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Thursday, August 23 , 2012 - 7.42 GMT
Presence of military personnel in N & E will be unobtrusive - Defence Secy

 

Towns and villages and agriculture areas have been almost completely cleared of landmines
Only 3,054 individuals remain at Welfare Villages
Restrictions on traveling, transportation of various items completely removed

Security Forces personnel deployed in North and East have been relieved of all duties in terms of law enforcement, and the maintenance of law and order has been completely handed over to the police. While military camps will remain in strategic positions to uphold national security, the presence of military personnel will be unobtrusive, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said.

The situation in the North was inherently more complicated than that of the East. The LTTE had been in control over much of the territory in the North for many years, thereby leading to the suppression of its natural potential for a much longer period. This impacted both the psyche of the people of the North, as well as the degree to which the Province needed restoration, the Defence Secretary said addressing the 5th Annual Symposium of Kotelawala Defence Academy yesterday.

"The problems caused by the thousands of antipersonnel mines, antitank mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE over large extents of land made this already bad situation much worse," he said.

In 2009, there were approximately 2,000 checkpoints, sentry points and roadblocks in North and East Provinces. Today, there are hardly any. The presence of Security Forces personnel in the North has been greatly reduced, with 28 battalions being relocated to the East and the South. The overall number of troops has been reduced by more than 21,000 since 2009.

In this context, it is important to underscore that military camps exist in various locations throughout Sri Lanka. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that there is adequate security for the entire nation, and it is only logical to place military encampments in strategic locations.

While it is true that there are still some civilian properties within the Cantonment, it must be stressed that civilians have not occupied these properties for the last twenty to twenty-five years. The Government has taken measures to pay compensation to the owners of these properties and to provide alternate lands to them. It should also be noted that lands that had been forcefully taken from the people and occupied by the LTTE for many years have also been released to their legal owners.

The sustenance of national security in Sri Lanka depends on the inclusiveness of our democracy, and the equality of all our citizens. In the past, there was a certain degree of mistrust between communities that led to certain unfortunate incidents. It is our duty as Sri Lankans to put this past behind us and build a bright future for our nation. In this regard, it is essential that there is no longer any suspicion of discrimination or unequal treatment that might encourage people to follow an undemocratic path and bring back the divisions of the past.

The renewed economic opportunities and freedoms that the people of the North now enjoy are vastly different from what they were when much of the Province was under the LTTE. Children are free to go to school and have the chance to improve their prospects in life. Employment opportunities for adults are increasing day by day, and a great deal of support has been given to those individuals who are interested in starting up businesses or finding other means of self employment.

The Government's actions with regard to the North has been aimed restoring vibrancy to this long depressed region of Sri Lanka. Unlike in the past, the residents of the North have all their democratic rights and have equal and unrestricted access to the services offered by the state. While there are still a few pro-LTTE elements amongst the residents of the North as well as within certain ethnicity based political parties, and while they may still try to destabilise the peace if given the opportunity, the fact is that the people of the North no longer have any reason to feel isolated or disfavoured.

Democracy has returned to North, the civil administration is fully functional, and the people have unrestricted opportunities to make better futures for themselves and it will not be long before the Northern Province is a flourishing and vibrant region of our nation, the Defence Secretary added.

Full text of the speech:

It gives me great pleasure to address all of you at Opening Ceremony of the 5th Annual Symposium organised by the Kotelawala Defence University. The theme for this year's symposium is "Ensuring National Security Through Reconciliation and Sustainable Development". At this important moment in our nation's history, this topic is a most appropriate one. A little over three years ago, Sri Lanka emerged from a three decades long terrorist conflict waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the LTTE. Today, the country is experiencing a national revival that will restore it to its rightful place on the world stage. The challenge before the Government is to facilitate this resurgence whilst taking necessary steps to ensure long-term peace and stability by upholding national security.

