Overwhelming army presence in North: Army Chief clarifies post-war role
Posted on April 26th, 2012

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island



Army Chief Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya yesterday said that the deployment of troops in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was very much less than during the conflict.

“There is a substantial reduction of troops stationed in each district following peace time re-deployment,” Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said in an exclusive interview with The Island. The ongoing process, the former Security Forces Commander, Vanni, said was in line with the thinking of Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Responding to criticism of an overwhelming military presence in the Northern and Eastern districts three years after the war, the Lt. Gen. emphasized that whatever critics say, those living in the two provinces realized that there was a noticeable decrease in the military presence. “A case in point is the Jaffna peninsula, once the single largest deployment of ground forces in the entire war zone. We have had four Divisions deployed across the peninsula. The 51 and 52 Divisions were deployed on a holding role. The 53 and 55 Divisions were based on the peninsula for offensive purposes. But today, the Jaffna deployment is very much less than during the war.”

The Army chief placed the actual strength in the Jaffna peninsula now at less than half of the war time strength.

Those critical of our peace time deployment had conveniently forgotten that troops were now deployed in areas, where there hadn’t been any presence, both east and west of the A 9 Kandy-Jaffna road for decades. The 200,000 army is spread over all administrative districts amidst the ongoing reorganization. “In fact, we are in the process of working out a comprehensive plan for the post-war army. It’ll basically have three key components. There’ll be a fighting element, support services/logistics and a nation building component,” Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said.

“There’ll be many changes. The Task Force VIII involved in the Vanni battle has been converted to 12 Division, now deployed in the Hambantota district,” he said.

“The army will continue to maintain 200,000 personnel to meet the country’s security needs. In spite of peace, Sri Lanka’s security needs should be met. It’ll be a grave mistake on our part to lower defences,” the Army Commander said.

Commenting on the deployment on the Vanni front, the Lt. Gen. said that at the height of the humanitarian mission, there were five Divisions (53 and 55, which moved southwards across Elephant Pass) and (57, 58 and 59). And there were three Task Forces (TF 3, TF 4 and TF 8). Now, that peace has returned, all these fighting formations had to be reorganized to meet future requirements, he said.

Asked whether the army would respond to war crimes allegations in the wake of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passing a resolution targeting Sri Lanka, the Lt. Gen. said that a Court of Inquiry headed by a Maj. Gen. was in the process of investigating the accusations. Although various people had accused the army of atrocities, they hadn’t come forward with required information to assist the ongoing inquiry, he said.

The Army Chief said that those accusing the army of accountability issues had turned a blind eye to those who gave themselves up to advancing troops on the Vanni east front in 2009 were leading normal lives today. The vast majority of internally displaced persons, too, have gone back to their villages.

The Lt. Gen. said that following the presentation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report in Parliament, army headquarters appointed a board of inquiry to develop a new doctrine in case of a future conflict. “I have received the board’s recommendations. We are going into them. We have already converted the Directorate of Additional Welfare to the Directorate of Veteran Affairs.”

How Tigers exploited inaction of global community

The international community knew how the LTTE had thwarted the UN from evacuating its local employees and their families in spite of their lives being at risk, Army Chief Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya said.

The situation would have been different had the LTTE allowed the civilians to leave the battle zone, he said. The refusal on the part of the LTTE to release UN employees and their families should have been enough for the international community realize the mindset of the LTTE leadership, he said.

Commenting on “ƒ”¹…”Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: The War Crimes Unpunished’, the army chief said that those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal should investigate the failure on the part of the international community to intervene decisively, when the LTTE had forced over 300,000 civilians living in the Vanni to move towards the Mullaitivu coast. The LTTE went to the extent of detaining local employees of the UN for allegedly helping civilians to flee the war zone and take refuge in the government-held area at the onset of the Vanni humanitarian mission, the army commander said.

Rejecting allegations regarding deliberate artillery fire at No Fie Zones (NFZs) on the Vanni east front, the army commander stressed that the Defence Ministry declared safe zones after observing large groups of people converging to a particular area at gunpoint to ensure the safety and security of civilians. As the LTTE kept on pushing people further towards the coast, the Defence Ministry, too, announced new NFZs, he said. Responding to a query, the army chief said that once the Defence Ministry announced the second NFZ, the first one no longer existed. That was also the case in the setting up of the second NFZ, he said.

Those interested in knowing the truth could get in touch with Tamil civilians who worked for international organizations during the war, their families or people now living freely in the liberated provinces, he said.

3 Responses to “Overwhelming army presence in North: Army Chief clarifies post-war role”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Sri Lanka suffered 30 long years of Tamil Racist Terrorism as a result of the Tamil call for a separate state and later due to a call for an armed insurrection by the Vadukkodai Declaration. The sons and daughters of the Tamil Racist and Separatist ideology are spread throughout the island. It is not yet even 3 years subsequent to these dastardly crimes against the Sri Lankan nation and it is far too early for the Sri Lanka state to lower her readiness for combatting terrorism.

    We must clearly follow how other nations have reacted in similar situations and not follow the dictates of former terrorists and their associates, India and the Christian Church. Americans are still stationed in Okinawa and in Korea over 60 years after! NATO is still exercising its rule over Europe! America still has troops stationed in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and the list goes on.

    Sri Lanka must assert its victory over terrorism in a humane manner, but not lower its guard any time now nor in the future.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    We don’t have to justify army presence to anyone.

    It is our right. If anyone has a problem with that, LEAVE SL.

    Reducing army presence is an invitation for the LTTE RUMP DIASPORA to restart war.

  3. Vijendra Says:

    The whole strategy of the LTTE was to drive a wedge between the Sinhalese and the Tamils and make the north the territory of the Tamils. These terrorist and their supporters wanted all Tamils to come to the north and east of the country to show the rest of the world that it was already the “eelam” with only the Tamils living there. GOSL should understand this and prevent it from ever happening by providing incentives to other ethnic groups to come and live in these areas. Army leaving these areas, which are closest to Tamilnad, is a potential danger for the future, as evidenced by the continual utterences of the Tamilnadu politicians.

    In Sri Lanka, there should be no “homelands” for any ethnic group. Sri Lanka should belong to all ethnic groups, and anyone should be able to live anywhere they choose, irrespective of their ethnicity. In other words, Sri Lanka should be the homeland for all Sri Lankans. Army has the responsibility to be present in the north and the east to ensure that this can happen in these areas, which is claimed by the Tamils to be only for them. Besides, these are the most vulnerable areas where another ethnic eruption could arise, either internally or externally.

    Prevention is much better than the cure, as we all know very well from 30 long years of suffering.

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