Every opportunity has been given to the rehabilitated and reintegrated ex-LTTE cadres to resume normal lives in society. Many programmes have been launched, including those to support them to set up their own businesses, obtain funds for self-employment, and undertake farming and fisheries related activities. Because the rehabilitation programmes featured a strong vocational training component, many of the beneficiaries have been employed by various private enterprises including garment factories and other industrial facilities. Some have even been able to find jobs in other countries. A significant number of the reintegrated beneficiaries are also being recruited to the Civil Defence Force, and will be paid a monthly salary and will work in farming and in development activities. As a result of these measures, even former members of the LTTE have been given a full and fair opportunity to build better futures for themselves in a peaceful and stable Sri Lanka.
In this regard, it is important to understand the various other ways through which normalcy was returned to the North and East. During the war, there were members of many armed groups including the TMVP, EPRLF and EPDP who carried arms for their own protection against the LTTE. Soon after the war ended and Government control was reasserted in these regions, the military took steps to disarm all of these armed groups. The Government encouraged them to participate in the political process, and most of the personnel in the groups started to work through democratic means for the benefit of the people. The restoration of elections from very early on in the post-war scenario is a very significant achievement: the people of the North and East have the ability to vote in free and fair elections without fear of LTTE reprisal for the first time in decades. The fact that political plurality has returned to these regions is clear from the results of the elections that have been held.
Another very important facet of the restoration of normalcy is the removal of the many restrictions that had to be in place during the war for security considerations. The restrictions on movement at land and at sea have been gradually withdrawn during the past few years, and there is complete freedom of movement throughout the land today. Thousands of people travel from the North to the South and the North to the South on a daily basis, and more than 50,000 foreign passport holders have visited the North over the last twelve months. Many of them are expatriate Sri Lankans visiting their relatives and their properties in this country for the first time in many decades. It is telling that most of them did not choose to return while the LTTE was active, but have come back after the LTTE has been defeated.
The drastic reduction in the number of security barricades, roadblocks and checkpoints in the North and East is another significant step. The high security zones that existed in the North and East have also been removed progressively, with some restrictions remaining only within the Palaly Cantonment. Even within that Cantonment, however, civilians have access to the Palaly Airport and the Kankasanthurai Harbour. Almost all of the lands that belonged to civilians, which were taken over through gazette notification during the war, have been returned, and owners of properties within the Cantonment that cannot be returned will be paid due compensation and given alternate lands.
The presence of the military in the North and East has been greatly reduced with several battalions being relocated to other parts of the country. While military camps will remain for security reasons, the presence of security forces personnel will be non-obtrusive. They no longer have a role to play in terms of day-to-day law enforcement; instead, these duties have been handed over to the Police. New Police Stations are being set up in the North and East, and several hundred Tamil-speaking Policemen have been recruited over the past three years to staff these stations.
The role of the military in the North and East in future will be to maintain national security and ensure that any pro-LTTE elements remaining amongst the resettled population or who are based in other nations do not have the opportunity to destabilise our hard won peace and harm Sri Lanka. The maintenance of military camps in strategic locations throughout the country is essential for the maintenance of national security. The establishment of military camps in locations such as Mannar, Palaly, Elephant Pass, Pooneryn, Thalladi, Karainagar, and Mullaitivu began in the 1950s with a view to enhancing internal security and minimise the smuggling of persons, drugs and materials in and out of the country. These concerns remain to this day.
Similarly, the Navy has an immense responsibility to ensure the security of the seas around Sri Lanka and prevent the trafficking of persons, smuggling of drugs and the incursion of terrorists and their weapons into Sri Lanka. Over the past few years, it has done a lot of work to prevent these problems from occurring, and has shared vital intelligence on human trafficking with authorities in other nations. At the same time, the Navy also has to protect the international sea lines of communication that pass close to Sri Lanka from piracy, and provide a safe Indian Ocean not only for Sri Lanka but for the entire world.
Apart from such Security related considerations, the role of the military in post-war Sri Lanka extends to many other areas. Because of the professionalism, training and expertise possessed by the Security Forces, many of their personnel have the ability to undertaken important tasks in diverse fields. Not long after the war, His Excellency the President appointed several Flag Rank Officers who were at the war front as Ambassadors and Deputy Ambassadors in different countries around the world, and many Officers were also posted as Defence Attach‚s to important embassies. In these capacities, they have worked hard together with the Foreign Service staff to serve Sri Lanka’s interests with great distinction in foreign capitals.
Officers from all the Services have also become involved in various forms of development related work and the military has played a pivotal role in expediting the construction of vital infrastructure and facilities throughout Sri Lanka.The heads of many authorities and agencies increasingly request the secondment of military officers to their organisations because they are aware of the capacity these personnel have to deliver results. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces have proven this during the Humanitarian Operation, and then proven this again in our present efforts to accelerate economic development.
The lesson you must draw from this is the importance of leadership, hard work and professionalismin performing your duties. As you obtain your diplomas and embark on further higher education or start your careers as educated young people, you must strive hard to work with these qualities in everything that you do. You must develop your leadership skills, and understand that there is an element of leadership in every vocation and in most positions in which you will work. You must develop a capacity for hard work that will enable you to undertake difficult tasks, and you must develop your professionalism so that you can work to a high standard and deliver results. Sri Lanka today is a country with many opportunities.To capitalise on these opportunities, our young people mustcontribute their many talents and skills wholeheartedly and with commitment.I hope you will take this to heart and do your utmost for this country in the years ahead.
In closing, I take the opportunity to congratulate the students on having been conferred diplomas by the prestigious Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, and wish all of you every success.
Full text of the speech delivered by Secretary to the Ministry of Defence at Graduation Ceremony of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) on 21st August 2012 at BMICH, Colombo