Less than two weeks ago President MahindaRajapaksa told a group of rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres, “We will not allow petty politics to harm the communal harmony reinstated after defeat of terrorism.” He was speaking to 1,250 former LTTE fighters who were being reintegrated into society and given livelihood loans to enable them to move into society.
“You were forced to sacrifice your youth and happiness to cultivate hatred and division among people and now it is the time for you to begin a new life with hope and vigour for a brighter future. All of you are equal stakeholders of the massive development Sri Lanka is witnessing today and this initiative will provide the opportunity for you step into the society as dignified individuals,” the President told the ex-combatants. This seemed a prelude to how from Tuesday last the world was shown the reality of the new changes taking place in Sri Lanka in the post-conflict phase, in the Defence Seminar 2012 on the theme ‘Towards lasting peace and stability’. This was the occasion for Defence Secretary GotabhayaRajapaksa, the keynote speaker, to state that “as we step forward into a brighter future, we will do so together as Sri Lankans and that is the greatest accolade that can be paid to the success of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict development; that will be our legacy to future generations.”
Speaking to an audience that included defence experts and analysts, specialists on development, those knowledgeable in rehabilitation and resettlement, and relevant aspects of humanitarian activity from many foreign countries, in addition to our own specialists in these fields and other observers, GotabhayaRajapaksa laid out the path that the Security Forces of the country had taken in bringing the country to the present level of peace and stability, which surpassed the expectations of many who had good knowledge of the 30 year conflict the country had been dragged through.
Defeat of terrorism
Recalling the situation the country faced after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, in the midst of the outpourings of relief and joy at the defeat of terrorism, he said the government was deeply aware of the grave challenges and responsibilities it faced in the war’s aftermath, which he detailed as:
• Demining needed to be carried out over approximately 5,000 square kilometres of land
• Reconstruction had to take place in the former LTTE controlled areas
• Nearly 300,000 internally displaced people needed to be Resettled
• Close to 12,000 surrendered LTTE cadres had to be Rehabilitated and then Reintegrated
• Normalcy had to be restored throughout the land; and
• Measures had to be taken to foster national Reconciliation and economic development.
He thus laid down the Five R’s of the new strategy for peace stability in the country, in the form of Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation.
The Defence Seminar was a detailed and important study, with good interactions among participants on how the country, and especially the Security Forces, had faced the new challenges with a detailed record of the achievements made so far in the first four of the R’s and moving steadily towards Reconciliation.
In a studied and detailed analysis of every aspect of the move to ensure peace and stability, Mr. Rajapaksa showed how each aspect of the process of restoration and peace building was done. On demining, which was the major initial problem, he showed how as at end June 2012, 469,275 antipersonnel mines, 1,399 anti-tank mines, and 388,963 unexploded ordnance devices had been recovered. It is because of the number of mines and IEDs laid by the LTTE was so very large that demining in some areas continues to this day, he said.
As these excerpts from Mr. Rajapaksa’s address would show, he explained how alongside the demining process, Reconstruction was expedited in each area that was cleared of mines and rendered safe. As a result of LTTE action and long neglect, many of the houses, business premises, government offices, schools, hospitals, other facilities and infrastructure were in need of significant repair and improvement.
New housing units
The renovation of houses and construction of new housing units was one of the government’s first priorities in terms of reconstruction. The Army has been involved in several programmes to renovate damaged houses and construct new ones. Under a grant sponsored by the government of India, 43,000 new houses will also be constructed in these regions. The pilot project for this programme was launched in 2010, and 1,000 houses have already been built and handed over to the beneficiaries. Through the on-going programmes, the housing stock in the North will be greatly increased and improved over the next few years.
Emphasizing the importance of agriculture related development in a largely rural society, in areas where the rural livelihoods had been destroyed, the Defence Secretary said: “Much of the irrigation infrastructure, including canals and tanks, was restored early on to revive agriculture and farming, while major programmes to upgrade drinking water supply and sanitation are also underway.”
“The role played by the military in the reconstruction activities just described deserves to be highlighted. For many of the projects undertaken, especially those begun soon after the end of the war, the military provided engineering expertise, construction plant and equipment, as well as much of the necessary manpower.”
“While state owned institutions such as the State Engineering Corporation and the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau undertook several responsibilities, and while many private sector and foreign organizations won contracts for certain projects, the fact remains that the military was essential in facilitating the reconstruction activities. At the same time, it also helped facilitate several other important functions, including supporting the care of the internally displaced.”
Rehabilitated LTTE cadres
Having explained in detail the measure taken to restore normalcy, Mr. Rajapaksa was emphatic that the most fundamental requirement of the people in the North and East is the opportunity to build a better life for themselves. In this context, he was pleased to note the great deal of work done by the military to help the civilians.
“The Army has renovated more than 6,000 houses and constructed nearly 7,000 new permanent or semi-permanent houses for the civilians being resettled. It has constructed 19 schools, created 23 school playgrounds, and renovated more than 55 old school buildings. Assistance has also been provided through the provision of fishing gear, utilities for farming and provision of livestock and seeds for agriculture. Medical clinics are held from time to time, and assistance is provided for the conduct of religious, cultural and other festivals. During this critical period, as the newly resettled people are finding their feet, the role played by the military in assisting the civilians has helped our Armed Services win their hearts and minds.”
As he was winding up, it was with a measure of much confidence in the future that Mr. Rajapaksa echoed what President Rajapaksa told the rehabilitated LTTE cadres last week: “As the people of the North and East resume their day-to-day lives in a peaceful and stable Sri Lanka, they do so with fully restored democratic freedoms, greatly improved standards of living and with unrestricted opportunities to make a better future for themselves.
I have every confidence that as a result of the many beneficial developments that have taken place since the end of the war, there will be no space for the re-emergence of our previous problems.
It was the same note of optimism seen in his conclusion that: “Sri Lanka’s journey during the three years since the dawn of peace has seen the country transform itself from a nation at war to a country that is amongst the most peaceful, stable and secure in the world.
The unwavering commitment and resolve of the government to swiftly implement measures for Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation has laid the foundation for a prosperous future for all our citizens, irrespective of their diversity and differences.
I have every confidence that as we step forward into this brighter future, we will do so together as Sri Lankans. That is the greatest accolade that can be paid to the success of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict development; that will be our legacy to future generations.”
For text of Defence Secretary GothabayaRajapaksa’s address visit: