Making the keynote address on ‘Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lanka Experience,’ organised by the Sri Lankan Army in Colombo earlier this week to share its experience in eradicating the LTTE, the Defence Secretary said terrorism was an international threat and that no country should suffer from it as Sri Lanka had suffered.
Influential figures in a few countries outside the region were sceptical about the Government’s decision to reopen a military campaign against the LTTE. There were many reasons for this and a key reason was a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the LTTE and the necessity to eradicate it. “Rescuing the hundreds of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans suffering under the fist of the LTTE’s brutal fascism was a key priority of the President when he was elected by the people to office in 2005,” Secretary Rajapaksa said.
The Defence Secretary said: “When our humanitarian operation began in 2006, the military understood that the President’s commitment to eradicating terrorism was unshakeable. His statements and actions during the humanitarian operations proved this beyond doubt not only to the military, but to the entire population. As importantly, there was no change in his resoluteness from the first day of the operations to the last.”
“During the course of the operations, in the face of increasing military casualties and mounting international criticism, no matter how unfounded, the President stood firm and absorbed all these pressures. As Commander in Chief, his resolute stance gave our personnel the confidence to press ahead with their operations. He never faltered from the ultimate goal,” he added.
Outlining some key factors that led to the victory over terrorism, the Defence Secretary said from very early in the humanitarian operations, the relationship between Sri Lanka and India was managed through maintaining a clear communications line at the very highest level.
The Government also ensured that our relationships with other important regional allies and other friendly countries were well-maintained through usual diplomatic channels and regular dialogue, he said. Here is the full text of the speech:
It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to address you at the opening ceremony of the seminar organised by the Sri Lanka Army: ‘Defeating Terrorism – The Sri Lankan Experience’. This seminar takes place at an opportune moment, just two years after this country’s victory over the brutal terrorism of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the LTTE. On behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, I am particularly proud to welcome our distinguished foreign delegates and other invited guests.
Sri Lanka’s experience in overcoming terrorism is the theme of this seminar. Over the next few days, you will meet many of the field commanders involved in the operations, who will be able to discuss the tactics used to achieve victory. At a time when so many countries the world over are facing the problem posed by domestic and international terrorism, we believe that sharing lessons learnt from the Sri Lankan experience in combating terrorist tactics, providing humanitarian assistance and dealing with political and international factors is important. It is our earnest hope that these lessons will help our friends and allies in the international community defeat international terrorism.
Sri Lanka’s experience with terrorism: The beginning
Sri Lanka’s experience with terrorism began in the 1970s. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in December 2005, terrorist activities in Sri Lanka had dragged on for nearly 30 years. Four previous Presidents as well as several successive Governments comprising various political parties had grappled with the issues without success. Over the years, a range of different approaches including military campaigns, peace talks, and even international mediation had been tried. None had worked. With a large global financial network, highly developed offensive capabilities and no genuine interest in peace, the LTTE was a stubborn, hostile and formidable foe.
Over the years, the LTTE had grown from a small organisation of armed individuals, to a large, sophisticated terrorist outfit with very advanced combat capabilities, at its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres; access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledging air wing. By 2005, the LTTE controlled almost a quarter of the country’s territory and approximately two thirds of its coastline. Under an internationally-brokered Cease Fire Agreement, the LTTE even maintained the illusion of a state apparatus in the areas under its control.
The LTTE’s atrocities
It must be understood that notwithstanding this, the LTTE was one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the world. The list of the LTTE’s atrocities is long. Over the years, the LTTE carried out ethnic cleansing in the north and east, brutally driving out the Sinhalese and Muslim civilians who lived there. They carried out countless attacks on civilians. They attacked villages near the areas they occupied, massacring thousands. They attacked places of worship such as the Sri Maha Bhodiya and the Temple of the Tooth, the two most significant places of worship for Buddhists all over the world. They also carried out massacres at mosques and attacked churches.
The LTTE attacked vital national infrastructure such as the international airport, the central bus stand and the main railways station in Colombo. They attacked economic targets such as the Central Bank, The World Trade Centre, oil refineries and civilian harbours. They set off countless parcels bombs, car bombs, truck bombs and claymore mines in populated areas, killing thousands of innocent civilians, and they perfected the tactic of suicide bombing. The LTTE also carried out a vicious campaign of assassinations against political targets; killing the President of Sri Lanka, the former Prime Minister of India, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister, several Cabinet ministers, leaders of political parties, and a large number of Parliamentarians.
