Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sri Lanka - August 2009 - Security considerations and mitigating measures

I have been in Sri Lanka the summer of 2009, as Security Manager for a large International Organization. This post is intended to briefly describe the post war situation and analyse the best mitigating measures in order to reduce tensions and stabilize a complicated situation which affects an entire population.
After three decades of a mainly ethnic war that has seen a combination of asymmetrical warfare activities, the Government announced victory over the LTTE - Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (some Government officials stated victory over “terrorism”) on 18 May 2009. The latter part of the past two years has seen an intensified conventional war in the Northern part of the country (Wanni) as well as asymmetrical warfare tactics that mainly constituted suicide bombings, assassinations, disappearances, abductions, intimidation the denial of basic human rights such as freedom of movement and freedom of speech (as manifested in the suppression of the national media). The war efforts resulted in large numbers of displaced civilians across the East and the North of which the past six months was probably the most intense. It resulted in massive casualties (dead and injured of which a large percentage is maimed and disabled for life) amongst both the Tamil population in the North and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) security forces. It leaves a Tamil people highly traumatized and a population bitterly divided along the ethnic fault line.
When I was there during the summer 2009, for the 262,000 internally displaced persons IDPs confined to IDP camps in Vavuniya, security risks associated with poor living conditions – in particular insufficient water supply, sanitation and waste disposal were resulting in significant health risks and growing dissatisfaction amongst the displaced community. The capacity of health services to address the needs of both the local and displaced populations was overstretched and added to general security and protection risks. Other protection and security challenges included site congestion, military presence, limited access to justice and family separation. Further, lack of freedom of movement resulted in an almost total dependence on humanitarian assistance and extreme frustration within the IDP community.


In the immediate aftermath of the military conflict, it was expected that the Government shifted its focus from the military campaign (which dominated their strategic approach) to a lasting and acceptable political solution. The Tamil population will not accept a position in which they will be dominated by the Sinhala majority and in which they feel that their basic human rights are ignored. It is to be expected that the Government would be reluctant to accept international cooperation to achieve this paramount objective.
The current military victory has brought some level of unsustainable stability. It would have to be strengthened by infrastructural development to stimulate economical growth which, jointly with a political solution, social harmony has a greater probability to succeed.

One of the most significant mitigating measures to counter the breeding of a new resistance would be a high trustworthy reconciliation program by the Government and a transparent/ participative process towards a new political dispensation that would accommodate the Tamil people to their satisfaction. Whether this process will be implemented and how are elements which remain to be seen.

Reinforced concrete SL Army bunker in the proximity of Trincomalee Beach (East Coast)

SL Navy Bunker facing the Mannar Lagoon (West Coast)

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