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Updated: September 19, 2012 22:18 IST

Sri Lankan Army still has vast presence in North & East

Nirupama Subramanian
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More than three years after winning the war against the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Army retains an overwhelming presence in the North and East of the island, deploying 16 out of its 19 divisions in the Tamil-dominated regions.

Information available with The Hindu indicates that besides three divisions in Jaffna, there are three each in Killinochchi and Mullaithivu, while five divisions are stationed in Vavuniya. Another two divisions are deployed in the East. Three divisions are headquartered in southern Sri Lanka.

The information, from an internal Sri Lankan military document showing the deployment in a series of maps for a PowerPoint presentation, is for the month of June 2012, but there have been no significant changes since then.

A former Indian Army officer, Colonel (retd.) R. Hariharan, who was with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, and with whom The Hindu shared the information for an assessment, said the manner in which the troops were spread out in the entire North and East was suggestive more of an Army in ‘operational readiness’ than in post-conflict repose.

The colour-coded maps show the wide spread of the battalions that make up each brigade in every division. The document does not mention the exact numbers of soldiers, and any estimate of numbers of troops has to be based on what is known about the Sri Lankan Army’s divisional strength.

A Sri Lankan division is smaller than that of most other armies, and has between 6,000 and 7,000 soldiers. Taking the lower number, that would mean that 85,000-86,000 soldiers are at present in the North and East. This number does not include the separate deployment of a Task Force in the East, and of the Navy and the Air Force.

The continued military presence in Tamil areas is viewed as hampering post-conflict ethnic reconciliation. The Army is entirely Sinhalese, and the people of the North are almost entirely Tamil.

India may raise the issue during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s September 20-21 visit to India. The Sri Lankan President will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday and will also call on President Pranab Mukherjee.

Sri Lanka has defended its right to deploy its Army where it chooses within its boundaries and stressed that these decisions were based on national security assessments.

In a recent interview to an Indian newspaper, Mr. Rajapaksa said that for a country recovering from three decades of armed conflict, there had been a steady progress in troop withdrawal from northern Sri Lanka, but keeping the military there was also a measure of abundant caution against the reactivation of militancy in the region.

The number of troops in Jaffna had gone down, he said, from 27,000 in December 2009 to 15,000 in June 2012.

He also said troops were necessary for “development work” in the northern Sri Lanka. But it is precisely the role of the Army in “developing” the North and the East that is seen as a matter of concern.

Ahilan Kadirgamar, a democracy activist in Sri Lanka, told The Hindu that the army’s role in civil administration in the North and the East was a matter of concern, but could not be separated from the militarisation of Sri Lanka in the post-war years.

“Sri Lanka, as a whole, needs a debate on demilitarisation and a change in the role of the military in the governance of the country for the situation in the war- affected regions to return to normalcy,” he said.

The de-militarisation of the North and the East is one of the benchmarks against which Sri Lanka’s compliance with the United Nations Human Right Council resolution will be assessed.

The March 2012 Human Right Council (HRC) resolution requires Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its own Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s report. One of the LLRC’s key recommendations was that the government must significantly reduce military presence in the North and the East.

There had been several depositions to the Commission that the military was a parallel authority in the region, more powerful than the civilian administration. The commission heard that though the military’s help in development activities, like road-building, had been useful, their continued presence was a source of constant insecurity to the local people.

The military’s occupation of private lands that were converted to High Security Zones during the decades of war has prevented resettlement of the original owners.

India is in the chair of the troika appointed by the Council to assess Sri Lanka’s progress in the resolution’s requirements. Spain and Benin are the other two countries. The troika is to liaise with Sri Lanka and write a report that will be debated at the review sessions in Geneva in the first week of November this year.

While Mr. Rajapaksa has had recent meetings with Dr. Singh on the sidelines of the NAM and Rio Summits, the two leaders are expected to hold substantive discussions for the first time since the President’s visit to New Delhi in June 2010.

In these two years, the atmospherics have changed. An Indian official said the relations between the two countries were “intense” and require “management.”

Several irritants have crept into the friendly ties over the past three years. For India, these would include what is seen by New Delhi as foot-dragging by the Rajapaksa government over resolving the Tamil question, and the perceived close relations between Sri Lanka and China.

For Sri Lanka, what rankled most was India’s support for the HRC resolution, which pulled up the Rajapakasa government for its failure to address human rights violations and other issues arising out of the final battle against the LTTE in May 2009; and, since then, the rising anti-Sri Lanka sentiment in Tamil Nadu, culminating recently in an attack on pilgrims.

New Delhi sees Colombo’s subsequent advisory to its nationals against travelling in Tamil Nadu as an “over-reaction.”

Sources in the Indian government said all these issues would likely come up for discussion at the meeting between Dr. Singh and Mr. Rajapaksa.