These are all the hallmarks of a brutal, ruthless and unrestrained terrorist organisation. The impact of the LTTE’s atrocities throughout Sri Lanka resulted in untold suffering for our entire population. In the areas outside the LTTE’s control, ordinary people’s day-to-day lives were transformed by terrorism. Parents did not travel together in the same vehicle for fear of orphaning their children by getting caught in a bomb blast.
Students’ school attendance dropped every time rumours spread about impending terrorist attacks. Law and order deteriorated as terrorism fostered crime and corruption. The underworld became more powerful and its members gained access to arms and ammunition from the various armed groups operating in the country at large. In brief, an entire generation grew up under a veil of fear. There was a complete disruption to civilian life in the entire nation.
In the areas under the LTTE’s dominance, life was very much worse. The LTTE were no freedom fighters on behalf of beleaguered populace. On the contrary, they were a vicious group of terrorists that kept the people in the regions they dominated under a brutal dictatorship. The LTTE did not tolerate any opposition. The LTTE assassinated the leaders of other armed groups in these areas, and wiped out any group members who refused to support its cause. The LTTE also assassinated moderate democratic leaders and influential public intellectuals in the Tamil community, and kept the people under their dominance trapped in a state of fear.
For its part, the Sri Lankan Government did everything it could to maintain the supply of necessary services such as electricity, water, healthcare and education to the people in these areas. Unfortunately, the LTTE did not allow these services to be properly used. As a result, while the rest of the country developed, the areas under the LTTE stagnated. This stagnation was not only economic but also socio-political. Although the LTTE claimed to maintain a police force, judicial system and the other trappings of a state apparatus during the time the Cease Fire Agreement was in force, these were feeble attempts to disguise a territory held under gunpoint. No one in those areas was safe; no one was free.
Rescuing the hundreds of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans suffering under the fist of the LTTE’s brutal fascism was a key priority of the President when he was elected by the people to office in 2005. He was given a very clear mandate by the people to solve the terrorist problem once and for all and win an honourable peace for Sri Lanka. As such, he invited the LTTE for direct talks and attempted to restart the stalled negotiations.
Typically, the LTTE responded by intensifying their campaign of provocation. They blatantly violated the Cease Fire Agreement then in place. They attacked key military targets, including our highest ranked personnel, and continued attacking innocent civilians. The claymore mines set off at Kebethigollawa, and other attacks at various locations all around the country killed hundreds of innocent children, women and men.
The final straw
The Government bore these provocations with patience, but the final straw was when the LTTE shut down the sluice gates at Maavilaru, a key irrigation channel for agriculture in the east. This inhumane act cut off water to thousands of acres of agricultural land, as well as over five thousand households and threatened a humanitarian disaster. The Government could not allow this situation to worsen, and the Government was forced to resort to a military campaign to open the Maavilaru sluice gates.
Over the years, there had been many attempts at militarily defeating the LTTE, but none of these campaigns had met with lasting success. The most distinctive feature of the humanitarian operations launched in 2006 was the clear aim and commitment of the President to rescue the country from terrorism once and for all.
Having a clear, unambiguous aim is absolutely vital, as no successful operation can be launched if any doubt lingers in the minds of the personnel entrusted to achieve it. In the past, the military had pushed forward with great success on many occasions only to be prevented from consolidating these successes to a permanent victory due to external factors. In contrast, when our humanitarian operation began in 2006, the military understood that the President’s commitment to eradicating terrorism was unshakeable. His statements and actions during the humanitarian operations proved this beyond doubt not only to the military, but to the entire population. As importantly, there was no change in his resoluteness from the first day of the operations to the last.
The committed leadership displayed by the President was also absolutely vital. For the duration of the humanitarian operations, over three-and-a-half years, the President chaired the weekly Security Council meetings, where the debrief for the past week and the plans for the coming week were discussed. By constantly keeping in touch with the unfolding situation, the President, as Commander in Chief, was fully cognisant of the great progress being made. When there were setbacks, as there can be in any military operation, he understood that they were only temporary.
During the course of the operations, in the face of increasing military casualties and mounting international criticism, no matter how unfounded, the President stood firm and absorbed all these pressures. As Commander in Chief, his resolute stance gave our personnel the confidence to press ahead with their operations. He never faltered from the ultimate goal.
