Posted on January 13th, 2020


The government of Sri Lanka retained the military bases in north and east after the Eelam war ended. This   did not please those who resented the Eelam victory. Sri Lanka does not need such a big army, such a big military now that the war is over, pro-Eelamists said.

UNHRC in Geneva demanded a ‘less intrusive and intimidating military presence’ in North and East. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein visited in 2017, and he also said that the size of the military forces in the North and the East could be reduced to a level that is less intrusive and intimidating.

Wikipedia said that there were 14 (sic) divisions in the North and East coming under six operational headquarters and 2 independent Divisions and several independent Brigades. Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters had  3 division, Wanni had 5 divisions, Kilinochchi had  3  division, Mullaitivu had 4 divisions.There are also two large naval commands9 and at least two significant units/bases of the air force, added Ceylon Telegraph.

A population roughly half the size of Colombo district or equivalent to a medium sized Indian city is effectively under the control of the staggering number of 15 army divisions in addition to other military units and forces. There is 1 security personnel for nearly every 10 civilians, concluded Ceylon Telegraph.

There is continued military occupation in the north – some 120,000 soldiers across the country, a force bigger than the entire British army, in a country with a population of some 20 million people, said Channel 4 News.

However, according to Major General Haturusinge, there had been around 26,000     army personnel in Jaffna peninsula in November 2009. By   July 2013, the    strength   had been reduced to 13,200   and the soldiers were largely confined to High Security Zones. The High Security Zones had also shrunk in size. Earlier, they had around 13,680 acres, in 2013 it was 6183 acres.

Those who objected to the presence of the military spoke of it as ‘militarization’. Friday Forum  spoke of the ‘extraordinary militarization of our state over so many decades’.    Friday Forum  said many senior administrators and officials such as governors were selected from the military. There is also the large allocation to defense in the budget.

The heavy militarization of the province, designed to protect against the renewal of militancy is deepening the alienation and anger of the northern Tamils, said Gamini Keerawella. The continued presence of the military in places that they did not occupy before the war concerns me,” said another. They are on lands that belong to the people.” The army occupies as much as 60,000 acres of civilian land just in the Mullaitivu district, with massive camps that encroach on the daily lives of civilians, said Gary Anandasangaree.

 We want demilitarization said Vigneswaran, The army is in full control of the area. Tamil People’s Council demands that the occupying forces immediately leave the north and east and civilian administration  be provided for the  north and east.

Interested parties are using the continued existence of a large military to manufacture claims about the ‘militarization ‘of the country, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in 2012. Foreign governments visit and ask for demilitarization of the north and east. That is  a matter for Sri Lanka alone. The foreign agencies always wanted to reduce the military in North and East. It  was   in the Ceasefire Agreement too.

It’s up to the military and the leaders to decide what should be the strength of the army, according to the threat perception that we have , continued  President Gotabaya in 2019. The numbers in the army would have gone down by now, since the government did not recruit soldiers at the same pace, in the last 10 years. Normal attrition would  also have taken place.

Sri Lanka  needs to sustain a robust military power. The present need, in 2019, is for intelligence and the intelligence cadres need to be increased. We may put more investment on training of intelligence gathering, and mechanisms of intelligence gathering. We have to change according to the threat, concluded President Gotabaya .

The Tamil Separatist Movement thought otherwise. The Tamil Separatist Movement  said it wants the army completely out of the north, replaced by an enhanced police presence. The army should withdraw from checkpoints and be replaced by the police.  Police must take up the challenge of ensuring the people’s security as a civilian force, said Jehan Perera. If the government wishes to obtain the gratitude of the Tamils for ending the war and restoring peace, they should restore normal civilian traffic through Omanthai. The Omanthai checkpoint should have gone long ago. So should the military form the north,  said  pro-Eelamists. 

However, outside of the larger towns the police are in fact conspicuous by their absence, at least in the Vanni. I did not spot any significant police presence, not a single police station but just one police outpost, in two days of journeying through parts of the rural heartland of the Vanni earlier this year but instead saw large army camps, ranging from divisional and brigade headquarters, to medium and small camps and numerous army outposts and checkpoints, said a journalist in 2012.

After the victory, the army  engaged in community service. They did so with great enthusiasm. The security forces in the Vanni were very busy, reported observers, making roads, building schools and community centres, organising medical camps, community events and gatherings. Security forces repaired furniture in schools and   donated blood. They  renovated Bakmeewewa and Werabanda wewa. 

