Now military bill in firing line
After 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 further.

Even 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.

The 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.

More importantly, 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).

Paradoxical 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.

Cabinet Spokesman, 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.

A successful 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 military.

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.

Whether the 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 year.

The appointment 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 on this.

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.

Last month, 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.

Defence Secretary 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.

Pending legislation, 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.

President Kumaratunga 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.

Besides the 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.

The political 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.

Norway's Deputy 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 Tuesday.

The thrust of the Norwegian facilitation team's talks with LTTE leaders in the Wanni is expected to centre on the agenda for the upcoming Sattahip talks.

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 service.

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 national security.

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 ?

New 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.

There 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.

The news 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.

But there 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.

But the 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.

Gen. Sir 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 and leadership."

His mission 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.

Sri Lanka at present plays a limited role in UN peace keeping. That is with the deployment of a Police contingent in East Timor (Timor Leste).

Although 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 among them.

The UN's 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.

Here are a few questions and answers on UN peacekeeping.

What is the scope of United Nations Peacekeeping?

Since 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.

Today, 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.

Tasks 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.

Who 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.

The Secretary-General 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.

Soldiers 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 matters.

Peacekeeping soldiers wear their own national uniforms. To identify themselves as peacekeepers, they also wear blue berets or helmets and the UN insignia.

How 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 month.

The UN 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.

Who 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.

The small 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.

Is 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 required.

Enforcement 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 directs them.

The international 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.

The United Nations Charter provisions on the maintenance of international peace and security are the basis for both peacekeeping and enforcement action.


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