The Humanitarian Operation that liberated Sri Lanka from the LTTE's brutal terrorism was centred on restoring complete normalcy to the nation. It was the intention of the Government to bring back peace and stability for all our people. Now that this objective has been achieved, it is vital that the country moves forward and fully exploits the many opportunities afforded by peace. All Sri Lankans, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or affiliations, must gain the confidence that they can lead lives of dignity, equality and fulfilment within a supportive, dynamic and multicultural environment. To achieve this vision, the Government is presently working hard to achieve national reconciliation and sustainable development.

In this regard, it is important to fully appreciate the many challenges that faced the Government in the post war situation. Nearly three hundred thousand civilians had been taken out of their homes by the LTTE for use as a human shield during its retreat towards its strongholds. To prevent the advance of the military, the LTTE had created obstacles by laying mines and Improvised Explosive Devices in the towns and villages it left behind. Because of this, the displaced civilians could not go back to their homes soon after the war. Looking after the IDPs, demining and reconstructing their towns and villages, and facilitating their speedy resettlement were all major challenges for the state. Another very significant issue was dealing with the nearly 12,000 LTTE cadres who surrendered to Security Forces during the Humanitarian Operation. Resolving these issues as quickly as possible was essential to the restoration of normalcy.

Apart from appreciating the challenges faced, it is equally important to understand the overall context in the North and East at that time. The areas under LTTE control had been in virtual isolation from the rest of Sri Lanka for decades. The democratic process had been subverted, law & order had been undermined, the civil administration had been under duress, and ordinary people had enjoyed little control over their destinies. Although the LTTE had maintained the trappings of a state apparatus in the areas it controlled, it was an illusion designed to disguise territory held under gunpoint.

Economic development in these regions had also lagged far behind the rest of the country while under LTTE control. Although successive governments had continuously supplied services including healthcare, education and utilities to these regions over the years, the LTTE did not allow these resources to be used properly. The non-governmental organisations supposed to be engaging in development work in these areas were also ineffective. As a result, virtually no economic progress took place. The infrastructure, including the transportation networks, power supply, irrigation channels, and telecommunication services etc., were badly underdeveloped.

Developing the regions formerly under LTTE control was the primary challenge that the Government faced in the post-war situation. The Eastern Province, which was liberated from the LTTE in July 2007, was brought back to virtual normalcy even while the Humanitarian Operation was continuing in the North. The various groups that had operated in the East and carried arms for their protection against the LTTE were speedily disarmed, and encouraged to join the political mainstream. Elections were held in the Eastern Province as early as May 2008, giving the people the ability to exercise their franchise without fear. This restoration of their fundamental democratic rights was a significant accomplishment in a country that was still at war.

In terms of economic development, the Government launched several initiatives under the "Eastern Dawn" programme to restore infrastructure such as roads, bridges, irrigation channels and power supply. It also took several steps to revitalise productive sectors including crop agriculture, livestock, fisheries and tourism in this province. Within a remarkably short period of time after being liberated, the Eastern province emerged as a fast-developing, vibrant part of Sri Lanka.

The newfound confidence that the people in this Province enjoyed was shown in how quickly they resumed their normal activities and adopted new pursuits. The revival of cultivation activities increased the acreage of productive paddy fields in the Province and significantly increased the quantities of paddy being brought to market in the country. With the progressive removal of restrictions at sea, the fisheries industry increased its productivity very quickly and is presently thriving. The revival of tourism brought in large numbers of tourists, and the Eastern Province has already attracted a lot of fresh investment from various sectors. The status that the Province now enjoys was virtually unimaginable when the East was liberated four years ago.

To affect a similar revival in the Northern Province, His Excellency the President appointed a Presidential Task Force for Reconstruction and Resettlement immediately after the war ended. However, it was understood that the situation in the North was inherently more complicated than that of the East. The LTTE had been in control over much of the territory in the North for many years, thereby leading to the suppression of its natural potential for a much longer period. This impacted both the psyche of the people of the North, as well as the degree to which the Province needed restoration. The problems caused by the thousands of antipersonnel mines, antitank mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE over large extents of land made this already bad situation much worse.

