Sri Lankan experience in dealing with its post conflict challenges are worthy of close examination – Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Secretary Defence and Urban Development Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa said so while making the keynote address at the Pakistan - Sri Lanka Joint Seminar on 'Political and Diplomatic Challenges Faced by Nations during and after Conflict Confined to Borders' at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Affairs (LKIIRSS) this morning (11 February).
The seminar was organized by the High Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in collaboration with the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Affairs (LKIIRSS).
"Immense care was exercised by the Armed Forces to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, while the LTTE relentlessly kept putting civilians in harm's way"- Secretary Defence
This is the first ever seminar between Pakistan and Sri Lanka that has brought together eminent personalities from both countries to the deliberate on the ramifications of conflicts on nations. The thematic relevance of the seminar to current narratives of the two countries will provide an introspective opportunity to develop framework for mitigation, averting and management of internal conflicts. The expert panel will provide inputs and frameworks for creating holistic paradigms to resolve political, economic, and defence issues at home and diplomatic challenges faced in the international arena.
The need to address post conflict humanitarian crisis, establishing rule of law, maintaining macro- economic stability and development of social services and infrastructure, challenges in countering extremism and terrorism, promoting pluralism and diplomacy in times of internal conflicts will be some of the topics discussed at the seminar.
Making the keynote address secretary defence said that there are many challenges that nations can face after the end of a conflict confined to its borders and the Sri Lankan experience in dealing with its post conflict challenges are worthy of close examination. He said that the security forces had to take special precautions to protect the lives of the hundreds and thousands of people that the LTTE was keeping as a human shield during the humanitarian operations. He maintained that the government established a transparent system in dealing with the IDP issues and the strategy adopted sets a good example to be followed by others in similar situations.
The secretary lamented that due to misinterpretations of the government's plans some international donor organisations did not understand the extent of the problem that had been caused by the LTTE in the areas the civilians had been displaced from and sadly this lack of trust in the Government's intentions on the part of the representatives of these International Organisations was very unfortunate, and it is still more unfortunate that such mistrust continues to be voiced amongst some in the international community even today.
Given below the full text of the speech delivered by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary Defence Urban Development at the Pakistan –Sri Lanka Seminar held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies on 11 February:
Challenges Faced by Nations After A Conflict Confined to Borders"
I thank the High Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Colombo and the LakshmanKadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies for having invited me to deliver the keynote address at this seminar. The topic chosen for this seminar is a very timely and appropriate one. There are many challenges that nations can face after the end of a conflict confined to its borders. Having suffered from just such a conflict for nearly three-decades, peace dawned in Sri Lanka less than four years ago. The many lessons that can be learnt from the Sri Lankan experience in dealing with its post conflict challenges are worthy of close examination. They form the context of this address.
One of the biggest challenges that a Government may have to face after a conflict is dealing with Internally Displaced Persons. In most modern conflicts, large numbers of civilians are displaced from their homes during the confrontations that occur between the state and militant non-state actors. In some unfortunate instances, combatants will also try to use the civilians in the conflict area to their advantage. For example, during the Humanitarian Operation to liberate Sri Lanka from terrorism, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, used civilians in the North as a human shield. As the Armed Forces advanced farther and farther into territory it controlled, the LTTE moved the civilian population out of their homes and moved them towards its strongholds on the North Eastern coasts. During the last stages of the war, many civilians escaped from the LTTE and crossed over to Government controlled areas. By the end of the war, there were nearly 300,000 IDPs in the Government's care, most of whom had been with the LTTE for a long time.
The handling of the IDPs emerging from a conflict situation is a very critical issue. The first requirement is to ensure their proper reception. A transparent system need to be established to record the entry of IDPs into Government care, if possible with the presence of representatives from international organisations. This will prevent complaints later on with regard to accountability, and is an important step to follow although it may not always be practical in a war situation. Because the IDPs would have undergone a very difficult time while they were inside the conflict zone, they will be physically quite weak and in need of assistance. It is therefore essential to ensure that proper medical facilities are provided at reception points. The strategy adopted by Sri Lanka provides a good example in this regard.
