RECENT Indian delegation, led by opposition MP in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, requested Sri Lankan government to scale down military deployment in North. However, military cutback due to political pressure can strengthen the separatist movement, which is trying to undermine the hard- won peace. Therefore, the government should reduce Armed Forces in North after careful analysis of the security needs of the country.
Nevertheless, the government rejected the call for the removal of Security Forces from North saying that such a request is unreasonable. What the government accepted was to reduce Armed Forces and to hand over military occupied areas to civilians gradually.
Indian delegation seems to have considered the military deployment as an obstacle to reconciliation. They forget, or pretend to forget, that Security Forces defeated terrorism, which many believed unwinnable, and brought about peace after three decades of conflict. Therefore, it is absurd to consider military presence in the north as a hindrance to peace.
Even though the armed conflict ended with the defeat of LTTE in 2009, the separatism is continuing. Tamil Diaspora in North America, Australia, and West is organizing propaganda campaign, fundraising and international support to undermine the peace and reconciliation. Additionally, they have formed a Transitional Government of Tamil Elam (TGTE) under the leadership of Mr. Rudrakumaran, a senior LTTE leader, to re-organize the struggle for Elam. TGTE’s mission is to “win freedom of the Tamil people on the basis of their fundamental political principles of Nationhood, Homeland and Right of self-determination.” Separatists have not given up their struggle, and they are waiting for an opportunity to start the straggle within Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu politicians are openly supporting separatist movement. Mr. Karunanidhi has demanded for United Nations intervention and referendum for the formation of Tamil Elam on the lines of East Timor, Kosovo, and Montenegro. Therefore, clandestine and open support for separatism locally and internationally can encourage Tamil youth in North to take arms again inciting violence. Since the idea of separatism is strong, it can burst into violence at the opportune moment.
Those who advocate Elam consider Sri Lanka military as an occupying force and demand their removal. For example, a major demand of the LTTE during ceasefire period was to remove Security Forces, mainly high security zones, from north because military presence hampered their freedom of movement. “Demilitarization of North” is a separatist demand.
Removal of military from North reinforces the separatist groups, which disappeared with the defeat of LTTE. At present, separatist element cannot come out and conduct nationalist activities due to the presence of Armed Forces, which is vigilant all the times. If the security is relaxed, they come out freely and restart hostilities.
Moreover, the presence of military prevents separatist access to strategically significant locations in North. At present, military occupy many strategically important locations such as Chalai in the east coast, Nachikuda in the west coast, and Jaffna town, from where LTTE carried out their illegal activities previously. Separatists attempts to regain access to these areas by removing Security Forces.
Military contribute immensely to rebuilding of war-torn areas, in addition to their security responsibilities. Just after conflict, Armed Forces undertook many reconstruction works in devastated areas such as building of roads and bridges, and distribution of food and other essentials to displaced people until the civil administration was set up. At present, Sri Lanka Army handles 85% of mine clearance operations deploying about 2000 soldiers in North. Those who demand the removal of military ignore military contribution to post- conflict reconstruction.
The removal of the military should be a gradual process, which should go hand in hand with reconciliation. It is impossible to resolve all the issues that led to the three decades of conflict in few years. It needs time, and the commitment of all parties to the conflict. Government should reduce the military after assessing the prevailing ground security situation without restricting its ability to respond to current or future threats to national security.
Those who demand the removal of security forces from North strengthen the hand of separatist. Therefore, military cutback should be a gradual process that should match up with reconciliation.