The President also reacted very promptly in crisis situations. When the LTTE’s claymore mine attack on a bus killed close to 70 innocent civilians at Kebethigollawa, a village in the North Central Province very close to LTTE dominated territory, he went to the scene immediately. Though the situation was tense, he visited the mortuary, spoke to the bereaved as well as the other people in the affected area. He immediately instructed the local commander to strengthen defences around such threatened villages to prevent further LTTE atrocities.
Similarly, when the LTTE developed its light low-flying aircraft that threatened vital installations as well as civilians in Colombo during night raids, the President personally supervised the rehearsals of new air defence system that was installed at Katunayake Air Base to counter this threat Such examples of commitment and leadership at the very top gave a lot of confidence to the entire country during this difficult period.
The President’s personal commitment to the success of the humanitarian operation went above and beyond the call of duty. In the east, when the LTTE dominated town of Vakarai was liberated, he went to the town to congratulate our troops even though the East had not been completely cleared. He also visited the key town of Kilinochchi, which had been the LTTE’s stronghold in the north, as soon as it was liberated. This was a landmark victory during the course of the war, and although the northern operation was still in progress, the President went there to speak to the troops. Such acts gave our military personnel every encouragement as well as the confidence to press ahead and see the humanitarian operation through to its conclusion.
Consolidating wins in battle
There were many key factors that led to the success of the humanitarian operations. Perhaps the most important and critical factor was the President’s decision to expand the armed forces. One of the first things we realised when we studied the previous military campaigns was that the Sri Lankan military was always superior to the LTTE.
Our talented commanders and dedicated personnel most often succeeded in their encounters with the enemy. Specialised regiments such as the Special Forces and the Commandos had developed a very high level of skill and professionalism over the years, and were more than capable of defeating the LTTE in single battles. However, there just were not enough troops in the Armed Forces to consolidate these wins in battle to achieve final victory in the war.
The primary reason for this was the sheer extent of land that the LTTE was active in and the guerrilla tactics it used to dominate them. These included the Eastern Province, of which one third was controlled by the LTTE; the Jaffna peninsula, islands and the Mahumalai Forward Defence Lines which were under Government control, but in which the LTTE was also active; and the Wanni, which was a vast jungle terrain fully dominated and controlled by the LTTE.
Due to the LTTE’s terrorist activities, the rest of the country also needed attention.
In the Jaffna peninsula, islands and the Forward Defence Lines at Mahumali, there were approximately forty thousand troops already deployed.
It was necessary to hold these positions in strength. Once the Eastern Province was cleared, it was equally essential to hold the territory in strength to prevent the LTTE from infiltrating it again.
It should be noted that at the time, the LTTE leader proclaimed that the defeat in the east was only a temporary tactical withdrawal. This is because Government forces had cleared the Eastern Province in the past, only for the LTTE to return in numbers and reoccupy and restart terrorism there while the military was actively engaged elsewhere. A repetition of this was avoided because we had enough personnel on the ground to hold and dominate the territory.
When it came to the Wanni, it was necessary for the military to operate on a number of different axes and on a wider frontage. During past operations, one of the major LTTE tactics was to penetrate the front line of the military, infiltrate our territory and attack from the rear. It was necessary to strongly hold the rear and have several counter penetration lines to guard against this tactic.
Expanding the military
It was also absolutely essential that we have enough troops to guard against the threat posed by LTTE suicide cadres and operatives who had infiltrated the rest of the country. It was absolutely essential to secure key infrastructure in and around Colombo, such as the international airport, the harbour and the oil refinery. It was equally important to prevent LTTE’s attacks on civilians, and several operations were carried out to identify and neutralise terrorist cells.
The President had the will and courage to take the difficult decision to expand the military to the size required to win an extended campaign in the north and east whilst also protecting the rest of the country. The combined strength of the Armed Forces in 2005 was nowhere near the number that was actually required for a serious campaign to eradicate the LTTE. This fact was clearly understood by the President, and the decision was made to expand the strength of the military.
By projecting its intentions very clearly to the public, the Government encouraged a lot of young people to step forward and join the Armed Forces. They did so because they understood that the political leadership had both the clear aim of eradicating terrorism, and the will necessary to achieve it. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the Army’s nine Divisions were increased to 20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71 and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. This was a large, but essential expansion that increased the number of Army personnel from 120,000 in 2005 to over 200,000 by the end of the humanitarian operation.