All those who crossed over to the Government controlled areas during the Humanitarian Operation received immediate medical care, irrespective of whether they were combatants or civilians. Dehydration and other immediate problems such as hypoglycaemia were treated at the initial point of contact by the medical teams at each Reception Centre. Anyone with more significant health problems was looked after at Advanced Dressing Stations established near the front lines. A field hospital was established at Pulmoddai with a 54-member medical team sent by the Government of India. With the help of Navy medics, this hospital undertook the initial treatment of people coming in via the sea. Those in more serious condition were sent via helicopter for emergency medical treatment at hospitals in Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. After the initial health check, civilians not requiring medical treatment were sent to the Welfare Villages, while LTTE cadres who surrendered were taken for further investigations and rehabilitation.
One of the most serious problems with regard to IDPs in most conflicts is that they are unable to return to their homes for a long time because of the destruction of their property during the course of the conflict. In the case of the Sri Lankan war, this problem was compounded by two other factors. First, when the LTTE took the people out of their homes for use as a human shield, it forced the people to dismantle and ransack their properties and take away any material that could be used to the battlefront. Second, LTTE cadres then laid large quantities of antitank mines, antipersonnel mines, and many different types of Improvised Explosive Devices in the built up areas it left behind. This was mostly in order to make progress very difficult for the Armed Forces, but it also meant that the civilians could not go back to their homes even after the war had ended. That is why, as with most other internal conflicts, it became necessary for the IDPs in Sri Lanka to remain in Government supported shelters for some time.
It is important for a Government faced with an internal conflict to anticipate this situation well in advance. Making adequate preparations to deal with the situation that is likely to arise is a critical responsibility on the part of the state. In the case of Sri Lanka, the Government knew that a large influx of IDPs would be left in its care after the war ended, and it therefore had a very clear plan to set up high quality Welfare Villages for them in the North. It was planned well in advance that these Welfare Villages would contain semi-permanent shelters as well as high quality infrastructure and facilities. Accordingly, the Government established high quality semi-permanent shelters at the LakshmanKadirgamar Village and AnandaKumaraswamy Village in Manik Farm. This was to ensure that the IDPs could lead comfortable lives until their resettlement after demining and reconstruction were completed in their places of origin.
The plans that the Government presented to the funding organisations were, however, sadly misinterpreted. The representatives of these international organisations did not understand the extent of the problem that had been caused by the LTTE in the areas the civilians had been displaced from. Therefore they did not appreciate the time that would be required for demining, reconstruction and resettlement. As a result, when they saw the Government's plans to establish high quality welfare villages, the representatives of the international organisations suspected the Government of intending to hold IDPs in camps for a long duration against their will. They argued strongly against the Government's plans. This lack of trust in the Government's intentions on the part of the representatives of these International Organisations was very unfortunate, and it is still more unfortunate that such mistrust continues to be voiced amongst some in the international community even today.
Food and nutrition was a particular area of concern, because many of the IDPs were suffering from various health issues due to the situation they had faced while with the LTTE. During the initial stages of their coming into Welfare Villages, cooked food packets were provided to them. Dedicated medical officers, nurses, pharmacists and public health officers were appointed to each Welfare Village. Extensive healthcare facilities and sufficient medical supplies were provided, and a proper healthcare system inclusive of a primary healthcare centre as well as a referral hospital was established. The international humanitarian organisation, Medicine Sans Frontiers, established a field hospital at MenikFarm to provide treatment to referred patients. As a result of the high quality of medical care provided at the Welfare Villages, most IDPs soon recovered from the ill health they had suffered while with the LTTE. Between May and June 2009, the crude mortality rate fell from 0.7 per 10,000 per day to 0.5 per 10,000 per day, which is the threshold rate for South East Asia. By July 2009, it had settled at 0.15 per 10,000 per day, which is the threshold rate for Sri Lanka. In addition to physical health, great care was also taken to provide psychological and psychosocial support to the IDPs.
