Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has stoutly denied he was militarizing the Northern region and insisted troops “are maintaining absolutely essential presence” and were spread across all 22 districts on the island.
He was responding to the charge by Tamil parties and the diaspora that army camps flooded the North even after the government won the war over 30 months ago and no civilian activity — not even family celebrations — could happen without the presence of an army officer.
“We have achieved large-scale development and restoration of normalcy within a short span after ending the 30-year war on terror,” stated Defence Secretary in an interview with Indian newspaper Deccan Chronicle published on February 6.
It’s sad some people do not recognize this and instead are talking of sanctions against us. Is this fair and justified? , he asked.
Following is the text of the report:
No militarization of N. Lanka: Def secy
Sri Lankan defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has pleaded for a “fair assessment” of the development work and restoration of normal life in the northern region “within a short time of ending the 30-year war against terror” instead of summary branding of the government as rights-abuser.
“In these two-and-a-half years since winning the war, we have made great progress but, unfortunately, some people do not recognize that and harp on unnecessary issues, talk of sanctions (against Colombo).
It was not an ordinary insurgency but real war. You cannot compare the LTTE with any other terrorist outfit, not even Al-Qaeda,” Mr Gotabaya said in an exclusive interview at his high-security office here. He called upon the Tamils to “shed Tamil nationalism and grab the post-war opportunities”.
Lamenting that no one appreciates what the country has achieved in such a short time, he said the government had done a “great job” taking care of the nearly 300,000 IDPs (war-displaced civilians), besides rehabilitating about 11,000 Tiger cadres who surrendered at the end of the war (May 2009). “We are running a programme to integrate these ex-cadres with society rather than have them behind bars.” Recalling that barring a couple of cases, all the victims of LTTE suicide attacks were civilians and that included Tamils, Mr Gotabaya said the government did not hold that against the surren-dered cadres but brought them under an elaborate rehab programme. Only about 700 ex-militants were yet to be released.
Asked about the fate of senior LTTE leader V. Balakumar (ex-EROS), the defence secretary quipped, “I do not know specific cases. Was he in detention? I do not know. Most of the known characters died in the final battle. Some surrendered. There was ICRC and other agencies during the surrender process.”
Stoutly contesting the charge that the surrendered Tigers were killed in cold blood, Mr Gotabaya said international agencies, including the French MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers) and the Indian medical team, were present in the battle zone to receive survivors and surrendered militants.
Asked about the complaints that the army presence in the north was overwhelming — Tamils complained that they were present even during private family functions — he shot back, “We have minimum army presence there.
There are military cantonments even in Kashmir, in Tamil Nadu. But now there are no roadblocks, no cordon-and-search. We have transferred law and order to the police and started recruiting Tamil policemen.” He said recruitment to military had stopped and even retirement vacancies were not filled.
But they could not send back the soldiers after having used them to win the war as they were breadwinners. Nevertheless, there would be sizeable military presence to ensure that the “past does not revisit”.