'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
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
We are continuing gathering about the locations of Prabhakaran and
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
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
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
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
Q: How conducive is the environment in the Eastern region to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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