Sri Lanka is a model not only for the way it has conducted the military operation against the LTTE, but also the way it carries out humanitarian activities, stated Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
He was speaking at the Public Sitting of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) at the Kadirgamar Institute today (17 August).
Parallel to the military plan, we had a plan for humanitarian assistance. The majority of humanitarian work was done by the three forces, he stated, adding that these activities were transparent.
‘President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the very outset, stated that this is not a military campaign but an operation conducted to liberate the people in the Northern areas. Thus, it was called the ‘Humanitarian Operation’’, the Secretary Defence pointed out.
He stressed that this message was conveyed to the forces and that they were required to remember it at all times and added that the military received much praise internationally especially from the ICRC. The Head of ICRC has stated that Sri Lanka's military was evidence that 'soldiering was a noble task'.
He also stated that the Government was aware of an emerging humanitarian situation and took many measures to address it. The establishment of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) was one such measure.
The Secretary Defence explained that this Committee represented all stakeholders from the government side as well as heads of NGOs, Ambassadors from various countries, heads of UN agencies such as the UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF and ICRC etc., to ensure that the people affected by the operations were provided with all necessary aid such as food, healthcare and water.
‘It was a difficult period. The military had to stop its operations to allow aid convoys to pass through, risking attacks from the LTTE’, he said and added that they were indeed attacked and most of the time the LTTE used these aid packages without distributing it to civilians.
‘But we had to send these convoys as we believed at least some of it will reach the civilians’, he said.
The Secretary Defence also pointed out that No Fire Zones were established to avoid civilian casualties and that the LTTE used this opportunity to fire artillery on the military from there.
The Secretary Defence also pointed out that the three forces were well trained and provided knowledge in human rights and international humanitarian law. The Army has a special directorate called ‘Human Rights and Humanitarian Law’ and these cells operate at all levels. He added that the military took action against those who committed offences.