Nine years into the post-war era Sri Lanka is making slow and steady progress as a developing country. However, much needs to be done to uplift the lives of the people and bring in more hope and prosperity to poverty-stricken areas of the country. Among the many countries that have allied with Sri Lanka, France stands in a significant position.
During a recent visit, French Senator and Vice Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee of the French Senate Hélène Conway-Mouret held several discussions with the Chief of Staff, State Secretary of Defence and several other important people to secure ties and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror, Ms Conway-Mouret expressed her views about the security situation in the country, the operations of French military and the relationship between Sri Lanka and France.
Sri Lanka fought a thirty-year ethnic conflict. How do you see its progress nine years into the post-war era?
Sri Lanka has a very central and strategic position in the world. Therefore, with the rise of countries such as China and India, we see that the Indian Ocean has become a very important shipping route. Of course with this kind of business and commerce comes other issues such as trafficking and therefore it is important to keep peace within the region. There is also a need for diverse education. Europe sends a lot of tourists and tourism too could be developed in the country. It is good to work together because we see the rise of populist and nationalist movements. Today all democratic countries should come together to be able to protect the peace.
If you look at Europe there is a long period of peace, which has given prosperity to all European countries and at the end of the day it is attracting a lot of migrants
What role does the military play in strengthening national security?
It is both internal and external security, which we need to focus on. The Navy controls and protects the coast and it is also where human and drug trafficking is done. Therefore the Navy needs to be strong to be able to stop and control these activities. Unfortunately for us we now have the Army involved in preventing terrorism. But we didn’t have this situation five years ago. We have a strong Army, who is involved in peace-keeping missions abroad, which shows their level of competence because what they do in Mali is very important. They have a lot of expertise and are sharing the expertise in Africa to bring up the level of the Army so that they themselves can protect their own people in future without having to seek support from other countries.
Recently the military academy has launched the Smart Class to teach French to Army personnel in Sri Lanka. What are your comments?
I think it is essential because Army personnel are called for their competencies. When they move to another country it is a different environment and they are under pressure.
So it is good to communicate with others especially if you are under tension and threat because you don’t want to miss on the messages that you are getting. Therefore I think preparations done in advance are vital to enhancing their competencies with the language skills that allow them to communicate for their own security as well as sharing what they know with others. It is a good way to motivate the Army personnel as well.
France is pushing for what we call G5 where five countries in Western Africa including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are pulling their resources together to move forward. We need people such as those in Sri Lanka to bring in their expertise in securing the convoys.
Other than in the Africa Continent, where else has the French military been deployed?
We have a strong operation in Mali because we were afraid that it would turn into a terrorist State as terrorist groups have taken over the capital city. They are still in the North and the French troops are doing their best to get rid of them. There is a threat to other countries such as Cameroon and Niger as well.
What lessons could Sri Lanka learn from French military operations and strategies?
There are more ships patrolling the Indian Ocean. We have discussed that in future, some officers would be able to come to Paris for three or six months so that they could learn and also bring in their expertise and share what they have learned. I believe in education because it is the most important thing in life; it keeps their financial autonomy and freedom in the future.
Cybercrime is becoming a threat to national security. How has France countered this threat?
The French Parliament is looking into this and we have passed legislation to, first of all, make the operators liable because earlier we had said that anybody could do anything using these platforms. Then we saw that it was being used for criminal purposes. We have therefore changed our legislation and now they have to control what is being published and if they don’t do that they are punished by law, either by having to pay a heavy fine or through imprisonment. We also need to train our people to be able to protect ourselves. There is awareness now especially in terms of Facebook. Indeed it can destabilize a country and could have an impact on an election. We had a lot of attacks during the French elections and the same in Britain with Brexit.
What lies ahead between Sri Lanka and France?
I requested to meet with the Chief of Staff and State Secretary of Defence and I want to see how the relationship could be strengthened. We have the Alliance Francaise involved in very important projects. If people’s lives are secured with clean water, good health and education services they will keep them content. When people are happy, democracy is stable and then you could fight poverty and all kinds of crimes that come with it.
We have therefore changed our legislation and now they have to control what is being published
If you look at Europe there is a long period of peace, which has given prosperity to all European countries and at the end of the day it is attracting a lot of migrants.
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