Outgoing Army Commander General Jagath Jayasuriya who will be the next Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) spoke to Daily Mirror on a wide range of key untapped developments already underway and responded to a number of allegations levelled against the Army. The second longest serving Army Commander in the country pointed out that no one could criticise the role played by the troops.
By Supun Dias
Q:What was your role during the war?
Overall we had to coordinate with our main units involved in the war. We adopted small group operations, so there was no need to do a lot of planning. Main detail operations were done by the Divisions and the Task Forces.
They launch from a particular axis and manoeuvres. So controlling on a daily basis was done with proper coordination. Under me were all the divisional commands. So I had the 57 Division led by Major General Jagath Dias, 58 Division led by Major General Shavendra Silva and 59 Division led by Major General Nandana Udawatta. They were the divisions which fought the enemy most of the time along with Task Force 2, 3 and 4.
There were commanders at various stages. But the important part was maintaining essential services and looking after the people who were coming out from LTTE controlled areas and from areas we regained. The main issue was planning for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s).
Q:What are the new plans for the military this year?
The main challenge is to transform a war time Army to a peace time Army. After the war we were involved in nation building. The Army was kept occupied.
We have identified individual professional training as a key factor for the future development of the Army. Therefore we took steps to train them more and send them for foreign courses. Some of them have been able to participate in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions also. I kept the Special Forces and the Commandoes as the main reserve.
We took steps to offer four training courses for foreign troops at Diyatalawa, Buttala, Special Forces camp in Maduruoya and the Commando base in Uvakudaoya. So we expect more foreign troops to be sent here for training.
We also plan to have the third Defence Seminar in September this year and we expect more than 60 countries this time.
Each Battalion of the Army will be getting a fully equipped camp with modern facilities. The process is already underway. The Defence Secretary has approved the project and that land selected will be acquired by the government if they are in private hands and handed over to the Army. Each camp will be getting pre-fabricated buildings. Every month we are getting a shipment for its development.
Q:What about welfare projects?There are accusations that soldiers do not have proper accommodation at camps and bases.
When I assumed duties I said the looking after disabled soldiers would be a key priority.
A soldier who came on a stretcher he is now walking and another who was not able to speak is now talking.
Abhimansala projects are going well and we are into the third such project. When I assumed duties there were only 50,000 double beds for 200,000 soldiers.
But now we have taken steps to manufacture 40,000 double beds for the Army. We are giving them good accommodation and modern facilities. It is a long process but we are doing our best. Army camps look better now.
Q:What is the role played by the Army in development activities in the post war period? How is the Army attempting to expand its role within the development framework?
I am asking you this question because it was under your leadership soldiers were recruited in thousands to undertake development projects.
We are awaiting cabinet approval for the Army to form an entity that could go into profit making ventures. We are involved in development projects now and sustaining them.
So after these projects are completed, the manpower will be available with equipment and that is why we are planning to form such an entity.
The Army will be able to take on projects on a profit making basis by bidding for government tenders.
Once it is formed we will be able to involve in key projects even government projects, if the bidding is open to everyone we can bid, because if we are to take part in a government project it will be a service.
The Army has the resources available with technical expertise. We can perform on a competitive basis because we are effective and efficient, so we can provide a good service. The Army is involved in almost all the services and professions that one can offer.
Q:Is it justified to maintain a strong military presence in the North?
Now the military is not strong in presence in the Northern Province. What we found out was that the people were used to associate with the Army so when suddenly the Army was instructed to go to barracks there were issues and criminal acts such as robberies taking place.
Not a single shot was fired after 2009 but other crimes were taking place. We have between 10,000 to 15,000 troops in the Jaffna peninsula and almost everyone is at the Palaly Cantonment.
There was a fear that the peaceful environment would be affected. Gradually the Army has got the police to work in these areas now. Because there was limited land we had to occupy houses and other places in the North.
But we have paid compensation and vacated them. When required they can operate. No checkpoints in Jaffna now but we have only around three outposts in the city. During the war we had four divisions in Jaffna and now we have only 51, 52 and 55 divisions. No one can say, that we cannot have troops at this place and we will decide on the positioning of troops and it should not be anybodies problem. But people can criticise on how they operate and if they meddle with some unwanted situation, they can criticise constructively. Look, being in a camp or at some place no one can criticize us because we are the decision makers. We can have troops anywhere in the country.
Q:What is the current state of reports compiled by the Army on war crimes and violation of human rights because the general public does not know about the exact content of these reports? Do you think more steps could have been taken to respond to these allegations?
I fully agree that we should have done more. Nobody sort of expected and we never considered what we did, as crimes. But when allegations were levelled, then we had to start preparing and respond to them.
More details of the operations would have helped more. But we never thought that such allegations would be levelled against us. Till somebody makes an allegation it is difficult to react to it.
Court of Inquiry on executions and artillery fire is being investigated. Identifying soldiers from 200,000 is a difficult task. For the first Court of Inquiry we took statements and we completed it
We are investigating into the summary executions of captured LTTE cadres as alleged by Channel 4. But the first Court of Inquiry into the allegations levelled by Channel 4 on civilian casualties in the last stage of the war, we completed that sometime ago.
Q:Strengthening bilateral relationships is something that improved under your leadership and how will it be strengthened in the coming years and the benefits that Sri Lanka would get due to these relationships?
That’s very good. I did my full tenure as the Army Commander and that that helped a lot to improve bilateral relations.
I met all the top commanders of the regional armies at top forums. The first time I was able to review a military parade in India. Of course those countries appreciated our efforts in fighting terrorism and were interested in sharing this knowledge as well as in the post war period. I invited their study teams to come and see how we did the war and faced the enemy. These are remarkable achievements. With the instructions of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa we started to do staff level talks with India, Pakistan and also with China. It happens annually.
Personal friendship with each commander is important. The Pakistani Military chief came for the second time when he visited Sri Lanka last month to review a military parade. When I met them and when I asked them whether I can get two training slots’ he said they can give them to us over the counter.
I requested the Peoples Liberations Army (PLA) Air Force Chief to build a state of the art auditorium for our military. When the Chinese Defence Minister came he signed an agreement to build a Rs.1.5 billion auditorium for the Army. It was given as a PLA grant for the Sri Lanka Army. It shows how relationships have improved over the last four years.
Q:How do you want the military to work with India and China on an equal platform especially in foreign training and exercises?
Our policy is that we invite all these countries. India-Pakistan has issues but for us all these countries are important.
Diplomatic problems are not our concerns but military to military we do not have problems. Comoran Strike we got all of them to come and participate.
We get training slots from India, Pak and from China and we also open our training facilities to them on equal basis.
Q:Recruitments especially of Tamils what is the state of it right now and how do they feel about the integrity of their job?
There is no discrimination to any ethnic group. Anybody can join the military
It was open throughout history. Unfortunately due to the situation we went through due to the war, it was affected and people felt differently, it declined. Some who joined before 1985 are still in the Army. I go for final officer cadet interviews; there were candidates from Batticaloa recently. We took one of them. It shows the interest is increasing, which is good. We do not have any problems now. With time they will be all right. The recruitment is progressing but when you have small numbers and when you go slowly, people will say things. But when we continue the process the understanding will improve, which is important.
Q:Final Question, are you satisfied as the Army Chief during your four year tenure?
I am very proud of my achievements. During this peace time what we have achieved is remarkable. I personally believe that my previous appointments helped me.We have achieved a lot as an Army and when I go around we can see how we have transformed our Army over the last four years.