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DateLine Sunday, 30 December 2007

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Government Gazette

'Outlaw LTTE: Let's go for fresh start'

The post of Defence Secretary has never been such a hot seat until former Army Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa assumed duties two years ago. Ever since, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa has given an able leadership to the Security Forces. His first hand experience in the battle front has enabled him to be a tower of strength behind the recent military success. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer, the Defence Secretary evaluates the recent military success in the Government's drive against terrorism.


Pix by Chaminda Hittatiyage

Following are the excerpts:

Q: How do you assess the Defence Ministry operations during the last two years?

A: In terms of national security the first major fact is formulating a clear policy. The Government has started with clear directives and it became easy for the Commanders to formulate their own security strategies. While defeating terrorism the Government strongly believes that the grievances of the Tamil people should be solved politically. At the same time, we believe that there is no use of having wonderful solutions if we cannot implement them. This has happened for the last 30 to 35 years. The biggest problem was not the means of solving the problem but the inability in implementing them.

The war is being dragged on for decades because of the LTTE, which does not allow any government to implement a solution to end the national problem. It is useless trying to talk to them over and over again without identifying the real problem and then you are dragging the problem without finding a solution. The Government has realised the situation and there is no solution unless terrorism is wiped out. The LTTE always think that the grievances of Tamil people can be solved through terrorism. That is why the government had come up with a clear policy that terrorism must be defeated by any means.

The instructions are clearly given to the Commanders and they implemented their plans successfully.

The other factor for the achievements are we were able to identify the correct leadership for the forces. The priority was given to provide whatever the necessary equipment to continue the missions despite the economic hardships that the country was facing. The manpower problem which was a main problem faced by the forces has also been solved. When we take over the areas we need to deploy a lot of security personnel to maintain the areas to prevent the LTTE infiltrations. We have launched very successful recruitment campaigns and recruited nearly 50,000 for the three services including 10,000 for the Police and over 20,000 for the Civil Defence Force. Earlier we had difficulties in recruiting but it was rectified as the government has taken several measures to boost the morale of the soldiers, to give them a due recognition and also to uplift their welfare.

These programs including awareness programs like 'Api Wenuwen Api' had brought tremendous results and only during the last two weeks, the period given to them to return, over 4,000 deserters have come back. The former soldiers who left the army after serving 12 years have also re-joined and this is because they know that the operations are going ahead successfully and the government has a clear target.

The moral of the soldiers is very important in an operation. This is why I always believe that the most important assets is not the sophisticated armoury but the man behind these weapons. He is the deciding factor and that man must be trained properly and his morale should be boosted while giving clear directives and the leadership. The civil society should also recognise the service that they do to the country. When the society is respect them and their contribution to protect the country the soldiers will be motivated and even the deserters will be encouraged to go back to the battlefield.

The Ministry of Defence has done a lot of things for the welfare of the military personnel. Finding schools for the children of these soldiers was a problem earlier and now the government has solved it by establishing school for their children. The government wants to upgrade this school which will enrol over 200 children for the next year to one of the leading schools in the country. And we will open more such schools in other districts too.

Q: The Mahinda Rajapaksa Government had taken a bold decision to wage war against the terrorism unlike the previous governments. Are you happy with this decision now?

A: It was at a very crucial time that we had to take this decision. When President Rajapaksa was elected there was a thing called a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and also the peace process was defunct. The CFA was violated 3,000 times by that time and everybody knows that what the LTTE did and they never resorted to peace. What they did was they took the advantage of strengthening their military and fire power during these ceasefire periods. During these periods they strengthened their civil defence networks and also infiltrated into the South, the government controlled areas. The amount of heavy weapons captured in the East had proved their desire for peace! They got ready for military confrontations and were not interested in going for peace.

But President Rajapaksa after resuming duties had started negotiations because he wanted to give them a chance to see and unfortunately it was not futile and again the LTTE proved there it was not genuine. They had started attacking the security forces and for six months we did not engage in any offensives and were taking defensive measures. But the government was compelled to launch an offensive to rescue the Mavil Aru anicut to supply water to the civilians. When the LTTE attacked us we had to react and we completed the mission to capture Sampur, Vakarai, Thoppigala and the Ampara districts successfully.