The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and they were also given tasks beyond their classic role. Many of their personnel were entrusted with holding ground even in jungles, and also given the responsibility of securing main supply routes.
These measures were essential to safeguard peace in the rest of the country and ensure that operations could be adequately supported to proceed uninterrupted. In past years, whenever a military operation was being carried out successfully, the LTTE would seek to distract the military by attacking innocent civilians in non-combat areas.
Particularly through their perfecting of the suicide-bombing tactic, the LTTE were able to create chaos in the rest of the country while military operations were going on in the north and east. When this happened, pressure traditionally built on the Government to pause the military campaign and seek alternate solutions. By expanding the Army, Navy and Air Force, and using paramilitary forces like the Special Task Force of the Police, and by increasing the responsibilities of the Police itself, we addressed this situation without halting our progress. By safeguarding the rest of the country, the humanitarian operation could go ahead uninterrupted.
Another critical factor in this regard was formalising the Civil Defence Force. This was initially a loose organisation of civilians who had been given only shotguns to protect the villages under threat from the LTTE. When the decision to once again engage the LTTE militarily was made, it was clear that the LTTE would try to distract the operations by attacking more innocent civilians in these villages.
Therefore it was necessary to formally organise these civilians into a proper paramilitary force capable of protecting vulnerable villages. 42,000 able bodied men were recruited from the villages and given proper training as well as equipment They played a significant role in protecting their villages from LTTE attacks during the course of the humanitarian operations.
Stability and popularity
Alongside the commitment of the President and the political hierarchy to the humanitarian operations, it was equally essential that the Government itself have the stability to see the campaign through to its conclusion.
This was a particular issue for the President and the key political leadership because the then Government comprised a coalition that had only a tenuous majority in parliament If the Government had collapsed at any point during the military campaign, all our efforts would have been in vain. The President managed this issue by keeping his party’s coalition partners together and persuading opposition figures to support him and consolidate the party’s position in parliament. For this reason, the cabinet had to be increased to a historic size, and various portfolios were handed over to notable party members within the coalition. There was a great deal of criticism for this at the time, but it was an absolutely necessary step in maintaining the Government’s stability and political stability.
Even more important than maintaining political stability was generating popular support. By 2005, the Sri Lankan population had gone from war to peace and back again. There was a lot of cynicism and war weariness in the public at large. If the Government had focused only on the war, it was entirely possible that the people would not have supported the war effort. This is one of the reasons why the Government invested so much on welfare efforts, even at a time when it could hardly afford to because of the large war budget.
A sterling example of the thought given to the well being of ordinary Sri Lankans was the fertiliser subsidy granted at a time when international prices were skyrocketing. This eased the heavy burden felt by Sri Lankan farmers, and kept food prices affordable to the general population.
It should also not be forgotten that Sri Lanka had been ravaged by the Asian tsunami only two years before the military campaign was resumed. There was a lot of rebuilding that had not yet been completed. In addition, a lot of infrastructure development, particularly in power generation and the upgrading of the road networks, was necessary to spur economic growth. The President and the Government did not ignore these responsibilities. Instead, they skilfully engaged in multifocal governance, where the other critical national requirements were met while the focus on the military campaign was not in any way reduced.
Management of international pressures
Along with these domestic issues, another key factor underpinning the success of our operations was the management of international pressures by the political leadership. In 1987, the enormously successful Vadamarachchi operations had pushed the LTTE to the brink of defeat. However, these operations could not be sustained because the Indian Government intervened. The primary problem in 1987 was that the relationship between the two countries had not been managed very effectively.
In contrast, from the time of his election, President Rajapaksa went out of his way to keep New Delhi briefed about all the new developments taking place in Sri Lanka. He understood that while other countries could mount pressure on us through diplomatic channels or economic means, only India could influence the military campaign.
From very early in the humanitarian operations, the relationship between Sri Lanka and India was managed through maintaining a clear communications line at the very highest level. A special committee was established to engage in constant dialogue. The Sri Lankan side comprised then Senior Advisor to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and myself, as Defence Secretary. The Indian side comprised former National Security Advisor M. K. Narayan, then Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and then Defence Secretary Vijay Singh. This troika had continuous discussions and ensured that whenever any sensitive issues arose, they would be resolved immediately.
