17 May, 2022


Transfer Of Military’s Role In Civil Affairs To Elected Council Can Promote Reconciliation In North

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government is continuing to give indications of its reluctance to establish a provincial council in the Northern Province with the devolved powers as provided by the 13th Amendment.  The main concern articulated by government spokespersons has been the danger that a Tamil-led provincial council in the former war zone of the North might pose to national unity.  This would account for the question being referred to the other eight provincial councils by the government, in which they are being asked to approve the dilution of their own powers as well as those of the soon-to-be-elected Northern Provincial Council.  The ruling party headed by the President has taken the decision to proceed with the amending of the 13th Amendment.  The only question remaining is when will the amendment be approved by Parliament and passed into law.

One of the most articulate spokespersons for the government position on the issue of the danger of too much devolution to the Tamil-majority Northern Province has been Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.  He has also been the main proponent within the government of a continuing role for the military in post-war Sri Lanka.  As a result of the prevalence of his view, there is an increasing role that is visible for the military in all parts of the country.  Many achievements stand to the credit of his thinking, including the cleaning up, renovation of old landmark buildings and the greening of Colombo city, which would have been impossible without the induction of the military into these tasks. His views on what is good and bad for national unity will also be taken seriously within the country on account of the key role he played in the elimination of the LTTE and its threat to national unity.

For the past four years the Sri Lankan military has played a major role in developing the economy of the Northern and Eastern provinces.  After the war much of the North, in particular, was a wasteland.  There was, and remains, an enormous task of rebuilding the physical infrastructure that was destroyed during the three decades of war.  This massive effort could not have been undertaken by the private sector which has a short term and profit-oriented outlook.  It was not realistic to expect the country’s under-capacitated private sector to accomplish the challenges of infrastructure development on its own.    Therefore in the absence of an alternative, it was the Sri Lankan military that took up the challenge of speedily engaging in infrastructure development.  It had and continues to have the disciplined manpower in sufficient numbers to undertake large infrastructure development projects.

 Military’s Contribution 

There are many examples of military successes in achieving development targets.  With its large number of military camps throughout the North and East, the military has the most readily available pool of manpower on the spot to do the job.  The Defense Ministry website gives details of these activities.  A major activity in which the military is involved in is the construction of houses.  Soldiers of the Army, with funds from the Ministry of Resettlement, are constructing 165 houses in the first phase of the housing project in Keppapilavu village in Mullaitivu. As of today, 50 completed houses were handed over to the owners. At a special event, the Ministry of Resettlement laid foundation stones for 115 more houses. These houses will be built jointly by the community and the soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army, funded by the Ministry of Resettlement. The Ministry granted Rs. 300,000 for each family to build a house and construction work was carried out by the Sri Lanka Army with community participation. Many houses for the elderly, disabled people and single parent (mother only) families were completely built by the soldiers.

The military personnel on the ground, who witnessed the sufferings of the people in the time of war, and witness to their poverty in the present, are often moved to sympathy, and are genuine in their efforts to uplift the people’s lives.  However, this positive dimension of the military’s role in infrastructure building has not received the appreciation it might have by the beneficiary population and the international community, due to an entirely different factor.  This is the role given to the military to overlook governance in the North and East.  The government has appointed former military commanders who were in charge of military operations in the North and East during the time of the war to be governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces.  The role of the military’s civil affairs offices, and powers given to local level military commanders in relation to civilian life, has created tensions with the civil population.  The transition to peace in its fullest sense has not yet taken place in the North and East because the de-militarisation of civil administration has yet to take place.

The issue of over-militarization of the Northern Province has loomed large in international and Tamil critiques of the existing state of affairs.  The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission too, in its report of November 2011, called on the government to demilitarize the North and facilitate the return to civilian administration.  On the positive side, it is noticeable that the presence of uniformed military personnel has been sharply reduced and in the town areas of the North it is barely to be seen.  A recent UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report (OCHA) states that they “observed a remarkable improvement in the districts in Northern and Eastern Province. The Government of Sri Lanka had provided good infrastructure development in many sectors including transportation, communication and health services. We also observed that there was no visible presence of armed military personnel in uniforms.”

 Normalise Governance

However, discussions with residents of the North will invariably reveal a belief in a military presence, which they feel is ubiquitous and also oppressive.  They continue to report that there is a strong military presence that manifests itself now in the form of large numbers of intelligence personnel in civilian attire.  There is a continued impression among the people that any gathering of several people needs to be informed to the military authorities, and that any seminar or discussion is likely to be attended by them or by informers.  In addition, the military has established checkpoints and camps near peoples’ homes especially in the village areas. It is reported that military personnel frequently patrol these areas and the military’s intrusion into practically all aspects of civilian affairs remains a way of life.  The government’s approach to reconciliation in the North cannot be successful on this basis as the dominant effect is to create a psychology of fear towards the security forces.