Overall we are very successful in all these operations and they are going on according to a plan. The LTTE is a terrorist organisation. They will do everything to disrupt the government and to pressurise the leadership to stop these offensives. That is their pattern. They will attack-military, the VVIPs and if they fail they will attack the innocent civilians. This was what the LTTE was doing through out for the last 25 years. When they realise that they are losing militarily they will adopt various tactics - it can be international pressure, political instability by killing civilians or false propaganda to stop military offensives so that they can re-group, re-arm and re-organise. So it is the cycle that we went through over and over again. I think it has to end now.

The Government does not want to drag this for years and unlike in the 1980s there are criticisms about the military. Today the forces are confronted with criticisms of various INGOs, NGOs, free media and various other peace groups despite the sacrifices done by the military. That is why the government believes that when the war is dragged on for long the terrorists find various ways to discredit the government by infiltrating into various avenues. So we firmly believe that the terrorism should not be dragged to another generation and want end soon. Otherwise it will be disastrous.

Q: Amidst government's claims about serious injuries to the LTTE leader Prabhakaran, the LTTE denying this claim has said that it is a fabricated and baseless rumour. What is the reality?

A: From the beginning we believed that we have to destroy them and weaken them. We need to destroy their bases and assets. We have identified the mission at the beginning and started collecting information about the location and their movements. Several times we got very accurate and intelligence. Once we got information that Banu was coming to a particular meeting and we took that target. It was successful but unfortunately Banu was not there because he got late to come there. He got injured and several other LTTE leaders were attacked. S.P. Thamilselvan's attack is one best example for our accurate targets and intelligence.

We are continuing gathering about the locations of Prabhakaran and other leaders.

This particular day we got information about two locations and it was very reliable. Our pilots got the both targets and confirmed that their attacks were very successful. There are some indications that an important person was there. One such indication was the ground reaction which was very heavy attacks from the LTTE after the bombing. According to information the particular areas of Kilinochchi was sealed off for civilians for two weeks.

The government know that we took the correct target. But we cannot confirm whether the person was there and the seriousness of the injury. That is why we did not come out with the confirmation. Our aim is to take him and we are not interested in divulging it to the public till we get the correct confirmation. However, our intelligence sources believe he has seriously injured or killed. It is obviously that the LTTE will not divulge this for a long period. And the LTTE can also publish pictures but it does not give any indication that he is alive until he comes for a public meeting.

Q: Do you think that end of Prabakaran's era will put an end to terrorism?

A: That is another way to end the LTTE. Prabakaran is a man who engaged in terror for the last three decades. He is the man who formed the LTTE and giving the leadership and destroyed all other groups. He is the one who killed other Tamil leaders and he is like a Hitler. He says one man should be there to take decisions and that is his theory. According to him there cannot be too many leaders and groups. There has to be one group and one leader so that you can talk to the Sri Lankan government in one voice. That is why he got rid of all the organisations like PLOTE, TELO, EPRLF and EPDP which were much stronger than the LTTE earlier. He destroyed all those leaders and he got rid of all the moderate Tamil political leaders so that he and his organisation can represent the Tamils. He wants and thinks that he is the supremo.

So, it is obvious when the person who built this perception is killed, it will destroy lots of things. It may not be the end but it is a major factor that will gradually destroy their organisation.

Q: Is it true that the US has withheld its military assistance to Sri Lanka? If so, why?

A: There was a Bill passed but it is not to withhold military assistance.

Whatever they have agreed upon with our government will continue and we did not get much assistance from the US. We had some assistance and major one was training. It is not stopped.

Q: India has also taken tough measures in combating the LTTE in the south. How do you see India's concerns in this respect?

A: India is a major factor and we have recognised it from the very beginning. Lots of people talk about the international community but we believe that the India is the major factor in our entire problem. We have to realise the importance of the India because it is becoming super power. Our neighbour? the India- has a big economic power and also the military power.

It is true that India has concerns over us. When they are powerful they have to think about their security and it is natural; they should be more concerned about what is happening around them. So we have to be concerned about their concerns. There are over 60 millions of Tamils living in India.

The government, especially President Rajapaksa has a very good relationship with India during this two year period. He has build up a good rapport with India and I think this relation that the President has with the Indian Prime Minister is the best after Sirima-Shasthri time. We have already developed a good relationship and shown them that we are sincere and genuine.