These activities were welcomed. But other activities were not. Here are two examples. Civil Defence Force  had taken most of the pre-schools in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts” under its preview.  CDF started training pre-school teachers  and paid the salaries of the staff in those schools”  

By 2018, there were 261 pre-schools funder the CDF and over 58,146 children. The pre-school teachers, who got less than Rs. 3,000 monthly before, are now getting a salary of Rs. 32,000.  School principals now say that the education standard of grade one students has improved as they are given a good pre-school education in the CDF run pre-schools The CDF is conducting tuition and extra classes for children in grade one to 10, reported the CDF.

The Tamil Separatist Movement did not  agree. Wigneswaran complained to the EU HR inspection team that the Sri Lanka army was running hundreds of schools in north including 344 primary schools.

The TNA charged that “The army logo has been printed on the school uniforms of kindergarten children in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts attending pre-schools maintained by the Civil Defence Force. Even kindergarten children are paraded as army children while other children wear normal dress. A fee is charged from the parents for the uniforms of the students studying in those schools and the army logo is printed on those uniforms. Why cannot the Education Ministry maintain preschools in those areas like the way it does in other districts. When asked whether they could  produce evidence that the army logo was printed on the school uniforms, TNA said ‘yes’?”

JVP said that in Kilinochchi there is no electricity in its 52 schools and there is a semi -military administration. Cannot hold even a drama competition in school without getting permission from the military administration.

The  second complaint was that Army maintains hair dressing saloons in Mullaitivu. While other saloons charge 100 rupees per a haircut the army saloons charge only Rs. 35. Their saloons are open on Sundays and on public holidays. How can the saloon owners and barbers in the area compete with them? They lose business. Why are the war hit areas still compelled to live under such conditions, asked the Tamil Separatist Movement .”

Friday Forum observed that in addition to the extensive land held by the military, its inroad into the local economy and widespread surveillance apparatuses  troubled the local population. The military had gone into branches of government which should be under civil administration, observed Gamini Keerawella.

The military is  used to maintain civil law and order. It is  also carrying out  policing functions, he said.  Security forces intervened in the day to day civilian administration, the Tamil Separatist Movement  complained.   Very little, happens without the  permission of the army, reported Colombo Telegraph.  The public object to the militarization and the surveillance, Tamil People’s Council said.

Under the veneer of benevolence, not to mention the cultivated grace and charm exuded by the senior officers, is the constant exercise of their absolute power, said  BBC reporter Charles Haviland.At checkpoints and outposts, vehicles  slow down, even without a hint of a signal  he added.

Security forces are entitled to keep an eye on meetings but the psychological climate is such that even this information gathering can create unease in a population that continues to live in the memory of the war that has     so cruelly shattered their lives, said Jehan Perera.

Former LTTE cadres  complained in 2019  to US human rights activist Cristina James that they are under constant surveillance by the military though they have undergone rehabilitation. People were still suspicious of them due to the military constantly watching their movements. They said they had also complained to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) about  this.  They also claimed that military interference has hampered their political activity.

The military presence in the north becomes militarization,  not only because of its overwhelming presence and its imprint on the everyday life of people but also because the military is  engaged in other activities, said critics.

The military has infiltrated into non-military spheres.It has infiltrated trade, city planning and local administration. It is engaged in agricultural and commercial activities. However, discussions with senior army officials as well as the other ranks in Vanni show that they really do take their development mission” seriously, reported a researcher.

The military is doing everything” agreed the Army Commander in an interview in 2013. They are running cafes, building roads, bridges, houses and stadium, the engineering services do tanks and canal renovation.  Certain battalions have taken over and are cultivating government agricultural land. We have established our own farms.   Is this militarization? It is not, said the Army Commander. We are saving the government money in terms of labour costs.

Here are some of the army’s commercial activities. Army runs a tile factory and brick factory. Tile factory was a joint venture with Ceylon Ceramic Corporation. Army had been asked to fill in due to shortage of labour.

Army took over the Kankasanturai rest house, and in 2010 turned it into Thal Sevana, a resort-type hotel owned and managed by the Army.  In 2019, TNA was trying to stop the army from acquiring lands adjacent to ‘Thal Sevana’ for further expansion.  (Continued)

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