With bombs exploding in European capitals and other parts of the world, Sri Lanka finds itself in unique position in the world. It is a country that has not experienced a single act of terrorism in nearly seven years. The last of the terrorism ended in May 2009 when the three decade long internal war came to an end, albeit in a most violent way which has given rise to the international denunciation of war crimes. However, when comparing Sri Lanka to other parts of the world it is remarkable that following the end of the war there has been no act of terrorism. A part of the reason would be the years of experience gained in identifying and tracking down terrorist threats.
The only occasion in which the counter terrorism operations of the Sri Lankan security forces was put to active use in the post-war period was two years ago when a group of three alleged LTTE cadre were cornered in a patch of jungle by the security forces and shot dead. One of those killed was accused of having shot a policeman in the leg in an earlier getaway bid. But there was considerable suspicion at that time that the pre-emptive strike by the security forces to eliminate the three men was prompted by the government of the day for its own political purposes.
The previous government was adept at creating a securitization mindset in society. During the period of the war they justified the buildup of the security forces and the usage of political repression on the ground of meeting the security threat posed by the LTTE. Ironically after the end of the war they continued to recreate the securitization mindset by emphasizing the need to maintain preparedness in order to prevent the LTTE from resurrecting itself. It was like in the children’s movie Zootopia, now showing in cinemas in Sri Lanka, where the representatives of the majority purposefully provoked members of the minority so that the majority would remain unitedly with them.
Habits appear to die hard with members of the former government who are now in the opposition. They have seized upon an incident in which an LTTE suicide jacket and explosives, which appear not to have been touched in over five years, have been found in the house of a former LTTE cadre in the North. The opposition now claims that national security is in a parlous state. They have even gone to the extent of claiming, apparently without evidence, that the arms cache was going to be transported to Colombo, and most notably to the Tamil precinct of Wellawatte.
Unless those in the opposition have evidence to back their claim, it is not responsible of them to identify the Tamil areas of Colombo city as places to which terrorist material will be sent, and which will be containing the sleeper cells that can be activated. This leaves room for extremists to take the law into their own hands, as occurred under the previous government. There was targeting of ethnic and religious minorities for violence on the basis that they were conduits of terrorism. There were also cordon and search operations that took place regularly in areas of where the ethnic minority lived. These served to increase inter-ethnic suspicions and widened the gaps between the communities.
There is no reason to doubt that there are many hidden caches of arms in the North and East of the country and even outside of the areas in which the war was fought. Some of it might have been stored for later recovery and for fighting purposes. On the other hand, LTTE cadre would also have hidden their weapons to safeguard themselves at the end of the war and claim to be civilians. This was not the first occasion on which a hidden cache of arms was found after the war. There have been several such discoveries, and as more abandoned land is returned to people and to agriculture more such caches are being discovered. Most of the discoveries may have had nothing to do with anyone trying to use those weapons which have been stumbled upon.
The need for the government to maintain vigilance stems from the still undiscovered caches of weapons that lie in various parts of the country. These can be used for criminal activities even if they are not used for purposes of staging another insurrection. Indeed, the person who has been arrested for having in his possession the suicide jacket and weapons was a former LTTE cadre who had successfully passed off as a civilian at the end of the war. He was apprehended because he had been having disagreements with his wife who reported him to the security forces for possessing intoxicating drugs and for having other wives.
On the other hand, there appears to be little desire on the part of the Tamil people to look upon the hidden caches of weapons as a future source of armaments. Much of the information about the hidden weapons has come from the people themselves. They know at firsthand how the use of those weapons by the LTTE destroyed their own lives. The autobiography of Thamilini, who headed the LTTE women’s wing, brings out the dark side of the LTTE and their own disregard of the interests of the Tamil people in their quest for their own survival.
It is also important that the government should ensure that the security forces act with restraint in ensuring national security. There is a possibility of overzealous officers harassing people by questioning them and searching them in a harsh manner. This will alienate the Tamil people, or any people subjected to ureasonable suspicion, from the government. The previous government lost the ethnic and religious minority voters due to their harsh treatment of them. Now when they are in the political opposition their over-focus on national security might make the same happen to the present government. There is a need for balance between national security and being reasonable.
Dr. Jehan Perera