After the early stages during which the people were settling down, life resumed a normal routine in the welfare villages. Instead of cooked meals, kitchen facilities were set up in each residential block and basic rations were issued free of charge to the IDPs so that they could provide for themselves. Cooperative outlets and markets were established, and banks, post offices and communication centres were also set up. Special public administration services were provided, including facilities to reconstruct legal documents and issue temporary Identity Cards. 'Happiness Centres' were established for children, and various activities including art, music, drama, yoga and sports were conducted.
Many efforts were taken to promote religious, spiritual and cultural activities, and places of worship such as Kovils, Churches and Mosques were established through community consultation, with special facilities being provided for all clergy. Schools were established for students, and vocational training centres were established for the capacity building and empowerment of older individuals. Community centres and common areas were built for adults, and young adults were provided with career counselling. IDPs with a flair for entrepreneurship were assisted in setting up home businesses.
While all of these efforts were being taken to ensure the welfare of the IDPs, the Government also took adequate measures to uphold security in the Welfare Villages. Even though the LTTE leadership had been defeated, it was possible that cadres who had evaded capture were still at large and seeking to infiltrate the villages. It was also possible that there were undetected cadres posing as civilians in the welfare villages, and hoping to escape justice. As a result, it was necessary to put into place adequate security mechanisms. However, I wish to stress that the civilians were not harassed in any way by such precautions, and that they developed a cordial relationship with the personnel who were providing security.
While the IDPs were being looked by the Government in the welfare villages, which were also assisted in numerous ways by international organisations, donor countries and non-governmental organisations, the next challenge was demining in the former conflict areas. In total, it was suspected that mines had been laid in more than five thousand square kilometres of land. Demining such a vast area was a very difficult challenge, but the Government unhesitatingly undertook it immediately after the war ended. Many foreign organisations came forward to help, including the Danish Demining Group, the Indian Sarvatra Group and the Horizon Group, the UK based Mines Advisory Group and several others. These groups were made responsible for demining various sections of land throughout the North and East. The Sri Lanka Army took on the responsibility of demining the largest area of land, comprising nearly 1,500 square kilometres including most of the densely mined regions.
The entire demining programme was carefully planned and executed. The first priority was to demine the towns and villages. The second priority was to demine the agricultural areas and paddy fields. Finally, attention was paid to clearing the forested areas. The scale of the problem the Government faced in demining was enormous. Nearly half a million antipersonnel mines, 1,400 antitank mines and close to four hundred thousand unexploded ordnance devices have been recovered to date. The hard work carried out by all the groups involved in demining is highly commendable, particularly since the two main priority areas identified for demining were cleared within three years.
Alongside the demining process, Reconstruction was expedited in each area that was cleared of mines and rendered safe. As a result of LTTE action and long neglect, many of the houses, business premises, Government offices, schools, hospitals, other facilities and infrastructure were in need of significant repair and improvement. Despite the Government's continuous provision of utilities and services, LTTE dominance had prevented long term development from taking place in these areas for nearly three decades. As such, the existing facilities and infrastructure were quite poor before the Humanitarian Operation was launched in 2006. After the dawn of peace in May 2009, bringing these towns and villages to a level on par with the rest of the country was a key concern of the Government.
The renovation of houses and construction of new housing units was one of the Government's first priorities in terms of reconstruction. The Government extended direct assistance for the establishment of houses. The Army has been involved in several programmes in this regard and has renovated more than 6,000 houses and constructed close to 7,000 new permanent or semi-permanent houses for the civilians being resettled. Other countries have also assisted; the most notable being India, which provided a grant for the construction of more than 40,000 new houses. Other nations as well as voluntary organisations have also contributed a great deal to the reconstruction and renovation of houses in the North.
Infrastructure development was another key concern. Almost immediately after the war ended, His Excellency the President appointed a Presidential Task Force for Reconstruction and Resettlement in the North to expedite work in these areas. The Government also launched a programme entitled "Northern Spring" to undertake large development projects in the North. A similar programme called "Eastern Dawn", had already been launched in the East even while the Humanitarian Operation was still underway. Infrastructure development, electricity, water supply and sanitation, agriculture, irrigation, livestock development, inland fisheries, health, solid waste disposal, education, sports, cultural affairs and transportation were all areas addressed under these two programmes.