On a political settlement of the Tamil issue, India has been emphasising the need to demilitarise Sri Lanka’s North and East and hold provincial council elections in the North as early as possible so as to hand over governance to elected civilians.

After his meetings in New Delhi on Thursday, Mr. Rajapaksa is scheduled to fly the next day to Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, where he will participate in the foundation-laying ceremony of the International Buddhist University. He will return to Sri Lanka on Friday.

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This argument is ridiculous! So whats the big fuzz here? North and East are parts of the country. Colombo has huge presence of the military forces...so as rest of the country. Any soverign state can decide where the forces are going to deployed.

from:  Kumar
Posted on: Sep 22, 2012 at 14:14 IST

@shiva it was an open secret that Ms G and MGR actively supported the
LTTE. And as much as India has the right to deploy its troops anywhere
within its borders so has Sri Lanka. This is non negotiable. The only
issue is one's perception the pace of progress and this varies depending
on which side you are.

from:  Adrian C
Posted on: Sep 21, 2012 at 14:59 IST

first of all i would like to give my thanks siva and Khaleelullah .as a sri lankan i proud about my nation my country and president mahnda rajapakshe. we defeated LTTE.now all sinhalise ,muslim and tamil people are living together in sri lanka with out any hesitation. so y you are insulting to our mother land sri lanka. indian should help to sri lanka for her achievements.bcz india is the mother of south asian countries we always respect to india and we need your help.don't try to research our administration the sri lankan will take correct decisions to solve the problems. it is our claim.if we want to confirm security of north and east regions we have to establish military camps.it is our freedom. don't try to make unnecessary problems.please indian (not all) be positive and let to arise as a wonder of asia.give up ur gelous ideas and help to sri lanka .because sri lanka wants to indian help.don't hate to sri lanka and support to us .. as sri lankan we love to india and want ur help

from:  amila
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 22:10 IST

What right do we have to decide how Sri Lankan army should be deployed?
Will we be very happy if the U.S. or Russia or China or someone were to
tell us not to deploy our army the way we please? Please don't encourage
India to play Big Brother.

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 20:23 IST

@Khaleelullah - No one disputes that Sri Lanka is a sovereign state but neither it is not a military state and dictatorship nor it can commit genocide of minority communities.
Sri Lanka has to respect and under the International law and it must allow for an independent International human rights investigation and military abuses. LTTE was a product of Sinhala Buddhist state terrorism and hooliganism and it was not a product of the Tamils and LTTE was supported by Mrs. Indua Gandhi and MGR and you are trying to say that these renowned leaders supported a terrorist organization?

from:  Shiva
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 16:49 IST

Tamils in Sri Lanka had a golden opportunity in 1987 when India came to protect the Tamils. LTTE made the wrong decision not to listen to India. Today Tamils are paying the Price. Current Indian Government no doubt contributed and helped to kill more than 150,000 Tamils in sort period. Sri Lankan Sinhalese are enemies of India whether India helped or not. By destroying the Tamil Home land India is putting her defence at risk. China has been spying on india since the end of the War. Indian foreingn policy advisors are the most stupid on earth.

from:  Ram
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 14:29 IST

When the our old history Tamils not stated in Sri Lanka to make clear that Shiva’s comment Tamils migrated from India has not been given civil rights properly you can say and other thing is SLGOV. Can keep military camps anywhere in Sri Lanka that matter no one question about it Main aim of Tamils in Sri Lanka & India first get independent Homeland in Sri Lanka then they want to fight with Indian government to separate Thamilnadu from India after that they can joint Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu.
Then there dreams of Tamil homeland is success full Tamil politician’s and Tamils are crying for this matter India’s GOV. should be very careful about this issue when they take any decisions.
Other thing Is no one can call the word of any body’s regime politically control Sri Lanka because of all
Politicians selected by democratic conducted election it is to remember that not by the regime who conduct ruling Sri Lanka.

from:  Bandula
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 14:13 IST

Thanks Nirupama Subramanian for the analysis and reporting.
Tamils all over the world are aware that the UPA regime not only collaborated with the Sri Lankan regime but also trying to protect the regime from an international independent investigation on alleged crimes against humanity and human rights abuses.

from:  Shiva
Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 at 06:21 IST

An excellent piece by Ms. Nirupama Subramanian, best reflects tground reality (credible and transparent for a change)

from:  Sandra
Posted on: Sep 19, 2012 at 23:07 IST

Sri Lanka is an sovereign state and reserve the rights to deploy its
army where ever it wish. The Indian media and politicians encroaching upon Sri Lankan sovereignity. As we Indians would not like Pakistan
bothering upon the deployment of our army in Kashmir to tackle
terrorism Sri Lanka has its own right to do so. LTTE the dreaded and
ruthless terrorist organization in the world still has its presence in
various parts of Sri Lanka.

from:  Khaleelullah
Posted on: Sep 19, 2012 at 22:44 IST
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