In total, it was suspected that mines had been laid in approximately 5,000 square kilometres of land in total. Demining such a vast area was a very difficult challenge that the Government undertook with the help of many foreign organisations, including the Danish Demining Group, the UK based Mines Advisory Group, the Indian Sarvatra Group and Horizon Group, and several others. The Sri Lanka Army was given the responsibility of demining the largest area of land, which comprised almost 1,500 square kilometres, including 1,380 square kilometres in the densely mined North.

The demining programme was carefully planned and executed. Priority areas were chosen to maximise efficiency and to enable the speedy return of the civilians to the homes they had been displaced from. As such, the first priority was to demine the towns and villages. The second priority was to demine the agricultural areas such as paddy fields and plantations. The third priority was to clear the forested areas. I am pleased to note that as of today, the two main priority areas have been almost completely cleared. To date, 469,275 antipersonnel mines, 1,399 anti-tank mines, and 388,963 unexploded ordnance devices have been recovered. It is because of the large number of mines and IEDs planted by the LTTE that demining continues in some areas to this day. These are places where heavy fighting took place during the last stages of the war, and where the concentration of mines is at its highest. It is expected that these areas too will be completely cleared in the very near future.

With the completion of demining in each area, reconstruction was expedited so that the infrastructure and facilities that had been long neglected under LTTE occupation could be developed. The renovation of houses and construction of new housing units was one of the Government's first priorities in terms of reconstruction since it enabled the expediting of the resettlement programme. The Army has renovated over 6,000 houses and constructed nearly 7,000 new housing units in this region1. Under a grant sponsored by the Government of India, 43,000 new houses will also be constructed. 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 these on-going programmes, the housing stock in the North will be greatly increased and improved over the next few years.

Infrastructure development was another key concern. In a similar initiative to the "Eastern Dawn" programme, the Government launched a programme entitled the "Northern Spring" to undertake large development projects in the North. Infrastructure development, electricity, water supply and sanitation, agriculture, irrigation, livestock development, inland fisheries, health, solid waste disposal, education, sports, cultural affairs and transportation improvements were all envisaged under this programme. A team of officials was appointed to each District to identify and direct the necessary activities.

Essential infrastructure, including access roads, minor tanks, public buildings, hospitals, schools, were upgraded quickly to facilitate speedy resettlement. With the completion of these priority projects, attention was turned to larger undertakings. Township development, including improved administrative facilities for enhanced delivery of state services, has been expedited in all districts. The development of the road network throughout the North has also been expedited. Many important bridges have been built. The restoration of the railways has been undertaken, as the railways had ceased functioning in 1990 due to LTTE action. The railway track from Omanthai to Pallai will be completed by next September, and the rest from Pallai to Kankasanthurai will be completed by June 2014. The track from Medawachchiya to Madhu will be completion in March next year, and the track from Madhu to Talaimannar is expected to be completed six months later.

Much of the irrigation infrastructure, including canals and tanks, has been restored in order to revive agriculture and farming, and major programmes to upgrade drinking water supply and sanitation are also underway. Electrification has been expedited, and many regions that did not have power supply before are gaining this benefit for the first time. Provision of healthcare is being enhanced with the construction of new facilities and the restoration of old infrastructure. Schools are being restored and brought back to full functionality. I am also pleased to note that many private sector organisations have set up operations in the North, including financial institutions, supermarkets, boutiques and shops.

With the completion of demining and the completion of reconstruction in each area, the displaced civilians were resettled. By the middle of August, just over three years 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. These IDPs are from areas that have the highest concentration of mines, which have taken a little longer than expected to render safe. The Government intends to complete the resettlement of all IDPs by the middle of this month. Resettling nearly three hundred thousand internally displaced people in just over three years is a significant and laudable achievement by any standard, and it has enabled the long suffering people of the North to once again live their lives under the conditions of normalcy experienced by everyone around Sri Lanka.

Alongside resettlement of the IDPs, another significant challenge before the Government was in dealing with the LTTE cadres who surrendered or were detained during the Humanitarian Operation. It is important to stress that the approach adopted by the Government has been different from the usual approach adopted in these circumstances.