The role played by the military both in demining and in reconstruction activities deserves to be highlighted. For many of the projects undertaken, especially those begun soon after the end of the war, the military provided engineering expertise, construction plant and equipment, as well as much of the necessary manpower. While other state owned institutions undertook several responsibilities, and while many private sector and foreign organisations won contracts for projects, the fact remains that the military was essential in facilitating the reconstruction activities that enabled the return to normalcy. This is because the military is the only institution in a country that has adequate manpower, training, expertise and equipment to act quickly to facilitate the return to normalcy.
Despite the grave challenges caused by the mines and other explosive devices laid by the LTTE in the built up areas, and the hard work that was necessary to reconstruct these regions and bring them up to a good standard, I am pleased to note that resettlement for all IDPs was completed in less than three and a half years. It is particularly noteworthy that with the exception of a very few, all the IDPs were resettled in their places of origin. Resettlement was even carried out in areas such as Vellamullavaikkal where the final battles took place. Certain political parties and various activists claimed that this would never occur because they alleged there were mass graves in those areas. However, resettlement did take place, and the resettled people themselves can attest that the alleged mass graves never existed. The rapid resettlement accomplished in such a short timespan after the war is a tremendous achievement by any yardstick, and one about which Sri Lanka can justly be proud. Resettling the IDPs after a conflict situation is a task that any
Government should undertake with great urgency, because it is the best way to help the people who were most affected by the war return to normal lives quickly.
In this context, paying adequate attention to the ability of the resettled people to lead normal day-to-day lives is another very important factor that needs to be addressed in any post conflict situation. After the war in Sri Lanka, and resettlement of the IDPs in their places of origin, Government paid a great deal of attention to this issue. It had to be noted that as a result of the war, many of the people had not had an opportunity to develop their skills to a good standard. Vocational training was provided to young adults, and financial and other forms of assistance were provided for people waiting to return to their farms and small businesses. In this aspect, too, the military played a very important role. It helped the people to build irrigation infrastructure for agriculture, provided tools, equipment, seeds and livestock for farming, and donated fishing gear and fishing boats to help fishermen return to the sea. Such measures greatly helped the resettled civilians return to normal life in a very short span of time.
Perhaps the most controversial issue that a Government will have to face in the aftermath of an internal conflict is with regard to the treatment of the combatants who fought against the state. In almost all instances, these are citizens of the country who have chosen to take up arms against the state, and they need to be handled very carefully. It is very important to bring closure to the conflict, and to ensure that ill feeling is minimized so that whatever causes led to the conflict in the first place do not gain new momentum once it has ended.
The approach adopted by Sri Lanka in this regard is instructive. At the end of the Humanitarian Operation, nearly twelve thousand LTTE cadres had surrendered to or had been captured by the military. It is to be borne in mind that for nearly thirty years, these LTTE cadres and their predecessors had waged a savage terrorist war against the Sri Lankan people, killing tens of thousands and causing incalculable harm to the country's prospects. The natural tendency of most Governments would have been to severely punish these cadres for their involvement in such a brutal terrorist organisation. However, His Excellency the President had a different view. He believed that the LTTE cadres had been misled and that they deserved a chance to lead normal lives in a peaceful nation. As a result, it was decided that the vast majority of cadres would be rehabilitated and reintegrated with society as soon as possible, and that only the cadres most involved in terrorist activities would be prosecuted.
Accordingly, all the cadres who surrendered were categorised according to the level of their involvement in LTTE activities. The vast majority of them were sent for rehabilitation programmes under the purview of the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. A 'six plus one' rehabilitation process model was adopted for all beneficiaries. This process rested on six pillars; namely Spiritual, Religious and Cultural Activities, Vocational & Livelihood activities, Psychological & Creative Therapies, Sports & Extracurricular Activities, Sociocultural Activities and Education. Community awareness programmes were also conducted, and efforts taken to sensitise the public to the needs of the beneficiaries so that they would be more receptive to their reintegration.
