Aug 13 (Island) Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake says that tagging the ‘LTTE label’ on every incident happening in the north is "completely misplaced" as sporadic activity by "subversive groups" do not constitute a threat to national security.
Asked by The Sunday Island about fears expressed of a resurgence of LTTE atrocities in the north in the backdrop of many violent incidents, he replied: "You mentioned the word ‘LTTE’, I didn’t. I don’t like people saying ‘LTTE’ for every incident. My point is that it’s very easy to connect the LTTE whenever something happens, though it is far from the truth".
There are other subversive groups in the north. ‘Ava’ is not the LTTE. There are people creating problems in the south, including university students, but you can’t just say they belong to one group or another. You can’t identify them with the 1971-1981 group either. It’s a label", Lt. Gen. Senanayake said during an interview at Army Headquarters in Colombo last week.
"We rehabilitated 12,000 plus LTTE cadres and reintegrated them into society. One person could do something, but that does not mean that all 12,000 of them will take weapons tomorrow morning and start a war. For that to happen, we should be sleeping without monitoring the ground situation!", he noted.
The veteran soldier said that when every incident (in the north) is identified with the LTTE disregarding the factual ground situation, which was different, somebody is bound to get mileage out of it and link it up with national security.
There was an attack on two policemen in Kopay. Incidents happen in the country, but there is no imminent threat to peace. There is no major issue as such. There was a shooting during a bank hold-up at Attidiya, but what if somebody says it was "that one or this one" responsible for the robbery? Similarly, it is not right to say ‘LTTE’ whenever there’s an incident in the north, the army chief pointed out.
"People in the south depend on what they hear of happenings in the north. If you live in the north then you will see something different. It is clear there is no threat to peace", says Senanayake, who was based in the north as Commander Security Forces - Jaffna (SFHQ-J) and Colonel of the Special Forces Regiment at one time.
The army is deployed in the north. There are Divisions of the military in the North and East, he stressed. "The army is not confined to barracks in the north. We move out".
"I invited the Mahanayake Theras to visit the north. As a sequel to this invitation, the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chaper will be undertaking a visit to the north on August 28-29", he noted.
Asked about Sri Lanka’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations, Senanayake replied: "Earlier, we were ready to send one battalion to Mali, but the requirement there also changed. They wanted a composite company – 35%-40% of the normal contingent. So we are sending those troops there first. I have discussed about the next company going there. I said we are ready but need time to send the equipment".
Continuing, he said: "The construction team has already gone there to build the basic infrastructure. We need vertical and horizontal structures for accommodation. With a part of the equipment shipped in April, our troops are already on the job. I was asked whether the company can be used to also put up camps of other (peacekeeping) troops. I said ‘yes’ as long as we are paid for it. There is no charity for us in Mali".
The Army Commander expressed confidence that the contingent will be moved by the first week of November. The shipment of equipment will start by end September. "From November onwards, we will be able to reach one entity and may be by December, the first convoy will be in place".
"We also agreed to provide women soldiers as peacekeepers to strike a gender balance. They can serve as staff officers and observers. It’s a difficult task, but I said there are smart women in the army who can also take over military police duties. We are ready to even to send up to brigade level – three battalions plus the command elements", he explained.
Sri Lanka has produced 16,000 peacekeepers so far with missions in Lebanon, Sudan and South Sudan, Senanayake continued. "In South Sudan, the army took professionalism to foreign shores with the establishment of its first-ever SRIMED Level 2 Hospital in Bor under the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)".
"When they came here to give us another task, they were amazed when they saw the military hospital with all its modern facilities at Narahenpita", the Army Commander emphasized.
He said that army has also offered humanitarian demining, which is another area Sri Lanka has the expertise. Only 12% of the country still remains to be demined and in terms of the target, the country will be free of anti-personnel mines by 2020.
"With our experience exposure and expertise, the army is ready to undertake demining operations whether in Africa, Cambodia or Laos", he said.