The Government also ensured that our relationships with other important regional allies and other friendly countries were well maintained through usual diplomatic channels and regular dialogue. Ultimately this able management of critical international relations was another key success factor in the eradication of terrorism.
Unfortunately, it has to be noted that influential figures in a few countries outside the region were sceptical about the Government’s decision to reopen a military campaign against the LTTE. There were many reasons for this. A key reason was a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the LTTE and the necessity to eradicate it.
LTTE’s global influence
I spoke earlier about the numerous atrocities and human rights violations carried out by the LTTE. Unfortunately, the LTTE also had a great deal of global influence through some elements of the Tamil Diaspora, which played a significant role in the electoral politics of certain western nations. This influence, combined with the skill of the LTTE propaganda machine, was strong enough to create a false, competing narrative in which the LTTE assumed the guise of a liberation army for an oppressed population. This is far from the truth.
While it is true that the LTTE’s first major attack on an Army convoy in 1983 sparked riots in the south during which the Tamil community suffered at the hands of violent mobs, Sri Lanka as a nation grew up very rapidly after that incident and left those dark days far behind. The progress made in national reconciliation and integration since 1983 has been very encouraging for a long time. Even at the height of terrorist activity in the 1990s, when thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed on a yearly basis by the LTTE’s bomb blasts and attacks, there were no more backlashes against the Tamil community.
On the contrary, the majority of the Tamil population has lived outside the North and East for many years, and comprise an integral part of the Sri Lankan community and the national identity. Colombo, in particular, is a thriving multi-ethnic hub that boasts a large Tamil population, which has produced many of the nation’s leading professionals and businessmen. They lead lives of distinction in a supportive multicultural environment devoid of communal tension, and have done so for many years.
Nevertheless, the LTTE’s propaganda machine kept flogging the lie that the Tamil community would have no chance to prosper so long as it stayed within the Sri Lankan state. They demonised Sri Lankan society, particularly the majority Sinhalese, and made ludicrous claims about ethnic cleansing and genocide. The irony is that in actual fact, it was the LTTE itself that perpetrated such atrocities in its attempts to carve out an insular mono-ethnic state. It was the LTTE that drove the Sinhalese and Muslims out of the North virtually overnight, and it was the LTTE that held Tamils captive and made them suffer for so many years.
If any Tamil children did not have the opportunity to study and forge better lives for themselves, it was because they lived in LTTE controlled territory and were conscripted as frontline soldiers or suicide bombers at the tender age of 12, 13 or 14. If any Tamil families spent many sleepless nights fearing for their future, it was because they lived under the LTTE and had no prospects at all for a better life. If successful Tamil businessmen and professionals were forced to maintain a low profile in the rest of the country, it was because they feared being kidnapped and held for ransom by LTTE operatives.
Bane of the Tamil community
The bane of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka was not the Sinhalese, nor the Armed Forces, nor the Government: it was in fact the LTTE. That is ultimately why we called our efforts to liberate the north and east a humanitarian operation — we were not just liberating territory from the LTTE’s control; we were rescuing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians from its cruel grip. By combating the LTTE and conclusively defeating it, we were not just winning a long drawn out war against an old enemy; we were rescuing an entire nation from the constant threat and hellish horrors of terrorism.
A second problem that some observers in the international community had with the resumption of a military campaign in Sri Lanka was the issue of proportionality. These observers unfortunately lacked the perspective necessary to understand the true nature of the LTTE. They thought of the LTTE as a small organisation, essentially no more than an underdog standing up to the full might of a national military. Again, the LTTE’s propaganda machine played an important role in this fuelling this misconception.
The truth of the matter is that despite its modus operandi of terrorism, and its origins as a small band of militants, the LTTE had grown into a massive terrorist organisation that had the ability to stand up to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces over the years. On previous occasions, the LTTE had enjoyed several victories over our military. They had overrun the Pooneryn military camp in 1993 and the Mullaitivu military camp in 1996, killing several thousand troops. From 1998 to 1999, the LTTE scored several key victories against the Armed Forces, killing thousands of troops and recapturing a great deal of territory. In the year 2000, the LTTE captured Elephant Pass, which was held by 12,000 soldiers, in a major operation.