Special attention was given to the 594 child soldiers who surrendered. A fast-tracked rehabilitation programme was organised for them with assistance from UNICEF, and carried out at the Child Protection Centre in Poonthottam and Hindu College Ratmalana. Great effort was taken to provide proper counselling for these child beneficiaries. Special spiritual development activities and positive values cultivation programmes were conducted for them. Formal education was provided, along with several 6 month long vocational training programmes in subjects including information technology, aesthetics, carpentry, masonry, beauty culture etcetera. The child beneficiaries were reunited with their families within one year, although 74 came back to Hindu College Ratmalana to continue their education.
The adult beneficiaries of rehabilitation were initially housed in 22 Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres, all of which were built and maintained well. International agencies and Non Governmental Organisations such as the IOM and UNICEF were given free and unfettered access to the rehabilitation centres. So too were diplomats, media personnel, lawyers, and the family members of the beneficiaries. Special leave was also granted to many of the beneficiaries to visit their families, and attend religious and cultural activities at home from time to time. A lot of attention was paid to the reunification of families, with married ex-combatants being given the opportunity to re-join their spouses, children and parents at special rehabilitation centres called 'Peace Villages'. A special Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre was established to cater to the reunification of married beneficiaries.
All beneficiaries underwent extensive programmes that were designed to equip them with the ability to return to normal life in society. The counselling programme was designed to correct the mind-set of the ex-combatants and affect attitudinal change. Much effort was taken to enable them to develop their personalities as individuals. Spiritual, religious and cultural rehabilitation programmes were also conducted, with an intention to reacquaint the beneficiaries with cultural and family norms. Psychological and creative therapy rehabilitation was provided, including group counselling and therapy sessions, aesthetics and drama therapy programmes. Beneficiaries were also encouraged to take part in various sports activities.
A special programme for 'catch up education' was provided in collaboration with the Education Ministry for young adults who opted for the programme. Under this, they sat for the GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations even though they were beyond the customary age of students sitting for the exams. 46 different vocational training courses were also provided to the beneficiaries of the rehabilitation programme. The courses involved many sectors, including agriculture, industry, services and entrepreneurship. Substantial opportunities were provided for training information technology.
A number of programmes were created to support beneficiaries who wished to set up their own businesses, with courses being conducted on self-employment, entrepreneurship and micro enterprise development. A special loan scheme for self-employment was also launched. Many rehabilitated ex-LTTE combatants have also been absorbed into the Civil Defence Force, and will be employed in development activities in their areas of residence. The Reintegration of the rehabilitees to society took place only after trained counsellors assessed their preparedness to adapt to society and resume normal lives. Reintegration programmes were conducted at various stages, and periodic assessments are conducted amongst the remaining beneficiaries to gauge whether they are ready to return to society.
The primary focus of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme has been to equip the former LTTE cadres with alternative means to a meaningful existence. Giving them a chance to become productive members of society has been a very successful way of deradicalising these individuals. According to a study conducted by Dr.Kruglanski and Dr.Gelfland of the University of Maryland, College Park, in the USA, even the hard-core ex-LTTE cadres who underwent rehabilitation have significantly reduced their support for violence.
These findings are not only very encouraging from the point of view of restoring normalcy in Sri Lanka, but they also vindicate the very generous and forgiving approach adopted towards the rehabilitation and reintegration of the cadres who surrendered at the end of the war.
These good intentions have also extended to the LTTE cadres who were arrested and detained at various other stages for their involvement in terrorist activities. Out of the approximately 4,500 cadres who were arrested and detained since January 2006, more than 2,000 were released after ascertaining that their involvement in LTTE activities was at a very low level. More than one thousand five hundred detainees were sent for rehabilitation after being investigated and after preliminary court hearings. Only a very small number of LTTE cadres have been identified for prosecution, and are currently being processed through the legal system. In fact, in order to expedite matters so that the suspects do not remain in custody for an unnecessarily long duration, a special High Court has been established in Mannar, and courts in Vavuniyar and Anuradhapura have also been instructed to take on these cases. This is because the speed at which Governments deal with those it intends to prosecute for involvement in militant activities is another critical issue in post conflict situations.