The President has told them that he will come out with a political solution to address the grievances of the Tamil people. Whatever the steps that we are taking we are briefing them. We do not have anything to hide and we have won their confidence. We do not want to do anything which will harm their security and their concerns. They know that we are not against the Tamil community and we are doing all these only to defeat terrorism.

Q: How conducive is the environment in the Eastern region to conduct elections?

A: We are very confident and incidence can be happened like any other place in this country. But the Government does not discourage the people and we want to conduct elections, especially the people in the East need elections.

Because we want to bring a representation from all three communities to run the administration of that province. So that will help the regional development and also to win the confidence of the people.

Other important thing is building confidence among all three communities.

They must win confidence and need to live together. So once you develop that it is the real peace. And then military presence can be withdrawn gradually.

The administration can be given to the police and we have to go to this aim step by step. We need the support of the people who like to see these people live peacefully, enjoy the development and live without suffering.

Q: Some political parties claim that the military victories including the liberation of the East are personal victories of the Defence Secretary with your close association with the Service Commanders. What is your response?

A: No one can say that. It is the victory of the people. It is not me at all. Of course these victories are the results of the good leadership given by the Service Commanders, who are well experienced and very knowledgeable about the problem. I think the victories are their efforts and their other officers like SF commanders, who played a vital role, area commanders, the naval commanders and all the soldiers in the three forces. These victories are also the outcome of the dedication of all the three Commanders. I know how these commanders are dedicated to complete a successful mission.

But as a whole these missions are not the requirements of these Commanders and myself but we fulfilled the requirement of the country. It is not that we want to play war games. We are doing what the country needs. I get feed back from the people. And according to research Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims need to see an end to terrorism. Though some leadership criticise this, ordinary people want to end this problem soon.

Q: Do you think that the politicians ae take these victories to gain their political ends and also use them to cover up the other burning issues?

A: It is very difficult to hoodwink people. Without any argument people know that the President is handling this very well.

Everybody accepts that. I do not see anybody using these victories as their political gains.

I was stressing this fact from the beginning. politics should be left out from military missions. Who brought politics into this? It is not the government or the President.

The President never used this to gain any political advantages. Even now we tell not to bring politics into this. What is the advantage of bringing politics into this?

The Government does not want to use victories as cover-ups. People see something positive is happening in the correct dimension and they are very keen and also confident that the government will achieve the targets.

Q: Can the Government escape the allegation over the suspected conspiracy to send TMVP Leader Karuna to UK?

A: No, we do not want to. Karuna is a militant who had joined the democratic front giving up arms. That is what we want. That is what the international community want and everybody wants. Then why we are crucifying Karuna who had given up arms. We have to help him. The international community must also help him rather than putting him into the jail. Because he is a person who had accepted, for whatever the reason, to give up arms and also convinced his cadres to give up arms to come into the democratic process.

This is what we are asking Prabhakaran to do. So why is everybody criticising Karuna. He has done the major thing and we have to help him to groom. We have to help him to get into the democratic process more and we will of course support him to contest elections to win the elections. If people are willing to select him he can become the Chief Minister of the eastern province. That is what other Tamil politicians like Minister Douglas Devananda and Siddarthan, who were one time militants did.

We know that karuna's two children and his wife are there. Who helped them to go there? The government cannot forge a British visa. Somehow he got his British visa using his capabilities and contacts. He went to see his family because his two daughters are there. I do not see any wrong in that and it is not human to separate a father from a family. That is violation of human rights. The world talk about human rights why not Karuna's human rights. He was number two in Prabhakaran's outfit who conducted several successful operations. Despite all that he gave up arms and entered into the democratic front with his cadres. We must not harass him.

The international community talk so much about settling conflicts, then why they do not help these people who had given up terrorism. What is the aim behind it. I do not see the logic of these criticisms.

Q: What is the progress of the TMVP after Karuna's arrest. Do you think Pilleyan will follow the democratic process?

A: Yes, of course. As far as I know that Pilleyan is Karuna's second in command. So he must follow the democratic process. And there are some complaints about them about abductions and other activities. But these incidence have come to minimum.

The government has taken several steps to disarm them and they have also realised the situation. These are the people who fought for a cause. But now these people have given an opportunity to serve in their areas in a democratic manner. So we have to help them and they also must realise there are other means to serve people than resorting to terror activities and should stop harassing people. I do not see any reason for them to harass people.

