Sri Lanka Army

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Commander Attending Malaysian Security Conference Becomes One Key Speaker

Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya Commander of the Army who has been invited to be one of the Guest Speakers at the second ‘Putrajaya Forum’, the International Defence and Security Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (17-19 April), delivered his brief address to the Chief of Army Round Table Talk on Tuesday (17) afternoon on the topic ‘The Role of Army in Nation-Building in the New Security Environment: Opportunities and Challenges’.

The Sri Lankan delegation to the prestigious and well-attended conference, led by the Secretary Defence and Urban Development is comprised of the Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya and the Commander of the Air Force Air Marshal H.D Abeywickrama, who arrived in Malaysia on Sunday (15) at the invitation of the Government of Malaysia, Ministry of Defence and Security and the office of the Chief of Army General Datuk Haji Zulkifli Haji Zainal Abidin, Malaysia.

The ‘Putrajaya Forum’ in Malaysia, attended by Chiefs of Army Staff from 45 countries in the world and is themed on ‘Enhancing Multilateralism for Regional Defence and Security’, of which one key feature is the Chief of Army Round Table Talks from which the main forum participants are greatly benefited when their experience and views on defence relevant matters are shared in a mutual atmosphere of opportunities and challenges. A only a few invited key speakers from Australia, Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka contributed to Chief of Army ‘Round Table Talk’ under the theme ‘Role of Army in Nation Building in the New Security’.

Chief of Defence Force, Malaysia General Tan Sri Dato' Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin made the opening remarks at the Chief of Army Round Table Talk on Tuesday (17).

Lieutenant General Jayasuriya during his contribution to the forum elaborated on ongoing development projects being done with the participation of the Army in the war ravaged North and East. He also explained how different challenges could be addressed in such contexts.

Earlier on Tuesday (17) Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya called on Lieutenant General David Morison Chief of Army, Australia in response to a formal invitation extended to the visiting Sri Lankan Army Chief by the Australian counterpart.
Here is the full text of the Commander’s speech :
Three decades of conflict, ranging from terrorism to insurgency, and finally high intensity sub conventional warfare concluded with the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. Strong and decisive political leadership, well sp by a nation weary of terrorism and conflict and a rejuvenated military blended into a cohesive campaign, paved the way for this historical victory over the world’s deadliest terrorist organization.

However, it is only when the dust settles and the cost is counted that the magnitude of the damage to the nation and national interest could be ascertained. Ladies and gentleman, whilst the economic cost which is unimaginable could still be worked out; the most damaging is the negative impact on the social fabric of the people living in the North and east of Sri Lanka. The Political and socio – economic structures and physical infrastructure in the north and east of Sri Lanka which are critical to the existence of people, were destroyed and systematically dismantled by the LTTE terrorists. The economic development of the early eighties which was once hailed as a model of development and prosperity in the region by none other than the father of modern Singapore, Dr Lee Kwan Yew, reduced in momentum.

But, what is most alarming is the toll on human life of people of all communities and the psychological scars and separation, which needed to be healed and bridged. Ladies and gentleman, the Government of Sri Lanka has responded to this mammoth and complex undertaking of post conflict nation building with an ambitious all encompassing national strategy for sustainable peace and prosperity.

Ladies and Gentleman, I stand privileged and pleased to present some of the salient aspects of our nation building endeavor to be the emerging wonder of Asia, and the role the Army plays in it, along with related challenges and opportunities.  

It could be safely stated that the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE was none like any of its kind in the recent history of conflict. But, what is astounding is the completeness of the defeat, and the abrupt cessation of violence, which created a sudden “mission vacuum”. The soldier in high intensity combat yesterday, had to continue to be the guardian, whist transforming overnight   in to peace facilitator, law enforcer, administrator, health service provider, humanitarian agency and subsequently in to a nation builder. “Adapt and learn” being the dictum, adapt he and she did, rapidly transforming from war fighter to a peace warrior.

In the aftermath of the conflict, it was appalling to see the pitiful state of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka which had been controlled and administered by the LTTE terrorists till then.  The infrastructure, Government administrative system, health services, community services, power and energy service, education and housing, had been destroyed and disrupted. The social fabric and religious structures, which are critical to social and community coherence had being systematically reduced and manipulated to enable better population control.

Adding to the above was the displacement of almost 290,000 people, who subsequently had to be fed, clothed and sheltered until the province was restored for habitation.

Ladies/gentleman, in to this critical period of national complexities, the Army stepped forward to shoulder the burden and take on the challenges of humanitarian support, and subsequently play an important role in nation building.

For easy understanding let me first introduce you to some of the early challenges faced after the Humanitarian Operation and subsequently build my talk to include development and nation building phases.

After the successful completion of the Humanitarian operation to liberate the north and Eastern areas from the LTTE terrorists, the Government developed a coherent national plan integrating all Government  ministries and agencies, UN agencies, NGO’s, INGO’s and other aid organizations. This comprehensive strategy was in two parts. Part I, Eastern awakening focused on rebuilding the east which was in better shape and began even before the launch of military operations to clear the Northern Province. Part II won the northern spring concentrated on rebuilding the Northern Province, which had being devastated due to the LTTE control of the area.

The Government launched the rebuilding of the east concentrating on infrastructure development, improving lively hoods and constructing housing projects. This was done under the continuing threat of terrorism, as the Northern Province had yet to be cleared of the LTTE. The Army not only provided the much needed security, but also played an active part in the resettlement, reintegration, reconstruction and reconciliation processes.

Some of the significant challenges were.

Maintaining the peace in a highly volatile province with multi religious, multi cultured and multi ethnic populations. The enforcement of a strict policy of avoiding civilian casualties during combat operations enabled the Army to maintain its reputation as an “Army for all”. This provided the Army with an impartial identity which enabled it to play a significant part initially, in merely connecting and later reconciling, the different communities. Musical and cultural programs with community common themes were also introduced. 