After facing all of these immediate post war challenges, the objective of the Government in the long term has to be to bring back stability to the country. In this regard, ensuring that there is an end to the problems that led to the conflict in the first place is critically important. Keeping some degree of security measures in place is essential. Especially in countries such as Sri Lanka where the conflict has dragged on for many decades, it would be foolish to expect the situation to normalize completely overnight. At the same time, the Government is very keen to remove whatever restrictions had to be in place during the war so that the people feel the benefit of peace as fast as possible. Balancing these two conflicting imperatives-ensuring adequate security and bringing back normalcy as fast as possible-is one of the greatest challenges that a state has to face after a conflict.
In the case of Sri Lanka, there were restrictions on travel to the North, restrictions on the transportation of certain items, restrictions on fishing and restrictions in terms of high security zones on the ground. Since the end of the war, all of these restrictions have been removed. This has had a significant impact on the lives of the civilians in the former conflict areas. Armed groups have been disarmed and their members have been encouraged to enter politics and help people through democratic means. Elections have been restored and political plurality has returned. The high security zone has been dismantled. The visible presence of the military has been reduced significantly and the number of checkpoints has dwindled to a handful. The maintenance of Law and Order has been completely handed over to the police. New police stations have been opened and many more Tamil-speaking policemen have been recruited to serve in these areas. All of these measures have ensured that life is returning to normal in the former conflict areas. This is one of the greatest benefits of the hard won peace.
At the same time, maintaining security is of the utmost importance. Even if the Government is able to completely destroy the leadership of the militant groups, the globalization of these issues in recent years means that there are many sympathizers and activists who have migrated to other nations. By using modern telecommunication technologies including the internet, activists can reorganize, regroup and pose a threat to the nation's security once again. Furthermore, even in the post conflict situation, there can be people from the defeated militant group who are still active domestically, working in secret or sometimes more openly. In a democratic country, when the security situation and restrictions are relaxed, the allies of the terrorist groups can even work through democratic political parties to propagate the same ideologies that led to militancy in the first place. They may work towards rousing the ideas and feelings of people once again to lead them down the path to armed violence. Any responsible Government needs to be watchful of such developments.
It is a well-known fact that during its height, the LTTE had a vast international network that aided and abetted it in its terrorism. This network was responsible for raising funds for the terrorists, procuring large quantities of advanced arms and ammunition and transporting these weapons illegally to Sri Lanka. It provoked hatred against the country amongst the large Tamil populations domiciled abroad and engaged in a vicious propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka internationally. Although the LTTE's military leadership was destroyed during the Humanitarian Operation, it is important to understand that this was only one part of the LTTE's vast organisation. The rest of the organisation is still at large, and although it has adopted a democratic face in its international dealings, there is no doubt that its members will try very hard to restart the conflict in Sri Lanka. This is a threat that must be guarded against, That is why the Government of Sri Lanka will not compromise when it comes to providing security to the nation.
However, it is important to bear in mind that the provision of security in a post conflict situation does not necessarily need to be overt. As in the case of Sri Lanka, the military can step back from a visible and active role in upholding security and commence passive operations through intelligence gathering and surveillance.
This helps the military achieve the intended security precautions without being in any way felt to be a problem to the people. On the contrary, one of the most critical tasks of the military in the post war context is to win the hearts and minds of the people from the former conflict areas. As described earlier, by building roads, houses, assisting in construction, providing materials and tools for agriculture and livelihood promotion, the Sri Lankan military has done a lot to build bonds with the civil society and win over the people. They have shown the civilians in the North and East that the picture painted about the Government by the LTTE during its heyday is completely false.
Apart from these measures, perhaps the best way to bring truly long lasting peace, security and stability to a nation that has recently undergone a conflict is through rapid economic development. Most of the time in any conflict, whether it is ethnic or religious, the background to it is that poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment causes discontent amongst the people. This unhappiness is exploited by militant leaders, who motivate and organise them to take up arms. This is why it is essential that post-conflict reconstruction should focus on promoting economic activity. Infrastructure development, provision of proper facilities and the strengthening of institutions are critical factors in this regard. When all citizens gain the ability to work to build better futures for themselves without any restriction, they will not resort to violence means to achieve any objectives. Instead, they will focus on what they need to do to improve their lives. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that the political challenges after a conflict can be immense.