Because they are the people who are waiting to come for elections, to win and serve the people and also give the political leadership. There are are no reason for them to abduct people and if they are doing so they should stop these..

If there are complaints we have given the instructions to the police to take action and we do not allow these people to move in these areas with weapons.

Q: But in the recent SLMM report the TMVP was alleged to have conducted abductions and forcing people to do patrol in the areas in the east. According to military investigations who are responsible for the isolated violence?

A: I do not know as we have not got major complaints about abduction for the last six months. I do not know what incident that the SLMM is quoting. But as far as I know and according to the feed backs what I am getting from the civil administration reported cases of abductions are minimum.

Q: Do you think that there is a need to abolish the CFA?

A: Yes. The vital fact is there is no CFA and it is just a document. The CFA is a joke. We had signed several peace agreements and they are still in existence.

Indo-Lanka agreement is still there. When signing a new peace agreement, the previous peace agreements should be abolished but it never happened. I think since Thimpu we have so many peace agreements.

I believe that the most sensible thing is that we must abolish the ceasefire agreement. It should be officially end. The CFA is there and every day it is violated making the CFA a big joke.

Officially we should say that there is no ceasefire agreement and we should ban the LTTE because it is a terrorist organisation. I think these two steps - banning the LTTE and officially declaring the abolition of the CFA should be done immediately.

Then the President can come out with a new set of proposals to address the problems of the Tamil people. One should remember that we should not give solutions for the LTTE, which is a terrorist organisation. Our solutions should be for the Tamil people and their leaders.

Q: But President Rajapaksa has recently said that the government will ban the LTTE if they continue to attack?

A: Probably the President wants to give the LTTE some opportunities to come forward for negotiations. But my personal opinion is to ban the LTTE immediately.

Q: Do you think that the military victories will pave the way to peaceful solutions as claimed by the President recently?

A: Yes. Definitely. Where we have failed so far is combating terrorism. Different leaders in different times came out with different solutions. But could not implement them. The main obstacle was the LTTE. So obviously if we can defeat the LTTE we could implement the solutions. Those who are interested in settling this problem should consider the genuineness of the parties.

The international community must understand and should not put undue pressure on the Sri Lankan Government. Even the UN and other international organisations must remember not to put on undue pressure on the genuine party, the government. This will lead to worsen the problem. The Government has come to a position that we can put down the LTTE militarily.

So all these international organisations must put their pressure on the LTTE to come into the democratic process. If they put pressure on genuine party then they are helping the terrorists. The international community should understand that the Sri Lankan government is fighting with a ruthless man and his organisation.

Q: Why do you think that certain Ministers do not trust the security personnel assigned by the government and keep the underworld criminals as their bodyguards?

A: I do not know, you have to ask the question from those Ministers. Q: You have said that Prabhakaran's birthday which was held last November 26 would be his last birthday.

A: Actually I did not say that but a journalist has mentioned it. But I wish that it could be true.

Q: Rajapaksa family is popular in politics. Do you have any plans to enter into politics now?

A: No. I do not know politics. After school I joined the army and I was a very disciplined army officer. In my career I had taken part in major operations under the UNP governments while my brothers were in the Opposition. When you are a professional and when you are in the military you do not think about politics. I worked very closely with Minister Ranjan Wijeratne and he praised me on many occasions. But I do not have any interest to enter into politics.

I did not get this job as I was unemployed.

I was financially better off and worked in a country where I had many perks. I have truly done a sacrifice. One thing is my son is there and even when I was in the army I sacrificed the joy of being with my son. I did not gained anything while being the Defence Secretary rather than the satisfaction over doing the job correctly.

Q: You have said that the war should not be dragged on any further. Can the government give a time frame to end terrorism?

A: Giving a time frame is difficult. It all depends on the success of the operation and if we can get more and more LTTE leaders it will be more sooner.

We are going in the correct direction. The Government and the Service Commanders are very confident that we can defeat terrorism soon. But the other part which is very vital in finding a lasting solution lies in the hands of politicians.

We have to come out with a political solution and it is very important to have the political solution parallel to the military operations. It will help to isolate Prabhakaran more and more from peace loving civilians.

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