Saturday, November 29, 2008

Let’s put an end to Politicization of national security

Today Sri Lanka is at a decisive stage in resolving the National Problem. The East has been liberated and plans are underway to promote development and nurture democracy among its people. A political solution to address the just grievances of the Tamil citizens is being evolved with the participation of the majority of the political parties in the country. The LTTE has been considerably weakened militarily during the last twenty months as the present government is pursuing a clear two pronged policy objective of combating terrorism militarily, and developing a political format to resolve the real grievances of Tamil people without adversely affecting the interests of Muslim and Sinhala people. The Country today is much closer to offering a solution to the national problem than at any time of the three decade long strife.

When faced with serious military reversals, a key tactic of any guerilla/ terrorist organization is to launch a few headline grabbing attacks on government forces or civilian targets. The LTTE has resorted to such tactics in attacking the Air Force base in Anuradhapura. The fact that the two headline grabbing attacks by LTTE in the recent past happened to be on the Air Force indicate the terrorists’ belief that the role of the Air Force would be decisive in the future operations in the Wanni. Through these attacks they perhaps hope to achieve three objectives. 1.Create apprehension and plant seeds of doubt among the public on the future success of the military operations to liberate people of Wanni (2) Erode self-confidence of Air force personnel (3) Rouse opposition politicians and sow political dissension in the South aimed at weakening the Government’s resolve to combat terrorism and liberate Wanni. It is the patriotic responsibility of all Sri Lankan people irrespective of political beliefs to help the Armed Forces and the Government to counter LTTE’s psychological warfare.

Political parties debate over major national issues to gain political power. This is a normal democratic process. However, none of the industrialized democratic countries including most in Asia have politicized national security. Political parties in these countries do not use national security as a political football. India is a good example in this regard. Unfortunately Sri Lanka is an exception and national security continues to be the focus of partisan political debate. The latest example is the injudicious statements made by the major opposition party, after the recent attack on the Air Force camp in Anuradhapura. Even at the time of writing, key personalities in this Party continue to make utterances that deliberately subject the leaders of Air Force and the defense establishment to unfair calumny. Unfortunately these overly politicized utterances exert undue pressure from inside the South on the Government and the Armed Forces. These ill-conceived utterances of the major party in the Opposition could reinforce the psychological pressure created by the Wanni hierarchy on the people and the Government, at a time the country requires steadfast leadership to combat terrorism.

Taking a cue from these loose statements, some private media are attempting to create differences among the three services, and create panic among the general public. The Tissamaharama fiasco is a case in point. What an unfortunate situation. How well has the Wanni hierarchy read the minds of the Southern political leaders, and some media men and women!

National security should not be kicked around as a political football. National security is sacred to each country. During the American civil war President Abraham Lincoln gave political leadership to the Government forces to preserve national security. During the Second World War Prime Minister Churchill gave political leadership to the British forces to protect national security and the British way of life. During the dark periods in their history, no major Opposition political party in these countries played politics with national security.

Certainly a responsible Opposition has to advocate for the institution of Reviews to assess any security lapses and other weaknesses in the air force camp in Anuradhapura, and elsewhere in the system, in order to facilitate remedial action and prevent possible future lapses. But no responsible opposition interested in maintaining national security should make sweeping statements overnight, as if they were privy to all that happened in the camp on that unfortunate night.

No country in the world has overcome terrorism without experiencing setbacks. India finally overcame Sikh terrorism, but suffered military setbacks from time to time in doing so. The Russian Armed Forces suffered setbacks in containing Chechen terrorism.

The US armed forces the most technologically advanced force in the world faces setbacks as it fights a ruthless terrorist outfit in Iraq. From March 2003 to August 2007, the US Air Force has lost about 108 helicopters and 18 planes in Iraq. In these setbacks, the Congress, the defense establishments and the armed forces certainly do review many aspects and procedures to remedy mistakes. Colonel W. Brandt, the Chief of Aviation Safety Division at the US Air Force Safety Center in an article published last week in the MSN web page explaining challenges faced by the US Air Force in Iraq, said "we are the most combat-tested, combat-experienced force in the planet, and we learn more about ourselves and our business every day. But we are still human and make mistakes".

However, politicians in these countries do not raise issues during military reversals in such a way as to demoralize the defense establishment, and commanders or their men; neither do they grant international recognition or psychological advantage to opposing terrorist groups through injudicious public statements.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, who is considered a leading international expert on security in his book ‘Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Crisis and National Security’ referring to Sri Lankan political parties affirms that "….. Unfortunately there is no bipartisanship on matters of security. Leaders of all political parties must work towards a common consensus on matters of security. To rise above party politics requires extraordinary leadership. Most leaders have been unable to do so in contemporary Sri Lanka". These comments were made in 1998. Although nine years have elapsed since this criticism, the mature political parties when placed in the Opposition seem to be merrily continuing to play political football with National Security. What an unfortunate situation for us citizens? What an unfortunate situation for the heroic members of our Armed Forces and their families?