The dual role of the military is not appropriate to promoting reconciliation.   The military’s role in facilitating the provision and building of major infrastructure projects will contribute to the upgrading of the economy of the North.  But while this is important and necessary, there is also the need to address the issue of normalization of civilian life after war.  The constant complaint of those who live in the North and East is that military intelligence personnel are ubiquitous in their lives, and the requirement of getting their approval for even private functions that people organize serves to dampen their sense of being normal and free to speak and organise as they wish.  It also serves as a reminder that even four years after the war, normal civilian life and civilian administration has still not been restored.  The UN (OCHA) report itself noted “The Security Apparatus is perceived to be too present or too close to people’s lives.”

In this context, the most positive feature of the present time is the government’s decision to hold the Northern Provincial Council elections.  It offers the government an opportunity to normalize governance in the Northern Province and to transfer decision making powers to democratically elected authorities.   It is evident that the government is facing considerable opposition from within its ranks in this regard due to concerns over national security and unity.  But it is important that the elections take place as scheduled.  These elections and the establishment of a provincial administration is an opportunity to the government to divest the military of their present role in governance.  While the military can contribute to economic infrastructure building using its discipline and manpower, the restoration of true peace and reconciliation requires an empowered civil administration and a military that is back in barracks where governance is concerned.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Dear Mr Jehan Perera,

    I appreciate your desire for peace and reconciliation among the communities in Sri Lanka. I have read several articles of yours over the years.

    Your article has high praise for the military in the North doing development work. However, your views are similar to those of Aung San Auu Kyi, the pretending democrat of Burma, praising the military which is annihilating the ethnic minorities, while Myanmar regime is conducting genocide of Rohingyas. She keeps an eye closed so that she can get the majority Buddhist votes!

    You are conveniently ignoring all the atrocities committed by the armed forces on Tamils in the war zones and elsewhere for many years. Do you remember the role the military and police played in several anti-Tamil pogroms? What do the police do now when Muslims and Christian churches are attached in the South?

    Development work you refer to is mainly for the benefit of the Sinhala colonizers and the occupying military families. Do you know the government gives bonus to the Sinhala military personnel who give birth to the third child in their families? More military families in the North mean fast change of the demography.

    Did the government ask what the priority of the residents in the North is before they embarked on the so-called development? The elected representatives are ignored: Only quislings and cronies are involved.

    Many displaced Tamils have their homes and lands confiscated by the army. You don’t talk about it. Don’t you think a caring government must return all the lands taken for Security Zones to the owners? Instead they built luxury hotels for the ruling elite to benefit in those lands. Even the pliant judiciary will approve the land grab!

    Tamils’ jobs are taken away and given to Sinhala colonizers. Sinhalese fishermen displace Tamil fishermen. Tamils are dissuaded from doing certain businesses – to stunt their economic progress. Structural genocide continues after physical genocide.

    Tamil women continue to be sexually abused by the armed forces. The military is mainly there in the North and East to change the demography of the NorthEast, and to subjugate Tamils. Many Tamil families are living in poverty because of State discrimination. Suicide among people is endemic. Why did the military hinder the development work proposed by the US, which later pulled back because in frustration? Tamils are living in mortal fear.

    Tamil names of villages and streets are changed to Sinhala names. May be you don’t hear all these because the press is muzzled. The state is changing the demography of the North, the process started by D. S. Senanayake, even before independence. Don’t think Tamils are fools. All Sri Lankan regimes have contributed to the Sinhalization of the North-East – the Tamil speaking People’s homeland.

    Do you ever ask yourself why tens of thousands of Tamils are fleeing Sri Lanka at a faster rate after the war when so-called peace is established than during the war before the “victory”? There is something wrong with this “peace” as far as Tamils are concerned. Will the Sinhalese acknowledge what is happening is to annihilate Tamils?

    Tamils consider the military as oppressors for several decades: Near the end of the war the military deliberately massacred tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians in the so-called No Fire Zones by precisely directed bombing and shelling of civilians and even Red Cross identified hospitals inside. If you watch the scrupulously authenticated documentary: No Fire Zones, The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka by Callum Macrae, you will realize the immense suffering the innocent Tamil civilians underwent at the final stages of the war. It is a heart wrenching, horrendous story which shows the cruelty the armed forces and the government of Rajapakses inflicted on Tamils. Tamils in the war zone in Vanni was under-accounted by the regime purposely to reduce food and medicine supply, and later to exterminate a part of them. Even convoys and hospitals were bombed and shelled.

    All these genocidal action of the Sri Lankan regimes climaxing in Rajapakse’s physical genocide is in the collective memory of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and all over the world.

    You are behaving like an ostrich taking about development, reconciliation, and an election with the farcical 13th amendment.

    Truth must come out fist: justice must follow with apologies from the perpetrators of the injustices, and reparations to the victims; then and only then will true reconciliation follow. Not otherwise! Only truth shall set people free.