All in all, by the time our military campaign resumed in 2005, the LTTE had killed more than 26,000 armed services personnel. This was no small band of militants, but a large, sophisticated terrorist organisation comprising approximately 30,000 cadres, a very large arsenal of weapons and equipment, and thousands of civilians organised as auxiliary forces. The LTTE is the only terrorist organisation in the world to have had a sophisticated naval wing as well as a fledgling air force with aircraft capable of dropping bombs on Colombo. Those who thought that the Sri Lankan response was disproportionate had absolutely no perspective on the issue.
Unfortunately, because Sri Lanka is a small country with limited resources, it was not possible for us to give the management of noncritical foreign opinion the same level of attention we gave India and other key nations. As such, these misconceptions remained largely intact Even more sadly, a number of influential figures in the international community formed very strong opinions — or should I say jumped to very hasty conclusions — about our conduct of the war. Some of these assumptions and misunderstandings have proven hard to shake even to this day. This is deeply disappointing to the Government because one of the most important facets of the Sri Lankan war against terrorism was the immense care with which it was conducted.
Zero civilian casualties
Ensuring zero civilian casualties was an overriding priority for everyone involved in the humanitarian operations, from the political leadership to the military personnel on the field of battle. Training on human rights, international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict as well as highlighting the necessity to protect civilians has been integral to the training syllabi of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces for many years. Moreover, when the operations commenced, strict orders were given to the military at Security Council meetings to avoid civilian losses and minimise destruction of civilian property. These orders were included in the operational orders handed down through the chain of command, and all our military personnel on the ground were very conscious of the fact that civilian casualties would not be acceptable.
Of course, in keeping with its brutal nature, the LTTE did its best to make these orders hard to follow. Historically, the LTTE has made sure that its leaders, operational centres, and gun positions are all located within areas populated by civilians. As our operations progressed, and the LTTE lost battle after battle, they started to withdraw from these entrenched positions in the towns and villages. Instead of withdrawing their cadres alone however, they herded the civilians who lived in those areas alongside them as they retreated. They also mined the villages and towns they left behind, making sure no one could safely go back.
A couple of hundred thousand civilians were taken out of their homes and driven from their villages as the military campaign progressed. These civilians were to serve as a human shield for the LTTE, which was beginning to realise it was outmatched in the field of battle. Humanitarian assistance that was being organised for these civilians through the Government with assistance from various organisations, including the World Food Programme, the ICRC and other international agencies, was also blatantly appropriated by the LTTE. This forced migration of civilians posed a significant obstacle to our humanitarian operations.
The Sri Lankan military responded by taking the utmost care in all its offensives. Small group warfare was extensively employed, even though it meant placing our troops at greater risk of harm by the enemy. A great deal of effort was put into intelligence gathering through the penetration of Special Forces into enemy territory and the comprehensive use of technology.
The establishment of No Fire Zones and Safe Corridors gave civilians an opportunity to escape into areas that had already been cleared. Of course, the LTTE did its best to prevent their escape by shooting at them whenever they attempted to flee. The LTTE also established their artillery positions at places such as hospitals and within civilian encampments in order to limit the Army’s ability to retaliate. As a result, especially towards the end of the campaign, the use of heavy weaponry was significantly curtailed and then stopped outright.
Use of technology
The extensive use of technology by all of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces during their operations did a great deal to minimise civilian losses. Footage from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was studied to enable the acquisition of legitimate enemy targets, which were destroyed using precision-guided munitions. Air Force pilots were specially trained to identify and target enemy positions with great accuracy. The minimum amount of necessary force was always used in munitions to ensure that the damage dealt was localised so that minimal harm would come to civilians and civilian property in the vicinity. Through these measures, the Sri Lankan Armed Services ensured that collateral damage was kept to an absolute minimum during the course of the entire campaign.
Above and beyond containing incidental harm to civilians, the military also did a lot to try and ensure that humanitarian aid was reaching the civilians trapped in the LTTE’s clutches. The Navy protected Sea Lines of Communication to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance to trapped civilians. It also protected safe corridors along the coast for escapees to cross through to Government controlled areas.
The Air Force airlifted humanitarian aid to civilians, and provided emergency evacuation to civilians who managed to escape LTTE imprisonment at great risk to their lives. These escapees were very often shot at, and those who managed to cross over to cleared areas were quite often in need of medical assistance. By providing such emergency assistance in all possible instances, the Armed Forces did a great deal to safeguard the lives of liberated civilians.
