military bill in firing line
just ten months in office, the first major "politico-military"
thrust of the United National Front Government has misfired, much
to the embarrassment of its leaders.
If it became
increasingly clear over the past weeks that the number of People's
Alliance MPs required to support a UNF move to pass the 19th Amendment
to the Constitution in Parliament was not there, the Supreme Court
determination, made public early this week, compounded the situation
before the Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL 506 non stop from
London, an Airbus 340, touched down at the Bandaranaike International
Airport, passengers were told they should remain seated until
directed to disembark. After the aircraft taxied to a halt
and cabin doors swung open, an Immigration official carrying
a seal and a stamping pad, boarded the Business Class section.
He stamped the passports of Dr. Anton Balasingham, LTTE Chief
Negotiator and his wife Adele Anne, thus allowing them entry
into Sri Lanka. Moments later, Dr. Balasingham and his wife
alighted, walked a few yards and boarded a gleaming black
Bell 412 helicopter, one from the Sri Lanka Air Force VIP
fleet. An hour later, they landed in Puthukudiyiruppu. On
hand to receive Dr. Balasingham and his wife were Soosai 'Commander'
of Sea Tigers (left) and Nadesan, (right) head of 'Tamil Eelam
Police', both in striped camouflage dress. Note the SLAF VIP
helicopter on the left.
Court held that amendments to enable President to dissolve Parliament
only after three years could be passed with a two-thirds majority.
However, it has ruled thatother provisions to strip her of arbitrary
powers of dissolution of Parliament required both a two-thirds majority
and a referendum.
the Court held that provisions relating to a "conscience vote"
wereillegal. In other words, PA Parliamentarians who backed the
UNF amendments will not have any immunity or protection. They will
be liable for punishment for violating their own Party Whip.
This in effect
means President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga still retains
the constitutional power to dissolve the current Parliament after
the next six weeks and five days (or after December 5).
enough, the UNF, which sought the constitutional changes solely
to stall dissolution, wants exactly that now. And that is exactly
what President Kumaratunga says she will not do in keeping with
the undertaking she has given to Speaker Joseph Michael Perera to
assuage UNF concerns, expressed earlier, that she may dissolve Parliament.
Prof. G.L. Peiris, underscored the growing predicament of the UNF.
If not the principal, one of the main architects of the latest constitutional
changes, declared the Government will opt for a General Election
and warned of cuts in funds for the Presidency in next month's budget.
Other UNF sources say his remarks do not reflect the views of the
leadership. UNF leaders were locked in crisis sessions to find a
way out of the embarrassing political imbroglio, which is sure to
remain the focus of public and media attention in the coming weeks.
If the political
strategy of the UNF was to strip President Kumaratunga's powers
in respect of dissolution of Parliament after its first year of
existence, due to follow in its wake were defence reforms. Such
changes, which also necessitated constitutional amendments, would
have drastically pruned her powers as Commander-in-Chief.
completion of the "politico-military" strategy would have
led to a powerful, largely one party Government with an equally
or more powerful military machine at its disposal - twin factors
that would have heralded the beginning of a significant new chapter
in the country's post independent history. The fact that two thirds
majority, not to mention a referendum, is not available despite
the confident boasts of many a UNF leader, has laid matters to rest.
That is not to say it has ended there. A new controversy is in the
making in respect of defence reforms or efforts to politically control
The UNF Government
wants to go ahead with these reforms by giving effect to changes
that it considers may not require constitutional amendments. The
Legal Draftsman's Department has been asked to prepare legislation
on a priority basis for this purpose.
The main thrust
of these changes, The Sunday Times learnt, was to
give legal effect to a joint security forces mechanism based on
the lines of the system in the United States. This is by the creation
of a Joint Chief of Staff Committee (or Council) chaired by the
Minister of Defence and comprising Secretary to the Ministry of
Defence, the Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Committee, Service
Chiefs and Head of National Intelligence. The Secretary to the Ministry
of Interior and the Inspector General of Police are to be invited
if and when required.
Government's efforts to have legislation passed before next month's
budget will materialise is not clear. Moreover, such legislation
may also be challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds that
it seeks to divest power from the President who is Commander-in-Chief
and would therefore require constitutional changes. In any event,
the budget debate is likely to extend to early December and the
latest Parliament can debate the proposed legislation would be next
of a Joint Chief of Staff by the Minister of Defence and the creation
of a Joint Chief of Staff Committee were among recommendations made
by the three-member Committee on Defence Reforms appointed by Defence
Minister, Tilak Marapana. (Situation
Report - September 29).
