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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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Government Gazette

Civil Defence militia rise beyond expectations

Humane groups throw the spanner...

The continuous military pressure on the LTTE has pushed the outfit into a dilemma, where they are now facing lots of difficulties in recruitment, re-organising and strengthening the fire power, the Director General of the Civil Defence Force Rear Admiral, Sarath Weerasekara said adding that the LTTE terrorists would disappear soon.


 Pic. Priyantha Hettige

Commenting on the humanitarian assistance of the international NGOs and local NGOs he said that some of the organisations wanted to slow down the resettlement programmes to earn more money for their own survival. "Some of them are not happy with the government's move to resettle displaced people quickly. They were planning to keep them in those camps for months", he claimed.

Admiral Weerasekara told the 'Sunday Observer' that terrorism is not only local and regional but also global and trans national. "So, all the countries should support us in destroying the LTTE. Their terrorist activities should not be covered but need to be exposed more", he said.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:

Q: How do you see the present security situation of the country?

A: Well, the government forces are on their final stage of capturing Wanni. Within the next few months they will capture the Wanni the way they captured the Eastern region. If these military operations continue at this rate in the Wanni the LTTE will be no more. So at present, they are trying to deviate the attention from the Wanni elsewhere and to achieve this, the LTTE is in the process of killing innocent civilians. I think that the LTTE is engaging in this tactic because of three reasons. One is to reduce the speed of the military in going forward with their operations against the outfit. The second reason is to create a fear psychosis among the public who want to defeat terrorism despite other difficulties they are suffering from. The cost of living may be high but the public want the government to continue with military operations to end terrorism at any cost. The last point is that the continuous military pressure that the LTTE is facing. Due to this continuous pressure on the LTTE, the outfit is facing lots of difficulties in their recruitment, re-organising, strengthening their fire power by getting down weapons and ammunition and even treating for their wounded cadres.

That is why the LTTE wants the military operations to be stopped at any cost. Otherwise, if they face defeats at this rate, the LTTE will be vanished for ever soon

The security of the common man is threatened due to these reasons and that is the reason the Government had decided to establish vigilant committees. So that all the people should be made aware of this situation and also be very vigilant over any suspected movement or incident. They will help the security forces to maintain good security surveillance in the country.

Q: What is the role of the newly formed Civil Defence Force (CDF)?

A: The primary role of the CDF is to protect threatened villages. As the threat has been spread all over, we are in the process of shifting our people to Colombo and other areas whenever there is a threat. At present we are maintaining the security of the Air Port road and deploy over 600 people. The CDF is protecting villages in Puttalam, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Ampara, Moneragala and Trincomalee up to Buttala. We have over 40,000 troops for that task.

Q: What is the state of the previous Home Guards which were recruited to protect threatened villages?

A: They are now under CDF. When I took over in 2006 there were over 19,200 home guards and after the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), the role of the home guards was not felt as very necessary and were used for other activities at village level. The concept of the home guard force was originated in 1985 with the deadly massacres done by the LTTE terrorists in villages. The army could not deploy its soldiers to protect these villages with the on-going war and then villagers - men and women - from these threatened villages voluntarily came forward to protect their villages. Originally they worked without pay. They did not have uniforms and used 12 bore guns. Gradually the home guards became an organised unit under the Department of Police.

But with the commencement of hostilities again in 2006, the Defence Secretary recommended to the President the need of re-organising the home guard system with a good training system to maintain the security of the threatened villages. Therefore, under the instructions of the President a separate department was created - The Civil Security Department. Then I was appointed the Director General of the CDF.

After taking over I did a thorough study on the system as to how many people are in the force with the help of the Army and the Special Task Force (STF) and also analysed the threats. We felt the number of people should be increased and we carried out mass scale recruitment. Today the CDF has over 40,000 personnel including 3000 females.

Earlier the Home Guards were under the Police Department. They have been given a special training and different aspects of security measures. These soldiers are also given a different uniform. I hope I am able to create a respect for them among the public. These soldiers are playing an important role in protecting the villages and that has facilitated the military to go ahead with their military operations while these soldiers provide maximum security for the threatened villages. The military is released to a greater extent in protecting these villages.

Q: Would you call them soldiers?

