Sri Lankan forces protected civilian lives during counter-terrorism operations

(May 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In conducting military operations to eliminate terrorism, the Government’s primary concern was to safeguard the innocent civilians, many of whom had experienced multiple displacements over the years, and had their children forcibly conscripted by the LTTE to be used as cannon fodder. Many of them had lost one or more of their family members. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama made these observations, while addressing the final day session of the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore today (31 May 2009).

The Shangri-La Dialogue,since its inaugural meeting in 2002,has become an integral part of the architecture of Asian defence diplomacy and is recognized as the region’s premier and most inclusive security institution.This is the 3rd occasion that Sri Lanka has been invited to participate in this high profile defence and security diplomacy forum, attended by 18 other nations in the Asian region, as well as the US, Russia, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In a wide ranging speech on the theme, “Winning Counter Insurgency Campaigns- A Sri Lankan Perspective”, the Minister dealt with three broad aspects, namely, the LTTE reign of terror, rescuing civilians by launching a humanitarian mission and lastly the way forward- reconciliation and the political process. He announced to the distinguished audience, the end of LTTE terror in Sri Lanka, barely a week ago. The Foreign Minister attributed the astonishing success of the campaign to eradicate terrorism to President Rajapaksa, who has provided effective and decisive leadership to the military establishment in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. His acumen in sustaining broad-based popular support for the military campaign, and his engagement with the polity for wider consensus was evident from the very outset.

The Minister noted that Sri Lanka will no doubt enter the annals of history as a classic textbook example of a nation that successfully prevailed over the scourge of terrorism, while tenaciously upholding the cherished values of democracy and human rights that have been deeply ingrained in the psyche of her people. Armchair critics and skeptics who doubted the firm resolve and strength of our brave armed forces to defeat the so-called “invincible” might of the LTTE have been effectively silenced today, just as much as the guns.

Speaking on the second element of the theme of his speech, the Minister highlighted the importance that the Government attached to addressing the immediate challenge of rehabilitation and resettlement of nearly 280,000 persons who have been displaced by the conflict. Civilians accommodated in the welfare villages lack family reunification. The influx of a large number of civilians within a short span of time scattered families. The Government is endeavouring to address the issue of family reunification. Children who were denied of their childhood are able to lead a more secure life today since there is no more the threat of being forcibly conscripted by the LTTE.

Dealing with the final aspect of the theme, Minister Bogollagama reiterated the firm commitment of the Government of President Rajapaksa to reaching a political settlement acceptable to all. He quoted the President’s address to Parliament last week on 19th of May, wherein he had stated,“the defeat of the LTTE and the breakdown of their armed strength will never be the defeat of the Tamil people of this country……… ‘we do not accept a military solution as the final solution. It is necessary that the political solution they need should be brought closer to them faster than any country in the world would bring”.

The Minister pointed out that the post-conflict phase is crucial in restoring confidence in people whose lives have been torn apart by this terrible conflict and stressed the need for the international community to help in this endeavour.He noted that the post-conflict reconciliation would also involve reintegration of former combatants into the political and economic process as well. For this purpose, a Presidential Task Force for resettlement, development and security in the Northern Province has been established to oversee these programmes.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama concluded his address with these parting words, “Victory can never be complete unless we win the hearts and minds and give the people affected by years of suffering a peace dividend.”
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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