The first report
of the Committee on Higher Defence Control has already been approved
by the Cabinet. The draft legislation now being formulated is based
Whilst the Government
has concluded its decision to establish a Joint Chiefs of Staff
Committee (or Council), paradoxically the Service Commanders and
selected others have been told to still study and forward their
observations on matters relating to Higher Defence Control. This
confirms that the decision to set up the JCSC was made without a
broad based consultation that included the defence establishment.
despite opposition from at least one member, a copy of the first
report on the Committee on Defence Reforms was handed over to retired
British General Sir Michael Rose, who has been commissioned by the
Government to formulate a report on training and finding placements
for soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army in UN peace keeping assignments.
See box story on this page.
Gen. Sir Michael,
who is due in Colombo on Thursday with his report, is also to forward
his own observations on the recommendations of the Committee.
This is whilst
there is widespread criticism that a broader section of the public,
including several senior Sri Lankan retired military officers and
those in service were not consulted by the Committee. In other words,
two civilians and a retired serviceman have made the recommendations.
Last week, a former Army Commander, a General Officer Commanding
(GOC) the then Joint Operations Command (JOC) and Defence Secretary,
Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe, complained that he was asked to testify
before only one member of the Committee but he refused. There were
many others who complained there was no transparency and the sittings
for the first report was rushed for inexplicable reasons.
Austin Fernando, who has come under strong criticism for some of
his recent colossal official blunders, is the Chairman of the Committee
that comprises Treasury Secretary, Charitha Ratwatte and retired
Lt. Gen. Denis Perera, a former Army Commander. At the invitation
of Defence Minister Marapana, retired Major General Asoka Jayawardena,
Governor of the North-East Province has now been made a member.
The Committee is now continuing its second phase of the report.
the Government has been making efforts to persuade President Kumaratunga
to temporarily appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)- a post that
has remained vacant for the past four and half months since the
departure of Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte. The Government created
international military history by calling upon Defence Secretary
Fernando, a civilian, to overlook the work of CDS, a position with
operational responsibility, which naturally should always have been
held by a service officer.
Whilst he has
no military knowledge, leave alone operational understanding, Mr.
Fernando now chairs a weekly meeting of service chiefs and senior
intelligence officers at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH).
The fact that he was tasked with the operational conduct of the
country's military machine, to say the least, reflected the Government's
total lack of concern for the working of the security establishment.
And now, Defence
Minister Marapana, The Sunday Times learnt, is to
write to President Kumaratunga, requesting her to appoint Lt. Gen.
Lionel Balagalle as acting Chief of Defence Staff and thus relieve
Defence Secretary Fernando. The move is more intended to create
a vacancy in the post of Commander of the Army to facilitate the
appointment of Maj. Gen. Lohan Gunawardena, Chief of Staff, to that
post rather than the Government's concern to fill the appointment
of CDS. Otherwise, he will have to retire on December 4. In other
words, it is to kick the Army Commander upstairs.
On the other
hand, a June 1 appointment of Lt. Gen. Balagalle as acting Chief
of Defence Staff (until his September 30 retirement) and a subsequent
confirmation in that post, would have saved all the embarrassment
for the Government. The fact that it was not done in itself reflected
the lack of attention or concern. Another case that illustrates
the point clearly is the continuing non-approval by the Ministry
of Defence of Army posting orders for nearly two months now. These
orders, issued periodically, list the attachment of senior officers
to various positions. As a result, some senior officers are left
to idle. According to one source, Defence Secretary Austin Fernando,
had said the matter was held up with Defence Minister Marapana and
hence he is helpless.
extended the term of office of Lt. Gen. Balagalle, who was due to
retire on September 30, this year, until December 31, next year.
She has also extended the term of office of the Commander of the
Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, who was due to retire on September
1, this year, by three years. The Sunday Times learnt
President Kumaratunga has made clear she would make no changes on
these appointments. Hence, it is extremely unlikely she would heed
Mr. Marapana's request when it reaches her. One source said she
may decline to appoint an acting CDS.
Such an event
may compel the Government to recommend extended terms for Maj. Gen.
Gunawardena and four or five other senior officers. Whether the
move will receive Presidential approval remains the crucial question.
The issue is thorny because Defence Minister Marapana refused to
heed a request from President Kumaratunga, early this year, to extend
the term of then Chief of Staff of the Army, Maj. Gen. Neil Dias.
