|These are the Best Years of Our Forces - Def Secretary Answers Questions|
|Friday, 19 September 2008|
Q: You will soon complete your third year as Secretary of Defence. What is your assessment of these past years and the role you played there?
Within these three years we’ve achieved a lot. I wouldn’t call these my achievements but it was those of the security forces. I think personally that the people elected the President primarily to solve this problem, and not for anything else. The people despite their silence were unhappy about the trend in the country and wanted the kind of change President Rajapaksa could bring. You can see this clearly in the voting pattern. When we took over there areas referred to as LTTE controlled areas; they were not accepted by any country, leave alone Sri Lanka. This is one country and for one part to be called LTTE’s is certainly not acceptable. We have been able to bring a lot of these areas under our control and the real victory here is the Eastern province. We’ve had elections there and established a democratically elected provincial government and started a development process. This is a major achievement. The weakening of the LTTE and their sea Tiger capabilities, were areas not tackled for a long time. Maybe smuggling by the LTTE still continues, but in the last year alone we destroyed 10 of their ships and as of today we have complete domination in the sea around Sri Lanka. The Navy has changed its tactics and we’ve been very successful against the LTTE.
And anyone can see our achievements on the ground. And also our success in the air whereby we’ve been able to completely destroy much of their assets and destroy many of their key leaders and we have captured their sea Tiger bases and training camps on a daily basis now. The main thing is that we’ve been able to be accurate in our targets, with no damage to civilians, even though some have tried to paint a different picture. Even the LTTE has not been able to show any civilian casualties because of this. Infact on Wednesday we took a target in Kilinochchi located inbetween a UN organization.
Even the UN had commended our ability to target it precisely. Our success has been because of our ability to assess the situation at the beginning very accurately. We did a complete military assessment before we started on the offensives; none of this is done ad-hoc. This was because we wanted to make sure that nothing would weaken the Jaffna peninsula after we had control like we did in the East after it was cleared. We knew we needed extra troops once we came to the Wanni, which is why we planned it in a way that we had the troops. We started a recruitment programme to bring in more cadres but looked essentially at troop welfare because this was an aspect overlooked before.
Q: How would you differentiate between the role of Secretary of Defence in a war torn country as opposed to that of the President as the Commander in Chief?
In our Constitution itself, the Secretary of the Ministry is the chief accounting officer and the one responsible for implementing the policies of the government. My responsibility is exactly that. This is all I’ve been doing for the last two years. Of course it is also my responsibility to help the Defence Minister to formulate the policy with the assistance of the three service commanders, which I did. The first thing we did when I was appointed was to assess the entire security situation in the country and on that basis formulate the policy. My responsibility was the execution of that policy.
Q: Looking back at the last 25 years of the war, which operations brought the biggest dividends for the Sri Lankan government and which would you rate the biggest debacles?
Looking at the successes I’d rate the present period as the best we have ever had. Of course in the past too we have had some successful periods while other proved not so. Liberating the Jaffna peninsula has been the foremost to me, because it is the most strategic to the Northern province, with Trinco, Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu following after. Taking control of Jaffna has been a great success for us. I suppose losing Elephant Pass was strategically one of the biggest debacles, then Wanni, Mulaitivu and Pooneryn would be seen as serious debacles. Of course there are the ones where we unnecessarily gave in like the Eastern province, the surrendering of the policemen. These are incidents we could’ve prevented easily, but happened simply because we had no proper vision.
Q: Government assesses that it will bring the entire Northern Province under its control soon. There is a fear among Tamils that a military victory could prove fatal to any devolution of power. Do you believe in a political solution to the conflict?
What form of devolution is looked at or the very question of a political solution doesn’t fall within my purview. That is for the politicians. But it’s not correct to say the Tamils are in fear because the President has shown through the Eastern province, when many countries in fact advised him against it, that he is sincerely committed to a political solution. Similarly we will have the same program for the North. People don’t appreciate what happened in the East; they have underestimated it. Because, unlike in many similar instances all over the world, the President didn’t put his stooges for the East. Karuna is not a creation of President Rajapaksa. He didn’t select Karuna and made him a political stooge and plant him in the East.