    Unless the perpetrators are punished, repetitions by future regimes cannot be prevented. How can a regime that massacred its own citizens continue to rule a people? It is immoral even for the international community or the UN to ignore it, as they did during the later part of the war. Tamils don’t owe anything to anybody. They want justice and their birth rights in their ancestral home just like any other free community in the world.

    The present regime is full of liars from the top to bottom. Will they consent to bring out the truth? No, they know they are guilty but they want to be scot free and continue to perpetrate their cruelty.

    It’s a pity that a well intentioned person like you is prostituting your intellect by not exposing the glaring truths first? We can write articles skirting the truth, but when the truth bursts out we will look like fools or worse still, hypocrites.

    With regards,

  • 0

    Sri lankan military should not leave the northen and eastern provinces ever . Sri lanka can have militarly camps where ever on its own land . It does not need jehan pereras approval or my Thiru from Scarbaria’s approval . period .

    Get used to it . There are military camps all over the country . the pig farmers in welisara are not asking for them to be moved . If you dont like it feel free to take a freaking boat to Australia Canada or where ever .

  • 0

    The activities of the military in building houses and helping the civilian community is praiseworthy but when measured against the negative aspects such as the taking over of lands and lack of personal liberty, economic freedom and political rights, is not significant. No doubt the military itself is disciplined and well intentioned, but as a matter of policy it is better for society to revert to civilian rule with the military taking a back seat.

  • 0

    I fully agree with Thiru. There are people like Jehan do not consider human dignity as important than the money.He totally forget this aspect of the human beings.He always talks about the 13th amendment.Is he dreaming that the Sinhala leaders will give powers to Northern Council even if majority Tamils won the seats ?.Will they remove the Army Governor? There are babies who think that the development work for people forgetting the 15% to 20% commissions taken by respective politicians and their henchmen. The so called intellectuals should realize the real motive of the announcement of elections in North by Mara Government.They shed crocodile tears for Tamils while celebrating the War victory over Tamils. The Tamil people who have become poor and helpless due to Maras war against Tamils may accept certain concessions given by Maras henchmen in North but the majority of Tamils will never forget and forgive the atrocities committed against them. NGO papas like Jehan who get free money are very much praise the Government and the Military for their own survival like VESAdeva Nanayakkara who talks a lot but vote for Mara every time as he voted for the 18th amendment. Jehan strongly believes that the so called development is the key component of reconciliation.What about the democratic and human rights coupled with justice.How we ensure reconciliation without the restoration of justice.Shall we close all courts and send all judges home leaving military to engage in development work to reconcile the nation.

    I don’t think that the virtual military rule in the country and the direct military dictatorship in North will serve the purposes of the people. The whole country is under the rule of one (Kings)family. People have no choice other than bow their heads for their survival.People who have even a title amount of self respect will never recognize the present administrative set up which is highly corrupted politically and economically.Transparency and accountability and the rule of law that are key elements of good governance are now totally deteriorated. The rulers rule the people for themselves but not for the people as claimed by Democrats.The only way for people to get rid of the fate situation is to unite and raise their voices strongly under real and genuine leadership which is lacking at present.Unfortunately we don’t have a single leader who talks for all people without considering the ethnicity,religion and gender differences.We don’t have National leader/s.

  • 0

    The terms “National security”, “National Unity”, “Reconciliation”, “Peace”, and “Development” are widely used by most analysts and commentators. However, no body try to define these terms or explain what it is in the context of the situation or to the relevance of the problem that we are concerned of. For example what is national security? Is it the security of the Sinhala Buddhists or entire population? Why there is only Sinhala military to protect the nation and develop the North? Why don’t we have a military representing various ethnic origins? What are the threats to the National security? We had two Sinhala insurgency threatening the state and the whole country and Tamil insurgency in the North East against the threat to the security of the People of that land? The threat for the National security is from the Sinhala majority and not from Tamil majority.
    When we talk about unity, it clearly shows there is no unity among people. How do you bring unity among people? How can you bring unity using Sinhala only Military? Reconciliation requires better communication. Can you achieve better communication using Sinhala only military?

  • 0

    Jehans true values are money first. For a long time he took many benefits from foreign donors and embassies and pretended to support the tamil cause. Now he has realized the rajapakse’s have won the day and wants to sound sympathetic to their cause. I will respect the guy more if he declares publicly the list of those who fund his NGO and also the list of those who have given him all the air tickets and funding for foreign travel.Before we talk of good governance for millions in the north let us have good governance for Mr. Jehan the pundt.Do the tamils need this kind of cunning double dealer ?

  • 0

    You must be beyond stupid to even suggest that we leave the LTTE in charge of military in the north. You are nothing but a traitor who will sit and write garbage for NGO money. Does LTTE approve what you write before you publish it?

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