12th April 2018 15:44:24 Hours
The Sri Lanka Army to be in line with the Commander's avowed objective of elevating the organization to match with international and modern day standards, stuck one more feather in its cap on Thursday (12) morning by raising its newest Directorate for Overseas Operations, named as the 'Sāma Medura' at the old Dutch bungalow, Colombo 3, in the wake of its expanding overseas assignments.
Major General Mervyn Perera, Director General, Directorate of Overseas Operations (DOO), welcomed the Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake on arrival at the premises.
The Chief Guest for the event, Mr Kapila Waidyaratne PC, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence at the invitation of the project's brainchild, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Commander of the Army inaugurated the new Directorate after unveiling a plaque which narrates Sri Lanka's history in UN assignments before lighting of the traditional oil lamp which heralded the auspicious inauguration.
After a warm welcome, Major General Mervyn Perera, Director General at Directorate of Overseas Operations (DOO) spelt out the role of this new wing and how it evolved to be a recognized wing of the Army as time passed by.
Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, the architect behind the realization of the new establishment, flanked by Chief of Staff, Director General General Staff, Director General, DOO and Director Media afterwards spoke to media personnel who had been invited to the inaugural occasion.
"This new Directorate is an attempt to go hand in hand with fast changing dynamics in the world in its quest for global and regional peace and it is designed primarily, inclusive of an operational wing, human rights wing, training wing and the logistics wing with the view to getting the best out of the best for such assignments in the UN. We want to make our soldiers more committed to discipline, politeness and law enforcement through this new establishment since our soldiers have the best capacity to meet with any challenge. In those conflict-affected countries, there exists largely 'peace enforcement' rather than peacekeeping since violence is the order of those societies. We are an Army with a sea of battlefield experiences and professional capabilities but we need to refine ourselves to be capacity-based one to match with international requirements".
"We are glad that we are to be screened in a human rights mechanism and a such clearance is already taking place within the Army itself before troops are selected for such UN assignments. This is not something new to us but what we stress is a mechanism that could accelerate such clearances since we are legally bound to honour our overseas commitments. We always want to cooperate with the Human Rights Commission and get this 'vetting' process expedited. This new DOO would also be expanding the same process, similar to what we did with our UN cell before UN bound soldiers are selected".
Talking about the demand the Army has received for future deployments, as queried by a journalist, Lieutenant General Senanayake said that the Army's capabilities in the field of Infantry, Engineering, De-mining, Explosive Ordnance Devices and more recently of the possible deployment of woman soldiers are on the agenda and possibilities are being explored. "In fact, our friendly Bangladesh Army is in the process of receiving our expertise in the process of raising their own women's corps. And we have been asked to increase our deployment of woman soldiers in overseas assignments. One must not forget the fact that our woman soldiers in their combat efficiency have done well and 25 of them have laid their lives for the sake of the country after the Army Women's Corps was raised in 1979," the Commander remarked.
"Various anti-Sri Lanka Army groups, including the diaspora keep pressure on international organizations supplying them with distorted, malicious and untrue information of different nature and some of those agencies continue to deter our progress by doing so. Therefore, the HRC mechanism is a positive protective thing for us and it has to get going. You see Sri Lanka Army has proved in the overseas assignments that its troops are always ready and flexible for any challenge, assignment or any daring operations inside the host country while other TCCs are mostly confined only to their country mandate. So, we are multi skilled," the Commander pointed out in reply to different media queries.
A media communiqué released to coincide with the occasion had this to say;
The new DOO, considering Sri Lanka as a committed member of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations with its potential tri-service and Police members would ensure all participating personnel in the future meet with the highest standards of conduct and discipline at all levels and explore possibilities of enhancing the UN quota for Sri Lankan troops to be equal to that of a Brigade in this national process.
Sri Lanka at present seeks to enhance and expand its participation in UN peacekeeping. Such expansion of Sri Lanka's participation which would entrust Sri Lanka Security Forces with responsibilities of an international scale has to be carried out in coordination and in cooperation with the United Nations and Sri Lanka's bilateral partners, and it is the responsibility of the sending country (i.e. Sri Lanka) to ensure that the personnel deployed are Sri Lanka's best.