Instead of seeking to prosecute and punish all these ex-terrorists, the Government placed the vast majority of them in rehabilitation programmes from the first day onwards. This was because of His Excellency the President's vision that the former LTTE cadres had been misled, and deserved an opportunity to see the error of their ways and reintegrate with society. As such, they were placed in a comprehensive rehabilitation programme, which was overseen by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. A special UNICEF supported rehabilitation programme was organised for the 594 child soldiers who had surrendered. The focus was on providing proper counselling as well as spiritual development activities and positive values cultivation for these child beneficiaries. Formal education was provided, with classes being conducted for more than 200 students between Grade 8 and Grade 11, and 65 students in the Advanced Level sections. Several 6 month long vocational training programmes were also conducted in subjects such as information technology, aesthetics, carpentry, masonry, beauty culture etcetera. All the child beneficiaries were reunited with their families within one year, although 74 chose to come back to continue the education programmes they had been following while under rehabilitation.

All adult beneficiaries underwent extensive programmes that were designed to de-radicalise them and equip them with the ability to return to normal life in society. It is very important to stress the fact that several International agencies and Non Governmental Organisations such as the IOM and UNICEF were given free and unfettered access to the rehabilitation centres. So too were diplomats, media personnel, lawyers, and the family members of the beneficiaries.

Counselling was a major component of the rehabilitation programme. Special training and periodic refresher training was provided to centre administrators on how to provide psychological first aid and counselling. The counselling programme was designed in partnership with the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition, Ministry of Social Services and Social Welfare, and many Non Governmental Organisations engaged in the field. This was intended to correct the mind-set of the ex-combatants and affect attitudinal change. Much effort was taken to enable them to develop their personalities as individuals.

Spiritual, religious and cultural rehabilitation programmes were conducted for the beneficiaries, with the intention of reacquainting them with the cultural and family norms they had left behind when with the LTTE. Psychological and creative therapy rehabilitation was provided, including group counselling and therapy sessions, aesthetics and drama therapy programmes. Beneficiaries were also encouraged to take part in various sports activities.

A lot of attention was paid to the reunification of families, with married ex-combatants being given the opportunity to re-join their spouses, children and parents at special rehabilitation centres called 'Peace Villages'. Special leave was also granted to many of the beneficiaries to visit their families, and attend religious and cultural activities at home from time to time. This enabled many beneficiaries to continue their rehabilitation without any disruption to their family life. A special Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre was established at Kaithady in Jaffna to cater to the reunification of married beneficiaries as well.

A special programme for 'catch up education' was provided in collaboration with the Education Ministry for young adults in rehabilitation. 46 different vocational training courses were also provided to the beneficiaries. These courses were centred on many different fields, including agriculture, industry, services and entrepreneurship. Substantial opportunities were provided for training information technology, with assistance from private sector implementation partners, and a computer lab was set up with the capacity to train approximately 100 persons at a given time.

The reintegration of the rehabilitees to society took place only after trained counsellors assessed their preparedness to adapt to society and resume normal lives. Reintegration programmes were conducted at various stages, including a large ceremony that was held at Temple Trees in September 2011 in the presence of His Excellency the President. In all, 10,973 rehabilitees have been reintegrated to society as of today. 121 were released in 2009; 5,227 were reintegrated in 2010; 5,027 were integrated last year and 598 have been reintegrated so far this year. Only 636 beneficiaries remain in rehabilitation, and this is because they require more time to recover from LTTE indoctrination and regain full capability to lead a normal life. The effectiveness of the rehabilitation programme is indicated in research that is being conducted by Dr. Kruglanski and Dr. Gelfland of the University of Maryland, College Park, in the USA. This research, which is based on a study of more than 550 individuals, has indicated that there has been a significant decline in the beneficiaries support for violence. The decline in support for violence has been strongest in those beneficiaries who were deeply invested in the terrorist agenda, therefore implying that the rehabilitation programme has been effective even for the most hard-core LTTE cadres.

