Is the Army
By Rajan Thangavelu
After the collapse of peace talks in April 1995, there is now talk of Norway brokering a peace deal between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Though the prospects for renewed peace efforts succeeding are mixed, there are at least some important developments, which brings a breath of fresh air in a volatile political climate.
Prospects for Peace
So when there is some guarded optimism about the prospects of peace on the political horizon, the Sri Lankan army is hell-bent in marching to a different tune altogether. It is beating the war drum to a new pitch by trying to recruit an additional 15,000 troops to defeat the LTTE. According to the SLA the LTTE had since been ‘weakened’ after it failed to over-run the Elephant Pass base.
Key Facts about the
A former Army commander had said that the SLA is 50 times larger than it was 50 years ago. Fifty years ago it had a strength of 2,500 but now it is almost 150,000. The regular fighting capacity of the army, in numerical terms, is made up of 9 divisions. Of these 6 divisions are stationed in the Northern province. Two divisions, 51 and 52. are in Jaffna peninsula and divisions 53, 54, 55, and 56 are concentrated in Vanni heartland. Normally a division consists of 12,000 – 15,000 troops. A few key facts about the strength of the Sri Lankan armed forces are as follows:
Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI), Sinhala Regiment, Gemunu Watch, Vijaya Infantry Regiment, Gajabahu Regiment (note the Sinhala names) and Sri Lanka National Guard (SLNG) have 44 regular and 41 volunteer battalions. All 20 battalions of the SLNG are volunteers.
These Regiments are also equipped with Chinese T-55 Light Tank, Chinese T-86 Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), Czech built T-55 Medium Battle Tank (Sri Lanka’s Main Battle Tank), Ukraine built BMPs and Chinese T-63-11 Armoured Personnel carriers (APCs), British (petrol) Saladins, Sarcens and South African Buffel APCs. Also deployed are dozens of SLEME built Unicorns that are similar to Buffels.
Cost of War
A report by the Ministry of Plantation placed the cost of rehabilitating the 720,000 internally displaced persons at US$ 315 million. Tourism sector suffered a big blow when it averaged only 300,000 instead of an estimated one million each year. Had tourism rate been high, the country would have earned US$ 2.9 billion more between 1983-96. During the same period about 460,000 Tamils migrated to the West in the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. Sri Lankan government has been depending largely on foreign aid and assistance during the past two decades to finance the war.
arms to Sri Lanka
On October 10, 1999 the SLA celebrated the golden jubilee of the founding of the army. Colombo witnessed a grand display of pomp and pageantry. Among the dignitaries who were present on the occasion were the Pakistani Chief of Staff, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Bangladesh Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Mustafizar Rahman and the Indian Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. V. P. Chandrasekhar.
Speaking on that occasion, the President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, proudly proclaimed: “In the discharge of its responsibilities...the army has manifested professionalism and dedication of the highest order, earning for itself the deep gratitude of the entire nation.”
Busloads of school students were brought to Colombo at government expense to witness the might of the army in terms of sophisticated weapons and military hardware. They were told that it is their duty too defend their motherland against “terrorists” who are trying to divide the country.
Army as an
Instrument of State Terrorism
An instrument of
state terrorism to subjugate the Tamils
Army Commander Lieutenant General Srilal Weerasuriya in his speech to mark the dawn of the New Millenium 2000, said it was necessary to crush terrorism to bring about lasting peace to the country. This reflects the typical mind-set of the army vis-à-vis the national liberation struggle of the Tamil people, which is no different from that of the Sinhalese rulers.
But the SLA being basically racist in its structure and thinking is a notable exception. Added to the fact that the army is undisciplined, a climate of official impunity from punishment has encouraged it to commit horrendous human rights violations against Tamil civilian population. Civilian casualties are of no concern to the Sri Lankan army and the principle of using “minimum force” to avoid or minimize such casualties is totally absent. Rape, murder, extra-judicial executions, disappearances, cordon-and-search operations and retaliatory attacks against civilians have been the stock-in-trade of the SLA. The fact that Sri Lanka ranks only second to Iraq in the number of involuntary disappearances speaks volumes about the SLA’s racist character and conduct.
To sum up, it makes no sense for President Chandrika to make waves about resolving the conflict through constitutional proposals and speak of talks with the LTTE when the SLA is feverishly engaged in recruitment drives. The scene is reminiscent of the exact situation in 1995. Like the beggar and his wound, SLA has developed a vested interest in the continuation of the brutal and bloody war. And it will be incredibly naive to expect anything to the contrary. Is the Army then bent on disposing what President Chandrika is proposing?