A: Why not? They are armed, well trained and committed to maintain law and order and the security in a city or a village. A soldier is a person who fights for the country for the sake of saving their people. In that sense my people are soldiers but they cannot be compared with the army soldiers. The army soldier gets more training spanning six months whereas these people are trained only for a month. Other thing is that their duties are mainly to a limited purpose protecting the villages. So they are soldiers who are protecting the village.

Q: The LTTE has sophisticated weapons and do these soldiers have sufficient state-of-the-art firearms to fight with terrorists?

A: As I said earlier their role is to protect their villages to prevent massacres and maintain the security until the military support comes. For this limited purpose they are equipped with machine guns and T56 guns and they are well trained for this purpose. So they are properly trained for that purpose. Yes they can do their duty well.

Q: Are they deployed in Colombo too?

A: Yes. They are on duty in Colombo but they are not from Colombo. They are from the villages where the threat is not so great. These villages were under severe threat but with the military moving forward, the threat has been reduced. So we have taken some of these soldiers on rotation basis to help maintain security in other cities. But the security in threatened villages is maintained to the maximum. Only five to 10 percent of the CDF soldiers are deployed on duty in other cities.

Q: Are you satisfied with the training they were given?

A: Earlier they had two weeks of training. But now they are being trained for one month under the Sri Lanka Army. We have good instructors. Apart from the normal training, selected soldiers - four - man and eight man groups from each village- are given specialised training like in Special Forces and Commandos, for about two to three months. They are capable of moving forward in the village to lay ambushes and then attack the terrorists when there is a sudden terrorists attack. They have been given training in night fighting. Communication with the military in an emergency is not a problem for them as they always operate with the Police and the Army.

Earlier there had been some incidents where the Home Guards abused firearms.

Q: What kind of a guarantee that can you give to minimise such incidents in future?

A: Those unfortunate incidents took place due to lack of proper training and supervision. Now, we have officers to train them. We are giving lectures to educate them on how to protect the fauna and the flora, to love the environment and etc. We take strict actions against illicit hunting. It is a matter of educating them, which did not happen earlier. Earlier they were misused by some authorities. Now they will not engage in such activities and I can give a guarantee that the soldiers belonging to the CDF will not take part in such incidents. I am happy to say that the CDF soldiers contributed to prevent transportation of illicit timber at Puttalam.

Q: The government intends to end terrorism in 2008. So what would be the fate of these soldiers after that? Will they be absorbed to the Army or the Police?

A: I strongly believe that these 40,000 people will not be a burden to the government in the future. Even after peace is restored they will be there for some years to ensure security. I have already started various projects to contribute towards the production of the country, and to help the economy. Several farms have been started in Welioya and Kiri Ibbanwewa. Factories will commence manufacturing iron and bricks soon.

I hope that we would be able to contribute towards the national production of the country within two years. At the same time they will be engaging in their usual duty - protecting their villages. The CDF soldiers will contribute to the social and economic development as well, because our intention is dual.

First we want to protect villages from terrorism and the second is to prevent people from migrating to cities due to terrorist threats. We have to ensure that people will remain in these threatened villages. Why ? If they migrate to the South there will be a detrimental effect on the national security. Why do people migrate to the South? Not only because of the terrorist threats. For an example if a bomb explosion takes place in New York residents will not leave their homes in the city. The same situation is in Sri Lanka's other cities like Nugegoda. People will continue to stay there with much vigilance.

But, if it is happened in Yakawewa people will come to the South, because they do not have social and economic security in their villages and they do not have anything to lose. If there is social security people will somehow remain in their villages. Other factors for people to migrate are the poor infrastructure facilities like poor roads, no good teachers for their children and no ways to sell their paddy and other crops.

I have employed qualified female cadres in the DF to teach in pre-schools and the graduates have been employed to teach children during their duty hours in these areas. We are going to implement some programmes to purchase their crops and to find markets for their products at Colombo. When their social and economic security is guaranteed they will not leave their home towns.

Q: Treasure hunting took place at an alarming rate. Can you deploy the CDF soldiers to protect vandalism of our treasure troves?

A: There are so many such places with archaeological value in the Eastern region. Earlier they had been vandalising at a rate. I am happy to say that after I took over I had a discussion with most of the Buddhist monks in the temples of those areas and took steps to deploy two or three our soldiers to protect those places. In addition to protecting those sites, they help to restore the archaeological sites.

Q: How do you see the humanitarian assistance activities by the international NGOs and local NGOs operating in the North and East?

