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Outstanding award for serving officer in South Asia:

Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe wins Gusi International Peace prize



Major General Hathurusinghe

The Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe is the only serving military officer in South Asia to receive the prestigious Gusi International Peace prize of Philippines on November 24, this year. Gusi International Peace prize is awarded in memory of Captain Geminino Javier Gusi, a Philippino guerilla who resisted the Japanese invasion and later in his life campaigned for human rights as a politician.

Here the excerpts of the interview the Sunday Observer had with Maj. Gen Mahinda Hathurusinghe:

Q: You are the recipient of the prestigious Gusi International Peace award of Philippines. Could you explain what this award is?

A: Well the Gusi International Peace prize of Philippines has been awarded every year since 2003.The award is named after Captain Gemenino Javier Gusi a World War II guerilla from Philippines who resisted the Japanese invasion.Later in life Javier Gusi became a politician and dedicated himself to promote human rights. Therefore, the Gusi International Peace prize is presented in memory of Javier Gusiís commitment to the human rights, to individuals or groups for excellence in promoting peace and safeguarding human rights.

Q: How were you nominated and were there any other recipients for the Gusi Peace prize!

A: A panel consisting of 40 members from various parts of the world precise the nominations and select the recipients on the basis of their contribution to peace-building efforts and protecting human rights. Every year between 17 to 19 persons from various parts of the world receive the Gusi International Peace award. I am very happy to say that I am the only serving Army officer in South Asia to receive this prestigious peace prize, this year.

Q: Jaffna is enjoying peace .What is your assessment of the current situation in the North since the conflict ended last year ?

A: Of course, Jaffna is now very much in peace.The people of Jaffna suffered immensely at the hands of the LTTE. But now they live a peaceful life with dignity. We see the smiles on the faces of the people in Jaffna. They donít hear the boom of the guns any more.They awake up for the chime of the temple bells daily and go ahead with their day-to-day activities without any let or hindrance. All most all restrictions such as curfew, road blocks, high security zones and ban on fishing have been removed and the civilians are allowed to move freely. This year a record number of people from various parts in the North and abroad participated in the annual Nallur festival. This has highlighted the peace and harmony enjoyed by the people in the north.

As far as the agricultural sector is concerned, thousands of acres of paddy land which remained inaccessible to the Jaffna farmers are now free and bumper harvests in paddy have been experienced by them in the past one year.

The fisher folk which suffered very badly in the past is now happy with their bountiful harvest and the sea food items are even marketed outside the peninsula.

On the other hand the goods and services are flowing smoothly into the peninsula from the south. Interaction between the people in the North and the South is taking place with the arrival of thousands of local tourists from other parts of the country into the peninsula daily.

Q: Could you explain the post-war humanitarian role played by the Security Forces in the North?

A: The Security Forces in the North are playing a significant role in reconstruction and rehabilitation activities. Around 1,000 houses have been built by the Security Forces personnel for the civilians who had lost their houses.

Demining is the foremost task carried out by the Security Forces. Several areas have been cleared of landmines in the peninsula by the Security Forces.

Bridges are built by the Army engineers to ensure secure and smooth transportation in the north.

In addition hospitals in various parts of the North are renovated by the Security Forces. They participate with enthusiasm in blood donation programs. I would say that the` blood of the Security Forces now run in every Jaffna maní as the Security Forces personnel donate 150 pints of blood every month in Jaffna. Therefore, the humanitarian activities of the security forces personnel in the North are multi-faceted.

Q: What are the welfare measures in place for the Security Forces in Jaffna at present?

A: The Security Forces personnel are now very much in a relaxed state of mind.Unlike in the past they have focused on humanitarian activities.

They have shown much interest in learning Tamil.Most of them are good in Tamil and interact in a friendly manner with the people. When the war was in progress the Security Forces personnel too had difficulties in travelling to their home towns.But with the opening of the A-9 high way they also enjoy a hassle-free travel.

They have been trained in computers, masonary and carpentry as well.

Q: What is the current state of the High Security Zones in the North?

A: At present we have reduced the areas of High Security Zones to a greater extent in the North. Civilians have been allowed to live in the areas cleared of landmines. Schools which remained in the high security zones have been handed back to the Department of Education. For instance the Vasavilan Central College which is very much closer to the Palali Army base is now fully operational with the attendance of a large number of students daily. Several agricultural lands which remained within the high security zones have now come under the plough.

There are certain areas which still remain as high security zones in the North due to mine-clearing. We do not want to take any chance by allowing civilian movements in the areas where demining is in progress.

Around 84,777 Internally Displaced Persons have been resettled in their original places in the peninsula.Only 333 families remain to be resettled in the peninsula.

Q: What is your view on the present day youth in Jaffna?

A: They have well focused on their studies. They have realised the damages suffered by their socio-economic structure due to the three-decade war in the past.

Unlike in the other universities in the country, the students at the University of Jaffna are more involved in their academic activities.

For the first time in several years around 300 youngsters have joined the police. Some of the sportsmen from Jaffna have even fared well in sports events at national level.

With the removal of restrictions in the North, a large number of youngsters are today engaged in the agricultural and fishing sectors.

Coaching facilities for the Jaffna youth for various sports have also been arranged with the assistance of the Security Forces in the peninsula.

Q: Being the Security Forces Commander in the North what is your opinion on the role played by Navy, Airforce and Police in the post-war atmosphere in Jaffna?

A: The Navy, Airforce and the police in the North also playing their part in a significant manner in the post-war atmosphere. The Navy is looking into the interests of the people in the coastal areas.They are also engaged in building the harbour in Kankesanthurai.

The Airmen are also engaged in extending the runway in Palaly.

The strength of the police force is now felt very much in Jaffna.

They maintain law and order in the peninsula. The traffic management and crowd handling during festive seasons is effectively shouldered by the police force.

Q: The Sri Lankan Security Forces are now well recognised globally for their role in defeating terrorism. Some of the foreign diplomats have even said that Sri Lankaís security forces have proved that terrorism could be defeated. However, now in a peaceful atmosphere what should be the role of the armed forces in the future?

A: Of course, the security forces had played a great role in wiping out terrorism completely in the country. The entire world is full of praise for our Security Forces. However, in a peaceful atmosphere the Security Forces are expected to be engaged more enhancing the infrastructure facilities. Our security Forces are already engaged in assisting the post-war peace building process in the North and the East.

They have also faced environmental challenges such as floods.Since our Security Forces have proved their mettle in handling humanitarian issues in challenging conditions, experiences could also be shared by the countries faced with humanitarian problems.

Q: In your long career in the Army you have served under several senior officials. What is your recollection?

A: Well, I have served under veterans such as General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Wijaya Wimalaratne. They were good officers and gentlemen. The present Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains a pillar of strength to the Security Forces.

The guidance and sacrifices of these military leaders have made the Security Forces of our country march forward with pride and dignity.

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