I think many people in the North have forgotten that the LTTE started the war by killing their own people
We have to invest in more equipment and vessels to secure the territories
Certain opposition elements are trying to create fear in the people saying that national security is under threat
Right now the Police and the STF are doing a good job
We would be able to curb the underworld menace soon
The increasing rate of crimes and incidents related to contract killings and shootings has made people question the status of national security from time to time. Nine years into the post-war era, Sri Lanka still has several issues to solve in order to bear the fruits of the reconciliation process. While the North is being recovered, the South needs to be watched closely. In a recent statement, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said that the military will be involved to curb underworld activities.
In a candid interview with the Dailymirror , the Minister reiterated on the current status of national security in the country, the need to develop maritime surveillance and the importance of the reconciliation process.
Should people worry about the state of national security in the country as at present?
I don’t think people have to be worried when it comes to national security. I know that certain opposition elements are trying to create fear in the people saying that national security is under threat and that the LTTE is coming back. But none of these allegations is true. We do have certain issues when it comes to law and order even in the North, but to say that the LTTE is emerging again is absolutely false and I think by saying that they are also disrespecting the forces and the Police and all the effort put into bringing peace into the country. The emergence of the underworld for example is an issue regarding law and order and now the Special Task Force has been handed the task to curb underworld activities with the CID and CCD getting involved. But the President also instructed that the tri-forces should also get involved. So we are ready to provide assistance to the Police if they need it to fight the underworld. But if the Police feel that they cannot cope up with the pressure they have to request the support of the tri- forces. Right now the Police and the STF are doing a good job, but on the intelligence aspect all three services are working in tandem. Therefore I think we would be able to curb the underworld menace soon.
Weapons belonging to the LTTE were recovered from the North on several occasions and certain factions including ex-Army personnel have mentioned that the Government is trying to conceal the actual situation when it comes to crimes. What are your comments regarding this statement?
Since the conclusion of the war there have been people who have got caught with explosives, weapons and other items. These incidents continue to happen. People who got caught in the Oddusudan incident for example were arrested and now we are in the process of interrogating to unearth for what purposes they were trying to use the weapons. But there are also a lot of underworld activities in the North. Even the tri-forces are involved in investigating into this issue. There are pockets of people who want to create issues in the North, but there is absolutely no threat to national security.
Against this backdrop State Minister of Child Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran pointed out the need to revive the LTTE. What are your thoughts regarding this statement?
I totally disagree with what she has said. She should remember what happened to the people in the North. Her husband too was assassinated by the LTTE. So for her to come up with a statement like that cannot be condoned. I think many people in the North have forgotten that the LTTE started the war by killing their own people. There were so many moderate Tamil politicians who were assassinated by the LTTE. Therefore, for her to make such a statement is totally out of character and it’s not the view of the UNP nor the Government.
Are there legal barriers for the Army that prevents them from resolving matters related to underworld and other crimes?
The military is involved in strengthening national security when it comes to war and terrorism. But underworld activities are seen as a law and order issue and these issues are dealt with by the Police. During an event when the Police feel that they can’t cope with the pressure they would ask for assistance from the forces. Until then we cannot get involved. When it comes to law and order the Police have been trained and it is they who know how to handle a situation like that. But if it goes out of hand then the military will get involved. But right now the STF is handling these issues and they are doing a good job.
How secure are the Sri Lankan waters today?
Our waters are somewhat secure. But we should now concentrate more on building up on our Navy. Now that the war is over we thought that we should develop in terms of maritime surveillance. We need to focus on the Navy and the Air Force. There are instances such as illegal fishing and drug smuggling via sea routes. Therefore the Navy is patrolling those areas and they have caught quite a few people who have been trying to smuggle in drugs. But they use various methods to bring in narcotics into the country. The sea territory we possess is huge to the extent that we border with Australia as well. That whole area is unmanned and we don’t have the equipment to do the necessary surveillance in the area. Most of the ships we have are offshore patrol vessels which usually cannot go far into the deep sea. We also have to build our Air Force in order to engage in maritime surveillance. Once we have the necessary equipment it would bring our sea territory under more control and enhance its safety.
Do we have a threat from sea pirates?
Not in our area. But our main concerns have been narcotics, human smuggling and illegal fishing. One of the main trade lines runs through the southern part of the country where 60-70% of the trade between the East and the West takes place. Therefore it’s absolutely imperative that we secure those areas. So we have to invest in more equipment and vessels to secure the territories.
With the establishment of the Colombo Port City project and the Hambantota Port will there be regulations on Chinese vessels such as submarines entering our territories?
Chinese, Indian or American submarines could enter our waters, but they need to first obtain permission from us. But whether there are submarines within the territory is a question mark.
Most of the high-rise buildings in the country stretch to as many floors as possible. Are there adequate regulations to secure the air space?
There are regulations manned by the Civil Aviation Authority and closely linked with the Air Force as well. During the war these regulations were monitored by the Air Force, but now there is always a conflict because civil aviation companies want to operate in Sri Lanka. However because of air space restrictions they have issues. When it comes to the high-rise buildings there are necessary safety precautions they need to abide by. But the biggest issue that we have been speaking on is that in case of a fire, if there is an emergency, how could we go about dowsing that fire and securing the lives of the people who are affected? That is a big concern for us. We are waiting for the Air Force to present us with some proposals regarding this issue.
What is the next step in the national security plan?
We are still giving priority to the reconciliation process and there are a few issues that we need to iron out regarding the North and the East. This is one reason why most of these issues relating to law and order are emerging.
There is a large amount of unemployed youth, who are getting foreign currency from their relatives abroad. So they don’t feel the need to have jobs because they already have the money and they spend their money on buying motorcycles and watching movies from Tamil Nadu, which is where they are getting all the ideas from.
Those issues have to be targeted and solved. When an area that was once a battle ground is freed these kinds of issues emerge. Therefore it will take time for these issues to be settled and our job is to make sure that these issues don’t get out of hand. Once the reconciliation process takes place, these matters will be controlled. We are also controlling our sea, doing the necessary maritime surveillance and strengthening security. As for the country I don’t see any huge national threat.