We the people of Sri Lanka should tell our leaders to treat national security as a sacred commitment when they are in the Opposition as they would were they in the Government. The heroic men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice in protecting Sri Lanka’s national security deserve no better.

As President Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address during the American Civil War in 1863 … "The brave men living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…."

Let us appeal to all political parties in the Opposition and the Government to consider national security as a sacred trust placed in their combined hands. Let us appeal to political leaders when voted into the Opposition to treat national security in a responsible manner, as they would have done in a Government. Let us appeal to all political parties in the Government and the Opposition to get together to protect the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Sri Lanka while finding and bestowing a political solution to the National Problem. In these two tasks bipartisanship (of political parties) is the key to success. Let them forget the past and present animosities. Let us request the Opposition to respond responsibly to the call made by the Prime Minister in Parliament after the terrorist attack on the Air Force base in Anuradhapura, for all parties to get together to resolve the National Problem. Kindly repay your debt to the Country, the People, the Armed Forces and the Police by treating National Security as a sacred issue above party politics.

All politicians owe this to the people of Sri Lanka with whose votes they attain the high positions they presently enjoy.

Retired International Consultant

(Source: Sunday Island 2007/10/28 - reproduced as it is still valid today)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Troops advance amidst heavy rains - Wanni Operation - 25Nov2008

SPUR Media Release on the murder of Dr. Palitha Pathmakumara

SPUR (Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights for Sri Lanka Inc)
Reg: A003 0777 M
P.O. Box 4066, Mulgrave VIC 3170, Australia
Phone: (03) 9795 7143 Fax: (03) 9795 7142

24 November 2008

Dr. Palitha Pathmakumara was the only medical officer serving at the Rural Hospital Vavunathivu. This medical officer treated the medical ailments of the villagers from Vavunathivu, Eechanthivu, Kanankuda and Navakkadu. He was also a teacher, counsellor and a father figure to people who have been traumatised by LTTE terrorism for nearly 3 decades. His patients called him Dr. Kumara.

He could have lived in comfort and safety somewhere in the south, earning millions through channelling, instead, he chose to work in a rural village close to the war zone.

Dr. Palitha Pathmakumara was murdered by the LTTE terrorists who entered his quarters on the night of the 16 of November 2008 and performed the dastardly deed before the eyes of his wife. When fleeing away, they killed Thambirasa Yokendiran a neighbour of the Doctor, to stop him identifying them. The killers have been positively identified by others who witnessed them leaving the scene of their crime, as the group of LTTE cadres who have been carrying out political assassinations in the area.

Dr. Kumara - as he was affectionately known - was murdered for one and only one reason. He was disproving the myth for the existence of the LTTE – that the Sinhalese people were monsters whose only mission in life was to annihilate the Tamil race and this good doctor was doing just the opposite.

This gruesome murder has shocked the country but the human rights activists are silent. Indeed, the silence from them is deafening!

These INGOs, and NGOs, some media personnel become very vociferous, brandishing their pens and running around the world proclaiming for all and sundry to hear that the government and the armed forces are violating human rights – each time the LTTE faces defeat. When a person who was performing a humanitarian service among the very people of whom the LTTE are supposed to be sole representatives has been murdered by the LTTE, they are silent.

Why the double standards? If you are human rights activist, you should protest about any violation of the rights of another human. What is more of a violation than being deprived of life? Especially a human being who was also a humane being, transcending the bounds of communalism to heal those whose minds have been poisoned by racism.

Why have these arch champions of human rights not gone out in the streets demanding that the LTTE stop this violence towards civilians? Why have they not condemned this senseless act of murdering a doctor who was helping Tamil villagers?

Is it because they have not heard about this latest dastardly act of the LTTE cadres or is there a more sinister reason behind their silence?

Whatever the reason for their silence, it only shows their nudity. You will be judged not by your words but by your deeds. These “Human Rights Champions” have abrogated their right to make a song a dance about human rights violations by this one act of omission.

Jeanne Jayasinghe

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maha Sangha visit Pooneryn to invoke blessings on War Heroes

Tamil Tiger chief to issue rallying call as fiefdom crumbles

COLOMBO (AFP) — The reclusive leader of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers is to deliver his annual policy address this week from a besieged jungle hideout that could soon be totally overrun by government troops.

With his northern fiefdom shrinking fast in the face of a massive onslaught, Velupillai Prabhakaran is expected to use Thursday's address to rally his forces for a do-or-die battle for survival.

