Special Assignment

7th May 2000

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All hands to the war effort

By Shelani de Silva

The war in the North is not a new phenomena for the people in the South but until the Government put the country on a war footing the real problem was not felt. Within three days of the decision being taken, activities in most parts of the country came to a standstill.

Several ministries have decided to cut down on public events and divert the funds to the war effort.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has instructed that development projects be put on hold for three months and funds diverted to the war effort. Several ministries have put development projects on hold as a result. They have also cut down on official functions. Even if opening ceremonies or any other events are held, they will be on a low key.

While several organisations welcomed the move several ministers and MPs too have commended it

Minister C. V. Gooneratne who requested the government in 1995, to put the country on a war footing today claims that such a move is of the utmost importance. Five years ago Mr. Gooneratne said in Parliament that the country has to be put on a war footing and even made some suggestions to the Cabinet.

Meanwhile the public are yet to grasp the actual meaning of 'war footing'. Several people believe that the Government is trying to suppress the media for its advantage.

Former Air Force chief Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonetilleke told The Sunday Times that when a country is on a war footing the first step would be to have conscription.

'This could be done islandwide at provincial level. Secondly, all tamashas must come to a stop. It is surprising to note that a musical bash is to take place in the heart of the city where tickets are sold at Rs. 2000. Such events should be stopped' he said.

Air Marshal Goonetilleke added that during World War 2 'war footing' meant that all kinds of celebrations were cancelled or scaled down.

'If the country has been put on a war footing it is a good thing, but the Government should stop importing luxury vehicles for parliamentarians' he said.

Following the Gazette notification, functions too have come to a halt. Several Buddhist organisations were planning events to encourage the government to go for peace talks. However such events have come to a standstill.

Alliance for Peace, the organisation which was pushing the Government to enter into dialogue with the LTTE have had to cancel a peace march scheduled to have taken place in the North.

Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Thera told The Sunday Times that a mass peace march with the participation of more than a thousand clergy from all religions were to go on a peace march to the Wanni.

'We wanted to appeal to the Government and the LTTE to stop the war and come to the negotiating table. Following the peace march we were to have a demonstration in Colombo to bring pressure on the Government' said the thera.

Several religious programs to invoke blessing on the soldiers too have been stopped.

Sinhala groups pledge support for Govt's move

Sinhala organisations which were campaigning against peace talks are welcoming the Government's decision to put the country on a war footing.

They have welcomed the move stating it will be a morale booster for the soldiers.

They claim that they have been agitating for the country to be put on a war footing long before the military experienced a setback.

Secretary of the National Joint Committee (NJC), Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake told The Sunday Times that his organisation will extend every possible support to the government.

'We firmly believe that being on a war footing will boost the morale of the (censored) soldiers in Jaffna. People went for dances paying thousands of rupees and the soldiers were expected to fight the war, but now things have to change' said Dr. Dissanayake.

However he added that the Government's move to impose a severe censorship is not acceptable.

'The conditions laid out for the media will not help the government. It is taking a draconian attitude. At the same time the media too should not criticise the armed forces unnecessarily. The service chiefs act on the directions of the politicians, so the politicians should be criticised' he said.

The NJC has spelled out proposals on how the public can cooperate at a time such as this.

'Civilians can form vigilance committees to be deployed at checkpoints so that the soldiers can be sent to the North. Such committees have to be set up voluntarily. Civilians can also help in transporting soldiers from the airport to the hospital' said Dr. Dissanayake.

The Sinhala Veera Vidana (SVV) states that placing the country on a war footing is commendable, in order to counter the LTTE.

SVV however states that the commitment should be genuine.

'Getting political mileage out of the military efforts should not even be envisaged. The proper foundation should be laid to combat terrorism not only the military front but also in the media, on the international front '

It states that the country must formulate strong defence policies and have a pragmatic foreign policy, with neighbouring countries in particular.

SVV has pointed out that the country should not tolerate 'peace movements' claiming that they affect the morale of the soldiers.

'They are traitors with hidden agendas. It is time to admit that the only force breaking the peace is the LTTE and any peace preachers should be asked to deliver their sermons to the LTTE' said Dr. Dissanayake.

The National Movement Against Terrorism claims that if the country is put on a war footing the movement pledges its fullest support to the Government and the armed forces.

However the organisation states that the sole purpose of being on a war footing should be to defeat the LTTE.

The movement has put forward several proposals to this end:

All festivities must be stopped and a program involving the people in the welfare of the soldiers and their families should be evolved.

The State and private media should be clearly informed and their prime responsibility should be to uplift the morale and fighting spirit of the forces.

A massive security operation to be launched to safeguard the Sinhala and Muslim people in the threatened villages.

MEP pushes for public support

By Nilika de Silva

The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna yesterday launched an islandwide programme to involve the public in the war effort, demonstrating that it hailed the Government's decision to place the country on a war footing.

The awareness program was launched at a public meeting held at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, in which religious ceremonies played a role.

The leader of the MEP, Dinesh Gunawardena called on the people to join in strengthening the armed forces, stating that the party believed the only solution to save the motherland was through completely defeating the terrorists.

Mr. Gunawardena said that he hoped that the Government would continue unceasingly its efforts to save the motherland. He stressed that the public had a duty by the heroic soldiers to do their utmost by giving them the moral support to win the war. Calling upon the people to forget all narrow political differences in view of this national crisis, Mr. Gunawardena said, "It is the duty of the public to maintain calm in these areas".