Maj. Gen. Dias,
was groomed by the People's Alliance to become Army Commander. But
he retired on April 12, this year. The refusal of the extension
by Mr. Marapana was on the grounds that it was UNF policy not to
grant extensions to those who have reached their mandatory period
of retirement. If President Kumaratunga now uses Mr. Marapana's
own argument, extended terms are unlikely. Important enough, President
Kumaratunga has not granted extended terms to senior officers since
then. A case in point was the extension of service of a senior Air
Force officer in the veterinary department who had reached his age
of retirement. It was turned down.
three-member Committee of Inquiry, the Government is also receiving
assistance from the United States Government on a variety of matters
relating to defence. This week, a team from the United States held
a five-day seminar on Defence Planning at the Ministry of Defence,
a prelude to the formulation of new defence and security related
concepts. Top Sri Lankan military and defence officials spoke at
the seminar on matters relating to their respective fields of activity.
If there is
a significant growth in US assistance in defence and security matters,
there is also increasing awareness in the US defence establishments
about these issues. So much so, the prestigious US Government backed
Asia Pacific Institute of Strategic Studies (APCSS) has invited
Milinda Moragoda, Minister for Economic Reform, Science and Technology
and a key player in the peace process to make the keynote address
at a seminar on Asia Pacific - a region of transitions. It is being
held in Honolulu, Hawaii from November 5 to 7. The headquarters
of the US Pacific Command, which covers the Asian region including
Sri Lanka, is also located in Hawaii.
and military controversies for the Government come at a crucial
time, with just nine days to go for the second round of peace talks
at the high security Sattahip Naval base in Thailand. Tiger guerrilla
chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, who arrived in the Wanni on
Tuesday is now holding discussions with his leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen and Erik Solheim, who will arrive
in Colombo today are due to leave for the Wanni tomorrow. Accompanying
them will be Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Jon Westborg, Minister
Counsellor in the Norwegian Embassy, Mr. Brattaskar, Advisor Golden
and Second Secretary, Tomas Stangeland. The five-member team are
due to fly to Jaffna and travel by road thereafter to Wanni. The
team's meeting with Mr. Prabhakaran is expected to take place on
of the Norwegian facilitation team's talks with LTTE leaders in
the Wanni is expected to centre on the agenda for the upcoming Sattahip
In the backdrop
of the upcoming talks, and Government moves to downsize the Army
and find placements for them in UN peacekeeping missions, a new
drive to recruit 5,000 more soldiers to the Army has got under way.
It began on October 16 and will end on November 16. Until yesterday,
Army recruiters say they have enlisted 109 persons.
In a bid to
attract more youth, the Army has said that applicants who possess
two passes in GCE (ordinary level) would be eligible for a promotion
to the rank of Lance Corporal after the completion of one year's
All the tinkering
with the military establishment indicates that the Government is
more concerned with playing a political game rather than re-organising
the effectiveness of the military. That this is the attitude that
prevails indicates a gross negligence of the Government in maintaining
This is compounded
by the fact that a peace settlement with Tiger guerrillas has not
yet been reached. Much more than that, the guerrillas, as the military
says, are not only recruiting, re-training and re-arming. They are
also replenishing their military supplies with very large stocks
being smuggled in. That is continuing despite many warnings given
to relevant authorities, they point out. Don't they wish to know
or are the warnings falling on deaf ears ?
role for armed services?
Sri Lankan workers abroad and apparel exports have in recent
years displaced tea as the nation's single largest source
of foreign exchange.
may be a new competitor in the years to come if an ambitious
plan of the United National Front (UNF) Government succeeds.
The "commodity" that may become a top foreign exchange
earner are the nation's soldiers, now taking a break after
the 19 year long separatist war with Tiger guerrillas. They
are to serve as United Nations peacekeepers in trouble spots
around the world.
may come as relief for those who worried about the billions
of rupees, some spent on the war, and the rest as commissions
that made millionaires of men in uniform and outside it. A
consolation for them, perhaps, is the fact that they will
earn, in foreign exchange, at least some of the losses incurred.
are others, in the defence establishment, many of them discerning
who say the Government move is like the proverbial placing
the cart before the horse. They say a peace deal with Tiger
guerrillas is not yet in place. There is only a ceasefire.
Though the concept is good, the haste, both to downsize the
military and find placements for soldiers in UN peace keeping
missions, before any formal peace agreement is arrived at,
is both short-sighted and inimical to national security interests,
they point out.
UNF Government is going ahead. Arriving in Colombo on Thursday
(October 24) armed with a report on how to train and secure
placements for Sri Lankan soldiers with the UN is retired
British General Sir Michael Rose. During a week long visit
to Colombo last month, he met UNF and military leaders and
visited security establishments to make a personal assessment.
He is now ready with the report.