In addition to the LTTE cadres who surrendered at the end of the Humanitarian Operation, nearly 4,500 more had been detained previously. Only about 560 cadres have been identified for prosecution and are being dealt with through the legal system, and because of their high level involvement in LTTE activities. Action has been taken to expedite the hearing of their cases in the courts. All the others were sent for rehabilitation and reintegrated to society.

All reintegrated beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme have been given an unparalleled opportunity to resume normal lives in society. Programmes were created to support those who wished to set up their own businesses, including a special loan scheme for self-employment. Many have found jobs at various private institutions such as garment factories and other industrial facilities. Some have even managed to go abroad for foreign employment as a result of the skills they had acquired during the rehabilitation programme. A significant number of reintegrated beneficiaries are also being recruited to the Civil Defence Force. They will be paid a monthly salary, and used mainly in farming and in development activities. Through all these measures, the Government has worked very hard to enable the former LTTE cadres to resume lives of normalcy within a peaceful and stable Sri Lanka.

In restoring normalcy throughout the North, the progressive removal of the various restrictions that used to be in place as a result of the conflict has been a very significant step taken over the last few years. Restrictions used to be in place on travel to the North, including restrictions on foreigners, media personnel and staff of both foreign and local Non Governmental Organisations. With the removal of all these restrictions, there is complete freedom of movement in the North today. Large numbers of local tourists travel from the North to the South and from the South to the North on a daily basis. Large numbers of visitors from abroad have also come to Sri Lanka over the past three years. Since July 2011, more than 51,400 foreign passport holders from over 100 countries have visited Sri Lanka and travelled to the North, including nearly 31,500 this year alone2. A considerable number of them were expatriates visiting their ancestral homes and properties and their relatives in Sri Lanka. The complete removal of restrictions that had been imposed on various items was also important. During the war, the transport of certain items was restricted for fear that they would be used by the LTTE in offensive operations. As of today, these restrictions no longer exist.

Many restrictions that used to be in place at sea due to the grave threat posed by the LTTE's Sea Tiger wing have also been removed. Limitations on the times and the locations in which fishermen could put to sea as well as the restrictions on the size of their fishing craft and the power of their outboard motors were removed in phases by October 2010. Restrictions on the times at which fishing could take place were gradually phased out between June 2009 and February 2010. Restrictions on fishing near critical harbours have also been greatly reduced.

The reduction in the numbers of security barricades, roadblocks and checkpoints in the North and East is also significant. There were large numbers of such security measures in place during the course of the conflict and immediately after, but these were gradually withdrawn after the dawn of peace. In 2009, there were approximately 2,000 checkpoints, sentry points and roadblocks in these two Provinces. Today, there are hardly any. The presence of Security Forces personnel in the North has been greatly reduced, with 28 battalions being relocated to the East and the South. The overall number of troops has been reduced by more than 21,000 since 2009. More importantly, Security Forces personnel have been relieved of all duties in terms of law enforcement, and the maintenance of law and order has been completely handed over to the police. While military camps will remain in strategic positions to uphold national security, the presence of military personnel will be unobtrusive.

In this context, it is important to underscore that military camps exist in various locations throughout Sri Lanka. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that there is adequate security for the entire nation, and it is only logical to place military encampments in strategic locations. The establishment of camps in locations such as Mannar, Palaly, Elephant Pass, Poonery, Thalladi, Karainagar, and Mullaitivu began in 1951. They were set up to enhance internal security and minimise the smuggling of persons, drugs and materials between Sri Lanka and India, which was rampant at the time. When the LTTE emerged as a significant military threat and intensified its attacks on military camps, successive Governments extended the territories around the camps into High Security Zones. This enabled the military to exercise greater control in these areas, which would otherwise have been infiltrated by the LTTE. With the defeat of the military arm of the LTTE, these High Security Zones are no longer needed. They were dismantled in stages and the land has been handed back to the civilians.

The camps themselves will remain for purposes of national security, but the remaining security restrictions that exist are limited to the Palaly Cantonment. However, even within the Cantonment, civilians have free access to the airport and the Kankasanthurai harbour. While it is true that there are still some civilian properties within the Cantonment, it must be stressed that civilians have not occupied these properties for the last twenty to twenty-five years. The Government has taken measures to pay compensation to the owners of these properties and to provide alternate lands to them. It should also be noted that lands that had been forcefully taken from the people and occupied by the LTTE for many years have also been released to their legal owners.