The last 18 months have been disastrous for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who want to carve out an ethnic homeland in the north and east of the Sinhalese-majority island.

The rebels were ejected from the east in July 2007 and lost their political chief in a government air raid, while much of their flotilla of ships used to smuggle in black market weapons has been reported sunk.

The LTTE's political capital of Kilinochchi appears to be on the brink of falling into government hands. The Tigers have lost control of the entire northwest coast, while the key northeastern coastal base of Mullaitivu is also being squeezed.

"He will vow to hit back. He might even say that they are pulling out so that the army will spread out thinly for him to attack them later," said Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a former Tamil guerrilla-turned-politician.

But a year ago Prabhakaran issued a similar threat against what he branded a "genocidal" government, only to see his northern mini-state shrink even further.

The hawkish and extremely confident Sri Lankan government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire in January. With his troops advancing, President Mahinda Rajapakse says he will accept nothing less from the LTTE than their surrender.

Analysts say Prabhakaran has been left with little room for manoeuvre.

"I think he may still have the capacity to carry out one or two big attacks, but that won't be enough to restore the military balance of power we see now," Sithadthan said.

Prabhakaran's speech is an annual event marking "Heroes' week", when the LTTE commemorates the estimated 22,000 Tamils -- many of them women and children -- who have died during the 36-year-long war.

The speech is usually pre-recorded in a jungle bunker somewhere in the northeast, and broadcast by the Voice of Tigers radio station. The station's previous headquarters was flattened by government jets a year ago.

The event also coincides with Prabhakaran's birthday -- he turns 54 on Wednesday -- although retired army brigadier general Vipul Boteju said the rotund rebel chief will have little to celebrate.

"He has to make a face-saving speech on Thursday," Boteju said.

"We will see the usual rhetoric about revenge, but his ability to deliver seems to be greatly diminished."

The annual speech is also aimed at the Tamil diaspora in countries like Canada, Australia and Switzerland, who help keep the LTTE's coffers full.

But on the home front, he also has to raise morale among an estimated 200,000 Tamil civilians displaced by the government advance. Aid agencies say the humanitarian situation in the north is desperate.

Still, Prabhakaran and his hardened guerrilla force have managed to turn the tables on security forces in the past.

Military officials say the Tigers can still deploy large numbers of suicide bombers known as "Black Tigers".

Six months after he lost his northern stronghold of Jaffna to the army in December 1995, he overran an army base in the northeast, slaughtering over 1,000 soldiers and causing a dip in public support for the war in the south.

And in November 1999, the Tigers reversed military gains of 19 months in a matter of five days. That counter-attack helped push the Colombo government into a peace process.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wanni Operation - 23Nov2008

Sri Lanka fighting spreads to key highway near Tiger HQ

COLOMBO (AFP) — Helicopter gunships attacked Tamil Tiger rebel positions in northern Sri Lanka as battles shifted onto a key highway leading to the rebels' political capital, the defence ministry said.

Helicopters were deployed to pound rebel bunkers that make up the western defences of the town of Kilinochchi, the political headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the ministry said.

"Sri Lanka army offensive divisions... are now marching towards Kilinochchi built up in three frontiers," the ministry said. "Pitched battles are going on."

One of the columns was marching on Kilinochchi from the southern flank and heavy fighting raged along the main A-9 highway that runs through the six-kilometre (four-mile) length of the town, the ministry said.

Troops were engaged with Tiger rebels in the Therumurikandi area, 10 kilometres (six miles) south of the town centre, the ministry said, adding that guerrillas had built an earth barrier around Kilinochchi in a bid to block the military advance.

"The air raids were launched on Saturday evening in support of troops of the 57th division advancing towards Kilinochchi," a defence ministry official said.

The latest thrust came as the Tigers marked their "Heroes' Week."

Pro-rebel websites reported that the guerrillas were holding religious services as part of the commemoration of thousands of cadres killed in the drawn-out conflict.

The Tigers launched their separatist drive in 1972, while the first Tiger cadre was killed by government forces 10 years later on November 27, 1982.

The week of commemoration ends Thursday with a speech by their supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, who turns 54 on Wednesday.

The defence ministry has stopped releasing details of casualties among its own troops, but it is reporting heavy fighting in the north of the island with the guerrillas said to be offering stiff resistance.

Sri Lanka's government has vowed to take the Tiger political capital and dismantle the LTTE's mini-state.

Sri Lankan troops have been engaged in a massive offensive against the Tigers since the government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce at the start of the year.

Sri Lankan authorities have restricted access to the embattled areas for journalists as well as for most aid workers, meaning that claims by either side in the decades-old conflict are normally impossible to independently verify.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the LTTE's campaign for a separate homeland for the island's minority Tamils.