Michael, a highly decorated soldier, among other things, headed
the 22nd SAS (Special Air Services) Regiment and served a
year (from 1994 to 1995) as Commander of the UN Protection
Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia. He later authored a book titled
"Fighting For Peace - Lessons from Bosnia." Personally
autographed copies of his book were handed over to senior
defence and military officials during his last visit. As a
biographical note in the book explains, Gen. Sir Michael is
now "writing and lecturing around the world on peacekeeping
to Sri Lanka is the result of a personal initiative by Prime
Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Co-ordinating the exercise
is retired General Cyril Ranatunga, who has served as General
Officer Commanding (GOC) of the former Joint Operations Command
(JOC), a unified apparatus of the security forces and police
that conducted counter terrorist operations during the United
National Party Government.
at present plays a limited role in UN peace keeping. That
is with the deployment of a Police contingent in East Timor
a country can offer any number of troops, the UN will pick
what it needs. If Sri Lanka is to volunteer soldiers for peacekeeping
operations, it will have to compete with India, Bangladesh
and Nepal. Given the lucrative terms, opportunities are guarded
with extreme jealousy and competition is intense. When large
contingents of soldiers are committed, in addition to them,
a whole range of complementary business opportunities open
up for troop contributors, particularly with regard to supplying
camp equipment, food, water, transport and technical support
role with regard to future peacekeeping operations is dependent
upon the attitudes of the Security Council that has to approve
them. Without assured funding, an operation cannot go ahead.
are a few questions and answers on UN peacekeeping.
is the scope of United Nations Peacekeeping?
1948, there have been over 54 United Nations peacekeeping
operations. The Security Council has created forty-one of
those operations in the last 12 years.
peacekeeping is increasingly applied to intra-State conflicts
and civil wars. In recent years, peacekeeping tasks have become
more varied and complex and, although military personnel remain
the backbone of most peacekeeping operations, proportionately
a large number of civilians work alongside the military personnel.
range from keeping hostile parties peacefully apart to helping
them work peacefully together. This means helping implement
peace agreements, monitor ceasefires, create buffer zones,
and, increasingly, creating political institutions, working
alongside governments, non-governmental organisations and
local citizens' groups to provide emergency relief, demobilise
former fighters and reintegrate them into society, clear mines,
organise and conduct elections and promote sustainable development.
is in charge?
Although peacekeeping is not specifically mentioned in
the United Nations Charter, the Charter gives the Security
Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international
peace and security.
directs and manages UN peacekeeping operations and reports
to the Security Council on a mission's progress. Through the
Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Secretary-General
formulates policies and procedures and makes recommendations
on the establishment of new missions and on the functioning
of ongoing missions.
on UN peacekeeping missions do not swear allegiance to the
United Nations. Governments that volunteer military and civilian
police personnel carefully negotiate the terms of their participation.
They retain ultimate authority over their own military forces
serving under the UN flag, including disciplinary and personnel
soldiers wear their own national uniforms. To identify themselves
as peacekeepers, they also wear blue berets or helmets and
the UN insignia.
are peacekeepers compensated?
Their own Governments according to their own national rank
and salary scale pay peacekeeping soldiers. Countries volunteering
uniformed personnel to peacekeeping operations are reimbursed
by the UN at a flat rate of about $ 1,000 per soldier per
also reimburses countries for equipment. But reimbursements
to these countries are often deferred because of cash shortages
caused by Member States failure to pay their dues.
contributes personnel and equipment?
All Member States share the risk of maintaining peace
and security. Since 1948, 123 nations have contributed military
and civilian police personnel at various times.
island nation of Fiji has taken part in virtually every UN
peacekeeping operations, as has Canada. States, which are
not Members of the United Nations, also contribute. Switzerland,
for example, provides money, medical units, aircraft and other
equipment to peacekeeping.
enforcement action the same as peacekeeping?
The two should not be confused.
UN peacekeeping has traditionally relied on the consent of
opposing parties and involves the deployment of peacekeepers
to implement an agreement approved by those parties. In the
case of enforcement action, the Security Council gives Member
States the authority to take all necessary measures to achieve
a stated objective. Consent of the parties is not necessarily
action has been used in very few cases. Examples include the
Gulf war, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Albania and East Timor. These enforcement operations are not
under UN control. Instead a single country or a group of countries
force authorised by the Security Council for East Timor in
1999, for example, was led by Australia and consisted of troops
from 22 Member States. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a NATO-led
multi-national force succeeded the UN peacekeeping operation
in 1995. And in Kazoo, the Council authorised an international
security presence in June 1999; that presence is led by NATO
and works alongside the United Nations Interim Administration
Mission in Kazoo, a UN peacekeeping operation.
Nations Charter provisions on the maintenance of international
peace and security are the basis for both peacekeeping and