The Government has a very grave responsibility to identify the issues that led to the conflict in the first place. These issues have then got to be resolved through political will. In the case of Sri Lanka, one of the biggest issues in the North and East has been the lack of mainstream political parties operating in those areas because of LTTE dominance. The LTTE ruthlessly destroyed all opponents, and groups that were not affiliated with them had no chance of working for the benefit of the people. Restoring political plurality in these areas has been a major challenge because it is not easy to find and motivate suitable people to come out and join the political process. However, strengthening multi party democracy in these areas is a critical factor to combat the doctrine that has been fed to the people by the LTTE for many decades. Although it is only beginning, the work that has been achieved by the mainstream political parties as well as newly established groups in these areas is commendable. It is doing a lot to dispel the LTTE's false doctrine and restore proper democracy in these areas.
Yet another challenge that a nation will face after an internal conflict is in its dealings with other nations. The emphasis placed by the international community on various issues changes over time. Today, the issue of human rights has become one of the most critical topics in the relationship between states. Militant groups can be very skilful in using their activists around the world to exploit these issues in order to create problems for the Government in the post conflict situation. During the course of long conflicts, people will leave the country and seek asylum abroad. Over the years, these asylum seekers will end up getting citizenship in these foreign countries and become a powerful political voice there. For example, the large number of Tamils who migrated to Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and many European nations over the last three decades now comprises a powerful lobby in those countries. Because of the many LTTE activists amongst these Tamil expatriates, an incorrect picture about what took place during the Humanitarian Operation is conveyed to their Governments.These Governments in turn exert pressure on Sri Lanka at various forums, including the United Nations Human Rights Council over the last few years. This is a major challenge that the Government has to face not just today but in time to come.
The greatest irony of this situation is that those who cast various allegations against the Government are most often people who were connected to the LTTE, which was internationally recognized as a brutal terrorist organisation. During the last stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE callously employed tactics that are completely against international laws and norms relating to combat. It used human shields, launched artillery and mortar attacks from amongst civilian encampments, fought in civilian attire and massacred the civilians who were trying desperately to cross over to the Government controlled areas. The Armed Forces sustained thousands of casualties because the use of heavy weaponry was curtailed for fear of endangering civilian lives. Immense care was exercised by the Armed Forces to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, while the LTTE relentlessly kept putting civilians in harm's way. And yet, despite all this, it is the members, activists and sympathizers of this same LTTE that have now become champions of human rights and make allegations against the Government in foreign capitals and at international forums. And despite the obviousness of their motives, they have been successful at generating considerable pressure against the Government of Sri Lanka.
In today's increasingly globalized world, it is possible that other Governments emerging from internal conflicts will also face similar challenges.
The international pressure faced by the Government of Sri Lanka is particularly problematic in the context of its effort, after a conflict that lasted three decades, to bring back normalcy and accelerate the country's economic development.As mentioned before, ensuring that its people have the ability to build better futures for themselves is the best way to create long term peace and stability in a nation that has suffered for so long.
Unfortunately, the international pressure brought to bear on Sri Lanka especially by western nations misled by LTTE sympathizers can cause international investors and even tourists to stay away from the country. This will have a very adverse impact on the country's economic situation, which will be most felt by the people in the former conflict areas. Instead of narrowing the scope of their engagement with Sri Lanka because of the many misrepresentations and lobbying affected by special interest groups in their own countries, the nations that are pressurising Sri Lanka internationally should engage constructively with the Government. It is only then that they will see for themselves the good work being carried out here despite significant constraints.
Sri Lanka's journey since the dawn of peace has seen the country transform itself from a nation in the throes of many post conflict challenges to a country that is amongst the most peaceful, stable and secure in the world. The unwavering commitment and resolve of the Government to overcome all the challenges that it faced in the post conflict situation has laid the foundation for a prosperous future for all our citizens, irrespective of their diversity and differences. It is this commitment to deal with any and all difficulties that arose after the conflict that lies at the heart of Sri Lanka's success today. That, more than anything, should be the lesson to be drawn from the Sri Lankan experience of dealing with its post-conflict challenges.
- Asian Tribune -