The Army is ready to provide them pre-deployment training including in conduct and discipline, and awareness-raising regarding investigation and disciplinary measures that they would be compelled to face, if they do not comply with the high standards expected of them in their respective international roles.
Henceforth, Sri Lanka Army follows meticulous guidelines and standards on par with internationally accepted peacekeeping principles, blended with Sri Lankan values.
To-date, 18,509 members of the Sri Lanka Army have effectively contributed to the UN Peace Keeping Missions, including the services of Military Observers, Staff Officers and Staff Officer Assistants since 1960.
Currently, Sri Lankan Army contingents are engaged in UN Peace Keeping Mission assignments in several parts of the world. 10 Officers and 140 Other Rankers in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL-Force Protection Company), 16 Officers and 50 Other Rankers in the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMISS - Level 11 Hospital South Sudan) and 2 Officers and 63 Other Rankers in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA- Construction Team Mali) are among some of those major assignments.
In addition, 18 Officers including 2 Lady Officers as Military Observers are serving the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Similarly, 26 Army Officers are engaged in UN Staff Officer Missions in Lebanon, Abyei, New York, South Sudan, Central Africa, Mali and Western Sahara.
Sri Lanka being a member state of the UN since 1955 as its maiden contribution to International Peacekeeping deployed six peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 1960 and has been a member of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations as a committed partner with thousands of service personnel and Policemen. However, due to prevailing circumstances, conduct of UN Peacekeeping Operations by Sri Lanka Army was largely guided by a set of unwritten principles, largely influenced by Sri Lanka's non-aligned norms and ethics.
To its credit, Sri Lanka truly became a recognized Troop Contributing Country (TCC) in the sphere of international peacekeeping in 2004 after Sri Lanka, despite an intense domestic terrorism that prevailed, managed to deploy a contingent of 750 members and one Staff Officer to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The role played by Sri Lankan troops in Haiti to bring normalcy to the country gradually endorsed the Sri Lankan foot print permanently as successful and effective peacekeepers. To achieve such great heights of success, three brave sons of Mother Lanka, Lance Corporal J. B. A. J. Jayasinghe (2005), Lance Corporal H. M. Wijesinghe (2005) and Lance Corporal A. Jayantha (2007) made the first ever supreme sacrifices in international peacekeeping and were posthumously honoured with the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal.
From 2004 onwards Sri Lanka Army made a steady progress in international peacekeeping reaching its pinnacle in the year 2011 by deploying 2051 troops and 25 Staff Officers and Military Observers in five UN missions while operating as the 'Army UN Cell' under the Directorate of Operations.
Sri Lankan peacekeepers are currently serving in seven UN missions worldwide. After eradicating the domestic terrorist menace, Sri Lanka has pledged to undertake a wider commitment in international peacekeeping using its combat experience, well trained and battle hardened troops to assure effective and robust peacekeeping in more complex UN missions.
"Our vision and commitment towards world peace is to contribute to a divisional size or bigger and effective combat outfit under the United Nations to achieve sustainable peace in conflict-infested regions of the world. Fast changing political dynamics and current trends in the world have become a complex and multi dimensional challenge and the establishment of this DOO exclusively to handle international peacekeeping and overseas operational commitments would help overcome lots of such barriers," Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Commander of the Army was quoted saying.
Sri Lanka's Institute of Peace Support Operations (IPSOTSL) in Kukuleganga which trains future peacekeepers has given training to 28,998 Army personnel by the end of 2017 and of them 19,395 troops including 300 members of the Special Task Force (STF) are ready for deployment.
In the field of peacekeeping, Sri Lanka readily seeks to work with the United Nations closely to set standards and examples for other States to consider following as well. Screening of personnel being deployed at all levels is considered an important component in this respect. In this connection, the Sri Lanka Army considers setting up a mechanism with the participation of the independent national mechanism that has been set up through Parliament which is empowered by the Constitution of our country - i.e. the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka - as the most appropriate way forward with respect to screening of personnel.
Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Army, following discussions with the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations, and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has agreed on a process to be followed for screening of all personnel being deployed on UN assignments. This national process is in line with the UN Secretary General's Decision No.2012/18 Human Rights ‘screening of United Nations Personnel' of 11 December 2012 which requires Member States to screen their personnel and certify that the individuals who are nominated or deployed have not been involved in violations.