He said steps should be taken to ensure that normal life is not disrupted. We think it is necessary to get the help of volunteer organisations to support economic enterprises and see that there is normalcy, he said.

He called on religious leaders to visit houses and inform the people of the situation and how they must help in making the war effort successful.

"Priests should make house to house visits and inform the people of what situations they should prepare for, such as electricity and fuel shortages and advise people to be sparing in their use of these resources" he said.

It will be an onerous task to inform the public of the gravity of the problem, he said adding, "This is a decisive moment in time. First, the country, second, political differences."

Mixed views from analysts, tourist trade

Political analysts, the tourist trade and many others had varied views of the current situation. Some were optimistic about the new implementation while others were skeptical of the implications it will have for the country.

Placing a country on a war footing is giving priority to the war, says Dayan Jayatillake, former Provincial Council Minister, adding, the prevention of a terrorist victory and hopefully

While endorsing that the decision is justifiable at a time like this, Mr. Jayatillake felt that public reaction might be different.

"The country is in the worst war situation in history in which everything hangs in the balance. If Prabhakaran wins then the size of the country will shrink and together with it the spirit of the people.

We are going to experience a dramatic change in every sphere, said Mr. Bradman Weerakoon. Since the country has been under the emergency for a long period of time, war footing will mean something more than that.

"The outside world would be alerted, they would get a signal that the country is at war deterring foreigners from coming into the country until the situation eases," Mr. Weerakoon said, speaking on the implications it might have for the country.

Sri Lanka, has all along been known to be a country torn apart by war. And now when the country is on a war footing, people are definitely going to keep away. It will have a detrimental effect on tourism, investments etc., he said.

Vice President of the Tourists Hotels Association (City Hotels) Mr. Shanthi Kumar said that the industry saw a drop in the number of arrivals. The summer booking has also turned out to be low. "They are either being cancelled or there aren't any bookings," he said.

There is a war on in the state of Sri Lanka - time to rally

As the First Assistant to the Secretary for Defence, he was charged with the task of creating the armed forces. He is also a well-known author of four novels relating to heroic Kings of Lanka.

By Colin de Silva

(Formerly of the Ceylon Civil Service)

In November 1996, I visited Sri Lanka for the first time in over 12 years, to launch my new book.

Fighting against the LTTE was raging in the north and east. The LTTE was holding their own with the Jaffna residents giving full support to "our boys" while Tamil residents abroad were rallying to the cause, providing financial support, sometimes under duress for the cause. They were all united in fighting a war to establish Eelam, an example to the rest of the island.

The Sinhala were not at war. Its military forces were fighting battles. Their compatriots paid no more attention to them than if they were mercenaries. Experiencing the terror of frontlines and foxholes, they were being killed, maimed and wounded. Their bereaved families were ignored. The rest of the nation did not seem to care.

Sinhala outside the war zones were leading their lives with no involvement in a war. Mentally, spiritually, emotionally, rich and poor alike were only concerned with their own selfish lives.

Throughout history we Sinhala have never participated in a national war. It was the King's armies that always carried us to victory under heroes like Abhaya, Gamini and Parakramabahu the Great. When the foreigners arrived, the Kandyan peasants united as a nation. They fought relentlessly, while being massacred, their women raped, their homes. livestock and holdings destroyed, gaunt-faced, skeletal starving Kandyan men and women alike held out for over 200 years from jungle and chena with their pitiful weapons. It was an epic saga of a people with the will to retain their freedom, their culture and traditions.

Alas! These noble Kandyans fought alone, with no support from their fellow Sinhala. If only two more Ratemahatmayas had joined Keppitipola, his rebellion would have become a success, because the English Governor, his troops ravaged by a dauntless enemy and deadly disease, was ready to withdraw.

Ironically, in all this time the people who now claim "homelands" never struck a single blow to rid themselves of the foreigner.

Yet the British government rallied the entire country to participate in World War II, though the only military threats to the island were the approach of Admiral Yamamoto's fleet, two air raids and the economic consequences of the naval situation in the Indian Ocean. One man, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke led the people to organize civil defence and food production proving the success of unity in a common cause.

More recently, we have witnessed the sorry spectacle of the Sangha demanding that the war be pursued to the bitter end doubtless of the life of the last Sinhala youth. A photograph in the newspapers showed a bhikku, who should be an apostle of Ahimsa and Maitriya, holding a burning Norwegian flag, outside the Consulate. He was young and able-bodied. Since he had obviously stripped himself of the principles of his vocation, should he not strip himself of his robes too and join the Army, where he can really play the hero?

It is time for the entire Sri Lankan people to rally round the national flag.

We should seek help from abroad, make alliances, try to form an International Brigade, like that of the Spanish Civil War, consisting of people throughout the world who are willing to fight terrorism. The Brigade should be armed and supplied from countries opposed to its evils. We should attempt to bring in mercenaries, like the Gurkhas. Nor should we diminish out efforts to obtain financial aid and war material from friendly nations.

Have we had one single concert on the field for our fighting men and women such as provided by entertainers like Bob Hope? A National Town Guard should be formed to include security reporting of suspected subversive activity.

Internally, the entire nation including every town and village should be harnessed for a war effort through a national campaign, such as occurred during World War II.

And why should conscription not be introduced.

Surely the millions of Sinhala, if concentrated and directed, can defeat a few thousand LTTE cadres.

Do we have no heart for it?

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