Resettling, displaced persons were almost completely managed by the Army. To this end, the Army organized and put into place its vast organizational and planning skills to good effect. The resettlement was preceded by a demining plan in areas that had being heavily mined by the LTTE.

The government Administrative system that had weakened due to terrorism was reinvigorated by military support, resulting in a more effective service to the people.

The revival of the education system. Schools were constructed and other private educational facilities were encouraged.

The reconstruction of vital infrastructure to stimulate and regulate economic activity posed a challenge that was critical to prosperity, which in turn would finally contribute to sustainable peace. The Army took on some of these projects with its plant engineering resources and in most instances acted as the lead agency. Critical irrigation systems were renovated and some were newly constructed.

Ladies/gent, it is in the Northern Province that the true complexities of humanitarian functions and nation building were encountered. The Government rose to the challenge with a comprehensive and ambitious strategy in the form of northern spring which began as soon as the LTTE was defeated. Whilst the challenges were many and complex, the stakes were high as it impacted on national interest. Due to the paucity of time I am compelled to limit my talk to some of critical challenges.

Preparation of the areas for resettlement, which included demining and reconstruction. The demining was coordinated with the Army as the lead agency alongside other foreign organizations. The deployment of the Army was adjusted to meet the resettlement requirement. The Army once again put its organizational power and planning skills to build and execute related tasks. The deployment facilitated the Army to be used as a vital information agency which supported the smooth resettling of the IDP’s.

The resettlement of almost 290,000 IDP’s over a period of short period. This was a mammoth operation involving the combined efforts of the Government administration system that had just been reestablished, UN agencies, NGO’s and a host of government ministries including the Army, integrated in to a single Presidential Task Force. But on ground as always, it was the army combined with local government administrators, who had been under the LTTE for almost two decades that got the job done. This provided the Army an opportunity to build an early relationship with these Government representatives who had worked with the LTTE. This bonding whilst working together enabled the creation of trust which on the long term contributed to reconciliation with Army.
A critical challenge was to reestablish the institutions of Governance and the district and village administrative structure. This was interwoven with security issues as the government administrative structure had been controlled by the LTTE and naturally loyalties still remained. Unlike the doctrine of “cleansing local authority bodies” adopted by some nations during post conflict stabilization (de-baathification by US in Iraq) we reinstated and enlisted these LTTE sympathizers, who in some cases had been active members.

Bridging the almost three decade gap of separation between two races, cultures and ideologies. The lead role played by the Army in resettlement, rehabilitation and in every aspect of aiding and guiding the people to back to their normal lives provided an important opportunity for reestablishing bonds of trust and understanding. Being the first representatives of the people of the south that the people from the north encountered after almost 3 x decades of separation, the Army was able to lead the way to reconciliation.
Security and building peace. The maintenance of an “Army for all “image has in itself acted as a multiplier to security and added to the political and socio – economic efforts of the Government. The deployment plan of the Army facilitated both security and functions in support of civil affairs.

Ladies/Gent, there could be no doubt that we are on our way to winning the peace after winning the war. After decades of violence and conflict we face the new millennium as a united nation with hunger for prosperity and enduring peace. The nation’s progress towards where we are today, is governed and guided by the   MAHINDA CHINTANA, a vision for the future declared by HE the President in his second election manifesto. The opportunities for our nation are many and so are the challenges that run parallel.

The eradication of terrorism comprehensively has provided an opportunity for enduring peace for all communities. Reconciliation enabled through effective resettlement, reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration continues steadily. However, challenges in the form of attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the nation through false human rights allegations could derail the ongoing reconciliation and peace building efforts. The challenge of the Army will be to maintain its “Army for all” image, which will support the reconciliation process.      Ultimately, the hearts and minds of the people will decide the fate of the nation.  

The comprehensiveness of the victory over the LTTE terrorist which has resulted in immediate peace, provides opportunities for early peace building, rapid development and economic growth. Understanding the need to exploit this gain the government has initiated moves towards longer term political solutions.
By virtue of the geo-strategic positioning of the nation, a host of regional and international challenges emerge and needs to be addressed. These could challenge the non aligned policy the nation has always followed. The reshaping of the Army in to a more professional outfit will provide deterrence and contribute to the effectiveness of foreign policy.

The Government’s policy for enduring peace gives prominence to economic prosperity. The Presidents vision for the future encapsulated in the MAHINDA CHINTANA exploits the geo strategic positioning of Sri Lanka and aims at developing the nation as a naval, aviation, commercial, energy and knowledge hub linking the east and west. This will include the regeneration of the urban centers such as cities and implementing of rural centric integrated initiatives to empower villages. In addition to the war fighting skills the Army would have to acquire a new set of skills in reconstruction and particular development fields, to aid the development process. Our manpower, organization and planning skills could be put to good use for development. Already we play an active role in urban regeneration.

The Army is ideally placed to contribute to mentoring and shaping the youth in to better and productive citizen’s thus adding vigor to new generations. Organized and objective leadership programs could be some of the many means implementable.
Training the Army whilst contributing to national development will undoubtedly be a continuing challenge. The creation of doctrine to support training and employment of the Army in this new role will improve effectiveness.

Ladies/Gent, our nation is emerging as the wonder of Asia and will play a vital role in the region as well as the world in the not too distant future. You could be certain that the Army will play an active role in this endeavor. Yet, this will be achieved by retaining the values, ethics, traditions and rich culture we proudly showcase. Ladies and Gent, the men and women I lead have done the nation proud and will continue to do so. Terrorism is that of the past and we intend keeping it that way.  

Thank You.