The civilians who crossed over to Government territory by escaping the LTTE and those who were rescued after the defeat of the LTTE in any particular area, were welcomed at reception centres and welfare camps established at various sites across the battlefront. This process was continually monitored by the ICRC. Transit camps were established during which the civilians were sorted according to their places of origin. They were then transported to larger facilities that had been organised accordingly.
In all these camps, the liberated civilians were given medical assistance, food, clothing, shelter and all other basic requirements under the supervision of the UN organisations. Help was also provided by various other agencies and foreign Governments in dealing with this situation. A great deal of effort was also taken to help these innocent victims of LTTE brutality to live with dignity despite the ordeal they had suffered. They were provided educational, vocational, recreational and entertainment facilities, while stringent security was also maintained to ensure that LTTE infiltrators and saboteurs did not have an opportunity to create more harm.
Resettlement of IDPs
With the conclusion of the military campaign, the fact that over two hundred thousand people remained in welfare camps and IDP centres was given a lot of attention by the international media. It was claimed that the people lived in terrible conditions within these camps and that the Government was not paying any attention to their immediate resettlement.
These accusations were spurred by the LTTE’s propaganda machine, which mostly exists outside Sri Lanka and continues to function to this day. The LTTE apologists also had a lot of anger at the Government for the LTTE’s demise, and even when they were not wholly behind the accusations, they added a lot of fuel to them. What these allegations missed, however, was the fact that the Government, together with assisting international agencies and foreign governments, was doing its best to cope with a massive humanitarian disaster caused by the LTTE.
The civilians could not be resettled immediately as the LTTE had strewn the villages and towns that they were forced out of with thousands of landmines and booby-traps. Clearing and de-mining those areas to make them safe was absolutely essential before enabling the return of the internally displaced. The infrastructure that had been destroyed also needed to be rebuilt swiftly. In the meantime, the Government did its best to ensure that the people remaining in the centres were well looked after.
By marshalling its resources, including the Armed Forces, very swiftly and with the help of friendly nations that provided assistance, the demining process and infrastructure development process were greatly expedited, and most of the work has already been carried out I am happy to note that of all the internally displaced people the Government had to look after at welfare camps, nearly 215,000 were resettled within one year.
In addition to the internally displaced civilians, more than 11,000 LTTE cadres surrendered or were detained by the military during the course of its operations. These detainees have been processed and sorted according to their level of involvement in the LTTE’s activities. Over 4,000 junior cadres are still undergoing extensive rehabilitation programmes. 595 former child soldiers were rehabilitated with the help of UNICEF and reintegrated to society, while 6130 adult cadres have also been trained and reintegrated.
These rehabilitation programmes included educational as well as vocational training, so that the rehabilitated former cadres will have no difficulty in readjusting to normal life and reintegrating into society. I am happy to note that several former child soldiers have successfully sat for their Advanced Level examinations and a few have even qualified to attend medical school. Of course, cadres who were more closely involved in the LTTE’s numerous atrocities will be prosecuted through the normal legal system.
Restoration of normalcy
In addition to the resettlement, rehabilitation and redevelopment activities that were carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the Government has paid special attention to the restoration of normalcy through the revival of socio-political institutions in the cleared areas. Normalcy was restored very early on to the east, where former armed group members were encouraged to enter the political mainstream and work for the people through legal channels. Tamil speaking policemen were recruited, and the role played by the military in the upholding of law and order was significantly curtailed.
Similar progress is rapidly being made in the north, where free and fair elections were held for the first time in decades. At the same time, reconstruction activities continue unabated. The military has been heavily involved in these activities, building houses, laying roads, establishing medical clinics and helping people resettle. By winning the hearts and minds of the people long brutalised by LTTE, the armed forces will help heal the wounds of the past and help restore normalcy to a long suffering section of our society.
The defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka is a unique event in history. During the course of this address, I have touched upon the overall framework within which this success was achieved, and pointed towards the progress that has been made since. Over the course of the remaining sessions, you will have an opportunity to learn about the Sri Lankan experience in much greater detail.
Terrorism is an international threat, and no country should suffer from it as Sri Lanka has suffered. On behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, I wish to express our sincere hope that you will be able to use the lessons learnt at this seminar to defeat international terrorism and bring safety to the world. For the moment, let me conclude by wishing all of you a productive and enjoyable stay in Sri Lanka.