A: They want people to be in refugee camps just for their own survival. I can remember when we took over Vakarai and Muttur thousands of people came to refugee camps. Within a few days we resettled them. But these INGOs and NGOs were not happy about the move. They were planning to keep these people for some more years to make more money for them, out of compassion for these refugees. But at the same time we must commend the work of some of the NGOs. They are doing well. But some have different intentions.

Q: How do you see the present on going military operations?

A: There had never been a time in the recent history the terrorists got attacked continuously like in the present.

I do not think that any terrorist outfit can survive if they are defeated continuously in this manner. For the last two and half decades this is the only time that the LTTE terrorists are facing such a continuous pressure. At one hand they are facing lots of difficulties in recruitment, in training their people, getting ammunition and treating their wounded.

Therefore, if we continue to attack with the same pressure for few more months the LTTE will be completely destroyed. As government forces, we have some times had difficulties in recruitment. Now in the present situation the LTTE outfit has difficulties 100 times more than earlier because we have destroyed their ships and it is a big blow for the LTTE. On the other hand without leaving any breathing space the military is going forward with tough military operations.

The Air Force is taking correct targets destroying their camps and bringing maximum destruction. The LTTE is now in a tight corner.

I think the public should help the government and the military at this moment in crushing terrorism. The government does not want to leave this war to the next generation. When peace is restored the public also can be proud and get the credit of winning the war.

As a military officer, I think after a long time the government is in the correct track in curbing terrorism. Terrorism cannot be condoned.

It is not only local not even regional but it is global and trans-national. So, all the countries should support us in destroying this. The terrorist activities should not be covered but need to be exposed more. In our 2500 year history Sri Lankans did not run away but stood fast against all the invasions and protected the unitary status of the country. We have a proud history. We must take it as a challenge and be inspired by our proud history to defeat this ruthless enemy.


Who is Sarath Weerasekara

Tagging himself as a patriot in his ordinary life, this naval officer who was once the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Navy is a Buddhist Philosopher. Since the day he joined the Navy he dreamt of be coming a good naval officer. Tough when he is wearing the uniform but a humble writer when the whole world sleeps, he still loves to pen down his thoughts. A product of Ananda College, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara became a Cadet Officer in 1971.

Out of the 35-years of his career he has spent over 20 years in the sea. Being in isolation he puts his all thoughts on paper. His book 'Sagaraya Saha Gehaniya' was the outcome of the experiences he had as a naval officer.

"I think terrorism is a national problem. For the victory of this fight against terrorism every one except the LTTE sympathisers must contribute towards this success", is his request.

This clever naval commander never got a chance to 'rest' after his retirement and soon he was called by President Mahinda Rajapaksa be the Director General of the CDF.

The CDF Chief having intentions to provide more security for innocent villagers wants to see him as Sarath Weerasekara in his normal life not really as Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara.


UN boss in Colombo writes...

UN Resident Co-ordinator and Humanitarian Co-ordinator, Neil Buhne has sent us the following reply:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss the work of the United Nations in Sri Lanka in your 10 February edition. Unfortunately the headline your editor assigned to the article was not only inaccurate, but also seriously contradicted the answers given in the body of the interview. My answers explain that that the UN system works to support all throughout Sri Lanka to have better lives through development co-operation and humanitarian assistance, with the agreement and support of the Sri Lankan government, in the framework of agreements there are with all UN member States, country specific programmes and normative international agreements such as international humanitarian law. This also applies to the areas of Sri Lanka where there is conflict, so that we are permitted to help people thereby all involved. As I emphasised a number of times in the article, our primary partners in such areas are the offices of the Government Agents.

This is a laudable arrangement as it permits assistance to benefit people to whom otherwise it would be difficult for Government programmes to reach. In short we do not work in the "North within a framework given by the LTTE" as your headline stated, - the framework is provided by our country agreements with the Government and international humanitarian law. I kindly request you to print a correction, as otherwise your headline, which perpetuates misperceptions there are about the work of the UN in Sri Lanka, misrepresents our work and role.

This is unfair to our many partners in the Government of Sri Lanka, to civil society, to our staff, and most importantly to the people whom we try to assist.

Editor's Note:

It is well known that any official Govt. or otherwise working in LTTE controlled areas should co-ordinate with the outfit.

Mr. Buhne's reply confirms what we meant.

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