Perhaps the most significant undertaking in restoring normalcy in the North was the restoration of the democratic process. His Excellency the President was very keen to ensure that the people who had lived under the virtual dictatorship of the LTTE for so many years should feel the full benefit of living in a democratic nation. As such, he was very keen to have elections in this Province as soon as possible.

Local authority elections were held for the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Vavuniya Urban Council as early as August 2009, and the Presidential Election and General Election followed not long after in 2010. These elections were the first in which people throughout the entire country could vote freely and without fear of LTTE reprisals. Local authority elections held island-wide last year saw free and fair elections being throughout the North and East. The Tamil National Alliance emerged first in most electorates, but the main Government party also came close in several of them. The fact that political plurality has returned to these areas is clear from the results of these elections. The swift restoration of democracy and the right to vote has returned to the people their voice in governance. It is an incredibly significant achievement.

The sustenance of national security in Sri Lanka depends on the inclusiveness of our democracy, and the equality of all our citizens. In the past, there was a certain degree of mistrust between communities that led to certain unfortunate incidents. It is our duty as Sri Lankans to put this past behind us and build a bright future for our nation. In this regard, it is essential that there is no longer any suspicion of discrimination or unequal treatment that might encourage people to follow an undemocratic path and bring back the divisions of the past. The confidence the people have in their leaders, and their confidence in the proper functioning of the electoral process is one aspect of this. Another very important aspect is the ability people have to build better futures for themselves. That is why, as was described before, the Government has focused so much attention on restoring the infrastructure and services needed to facilitate the return of economic life in these areas. It is also extremely important that all our citizens have equal access to the services provided by the state as well as state institutions. In this regard, I am particularly pleased to note that the actions taken by the Government to increase the numbers of Tamil speaking policemen have been extremely successful. 789 Tamil policemen have been recruited between 2009 and 2011, and they have been trained and posted to these police stations. In 2012 alone, a further 425 have been recruited. Training in Tamil language has also been provided to additional numbers of police personnel. Eleven new police stations have also been established in the North, and all the people who live in that region now have equal access to the state's mechanisms for law and order.

The renewed economic opportunities and freedoms that the people of the North now enjoy are vastly different from what they were when much of the Province was under the LTTE. Children are free to go to school and have the chance to improve their prospects in life. Employment opportunities for adults are increasing day by day, and a great deal of support has been given to those individuals who are interested in starting up businesses or finding other means of self employment. Farmers in the North have been greatly benefitted by the many initiatives taken to upgrade irrigation; support has also been given to them through programmes to provide seeds, fertiliser and machinery. Fishermen have benefitted from the removal of restrictions and programmes to help them obtain fishing craft. As a result of these initiatives, the economy of the Northern Province is undergoing a significant revival.

In this context it is important to stress that all of the Government's actions with regard to the North has been aimed restoring vibrancy to this long depressed region of Sri Lanka. Unlike in the past, the residents of the North have all their democratic rights and have equal and unrestricted access to the services offered by the state. While there are still a few pro-LTTE elements amongst the residents of the North as well as within certain ethnicity based political parties, and while they may still try to destabilise the peace if given the opportunity, the fact is that the people of the North no longer have any reason to feel isolated or disfavoured.

All of the issues that the Province and its residents suffered from have been resolved in a remarkably short period of time through the Government's genuine efforts to expedite demining, reconstruction and new developments in the towns and villages, to resettle the IDPs, and rehabilitate the former LTTE cadres. Democracy has returned to the region, the civil administration is fully functional, and the people have unrestricted opportunities to make better futures for themselves. I have every confidence that they will make full use of these opportunities, and that it will not be long before the Northern Province is a flourishing and vibrant region of our nation. That is why I am certain that the path the Government is presently on is the best way in which to ensure long-term peace, stability and national security.

Thank you.






 

 
 
   
   
     
   
   

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