They are part of the LTTE and long before President Rajapaksa was elected they broke away from the LTTE due to their own reasons and all the President did was to help Karuna reorganize. He had to give power to someone and he thought they were the best for the job. He only helped them; it was the people who elected them. Karuna is from the area and a leader of the LTTE for the East. The President merely worked with them at this election to get them in to the democratic process. There is a difference in the TMVP. They came on their own and was not created by the government. It was a major success for the government but it was not based on any ethnic basis, because the worst thing is to divide and contest on a community or religious base. It’s very impressive to play with these words like the federal system. But what is most important is what the people in the areas want. Giving different powers to the areas will not solve the problem. The basic problems of the people are far more grave than this. These political solutions are not the solutions for the people; they are for the interested politicians. This is especially so in this part of the world. The US is demarcated in to different states because it’s a huge country. But when you divide regions based on community or religious grounds is never the solution.
Q: Over 80, 000 Muslims were expelled from North by the LTTE in 1990 and now this displaced population- mainly settled in Puttalam district- has risen to 150,000 creating a major demographic distortion in the district. What plans are underway to resettle these displaced Muslims in their original lands?
Resettlement is not my area. I believe people should be able to live any where they want. I feel however there are these organized settlements which we have to be careful about. There are so many people coming from the North and East and settling down in the Western province. If its voluntary that’s fine. But I’m not so sure it is not an organised move. Its important to check if the LTTE is organizing it. They have no means of income but they are paying huge sums and settling down. Where is the money coming from? The strange thing is that when the govt. does it it, becomes govt. sponsored settlement but when an NGO does it, it become right. That is also wrong. This has the potential to change the demography.
Q: Right now bitter battles fought in Wanni area by the Army and the LTTE and the INGOs seem to be in a dilemma over the order to leave the area. What welfare measures are in place for the civilians now trapped in Wanni?
Again NGOs are not my subject except those in operational areas. Most these NGOs are there for various development projects; but given the ground situation there is no possibility of continuing this work. So they need to come out of there. Next more importantly is the security threat. This is very relevant when you look at what happened in Muttur. The parents of those killed blamed the NGOs decision to keep them there despite the situation. We don’t want to get in to the same situation. Certainly when they can do their work again they can go back. The responsibility of the UN primarily becomes that of the host government. We’ve asked them to come out of Killinochchi and relocate in Vavuniya. This is not withdrawing but relocation. The problem is that these foreign analysts don’t know the geography of the country. They think its like Africa and this is some 1000 km move. And don’t forget that even foods and medicines given by UN is still distributed by GAs. Medicines go through govt. hospitals. This system can happen equally effectively from Vavuniya. Then they say they can’t monitor if it goes to the right people. What is the monitoring that happens with the miniscule staff already? Still if they want they can go with the convoys and monitor the distribution. Don’t forget; with no UN system in place, food distribution happened quite effectively in Vakare or Thoppigala by the AGAs.
Q: India earlier this week expressed concerns about the civilians in the Wanni and has continued to maintain that a military solution would not suffice.
This is the problem; anybody will express concern without understanding this whole process. When you say NGOs and a humanitarian crisis you must analyse and say how many of the NGOs were involved in humanitarian work. We have asked them to say what humanitarian work they were doing so we can fill that gap. All we need to do is to arrange the system so that these GAs can come to Vavuniya and collect these goods. The main problem is that people outside don’t know the ground situation here. The fact remains that we can’t change the military plan to suit the UN or NGOs. Military plan must go on. It is then our responsibility to look after civilians, which is why we’ve asked them to come out.
Q: Despite having F-7 interceptors and latest technology, the air force has failed to throw a real challenge to LTTE air power. There are negative reports on the aptitude of the radar system. What really went wrong for the LTTE to outsmart Air Force on seven occasions?
Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
During the last few years especially the LTTE was targeting the Air Force primarily. Why? Because that was proving the biggest threat to them. Why was the Army Commander or the SLAF camps and assets? Because although they have these planes we have complete air superiority. This was a major problem for them. There is no challenge for the SLAF really. I wouldn’t say anything went wrong with our air defence systems. The first time this threat was posed we got a lot of assistance from many countries on how to face this situation. Their assessment was that this was a difficult task because there is no counter for such unsophisticated planes. The air defence systems available now are for more sophisticated ones and not this type of low flying planes. These planes are not even used in conventional warfare because they can’t do much to change the military balance. All it can do is to create a fear psychosis in the people. It can’t do any big damage. There’s no use in going for a highly sophisticated interceptor because it can’t do anything; all we can do is to go at a very crude level solution; which is what we have done. Given this taking that air craft down the last time was a big success. Compare its failure to do any damage the 7 times it came with how effective our 6oo odd sorties carried out in this year alone.
Q: The reported use of CS gas by the LTTE causes serious concerns. Have intelligence reports indicated the possibility of LTTE using stronger chemicals?
No. We are prepared for any situation. It’s not a major threat according to our reports. We are preparing ourselves for any contingency.
Q: The intensity of the international community campaign on human rights seems to be tapering off. What factors contributed to this shift in the approach of the international community towards the government?
Because they now realize that this was because of the bad publicity spread by the LTTE. Of course the govt. was weak in this area. This is the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry, with support from Sri Lankan living abroad irrespective of ethnic divisions. Even the Tamil diaspora is misinformed. When you speak of the international community the main thing is to identify who is most important to us. India is the most crucial for us. Any govt. must give priority to India. India is 100% with us and we understand their concerns and will not do anything that will affect their security. We have the best relationship with India. India also understand why we have to have the relationship with Pakistan and China. Then comes the South Asian region and then the US, UK and the EU. But these countries are all prosecuting terrorists and putting an end to fund raising. This is because our human rights record is excellent. Our forces are not a terror group. You never heard of our troops going and indiscriminately firing at entire villages because there is a good education program on distinguishing between the civilians and terrorists. This is not an easy thing. Its not easy preventing a explosive laden vehical from entering Colombo. These control measures are absolutely necessary despite the inconveniences. Although all Tamils are not LTTE almost all LTTE is Tamil. This is a fact. So obviously the Tamil community get targeted, but not purposely.
Q: There had been reports to the effect that you would join main stream politics as three of your brothers have already done. Do you have any plans to enter parliament?
No. I have no interest in politics.
Q: What are the key differences you note in the Army then and now in terms of man power, hardware and morale and even procurement which has raised certain queries?
One of the main things we’ve concentrated as a crucial measure was troop welfare, from schooling for their children and housing for families to their care after injury. We in fact created a separate unit under one Minister for this purpose alone and the day to day problems. Housing and education are primary in welfare and we’ve taken concrete measures towards this end. We’ve already started a 1500 house scheme in Anuradapura, which is a separate city in itself; with solidly built houses and all the infrastructure facilities in place, which alone cost Rs. 1 billion. Our aim is to give it free if possible or otherwise at a very nominal fee. There is also a loan scheme from the Ministry given without interest. There is a special fund set up ‘api venuwen api’ to facilitate these projects. There is another project is to give them land. We have started a special school for defence services children. This is a very well equipped school with all the modern facilities. We will start similar school in Kurunegala soon. Then on the inquiries on procurement and all these charges, so we’ve started an institution to carry out these functions. Because when you do purchases in military hardware through a third party and private parties get involved, there are these situations. So we’ve created an institution which will be the intermediate party which will work with these parties and the governments in procurements. We are encouraging more government to government deals as much as we can. But the way it happens in the world is that be it China or the US, though these are government deals they are essentially run like private companies. They have formed companies because it is still a business. It’s a major industry. So we’ve created a similar unit to handle this with minimum participation from third parties. This is easy to tell but so difficult to do. But we have started it and it has produced very good results. If you study it closely it is a very good thing. This is something that I was concerned about and I consider this a major success.
Another area is retirement where sometimes after retiring after 22 years they are comparatively young and they go and join these private security companies, where they are not paid well. This is why we started a private security company from the Ministry where these people can be employed. There is no profit motive in this at all. We want to give a good service and in turn a good salary to the employees. We’ve recruited retired security personelle so far and for the moment we are handling government institutions only. This is a good welfare measure as well.
(Courtesy: Daily Mirror & Sri Lanka Army )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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