The Defence Column

31 March 1996

Army indiscipline can prolong war

By Our Defence Correspondent

In the war-weary armies of the world there are days when discipline takes a holiday. When common sense and moral values take a backseat, a few battle scarred men, overcome by insanity, go on rampage. Their anger and frustration is often aimed at helpless civilians.

The recent massacre in Killiveddy highlights the sporadic incident which always leaves an agonizing scar on the victims. Long after the wounds are healed, the mental scars will continue to haunt these men, women and children - most of them simply want no part in this brutal war.

There's no denial that these inhumane incidents are indeed sporadic and far apart as stated by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) - UTHR. But the damage caused to the country and the very cause of the war, including the government's objectives, is permanent and destructive.

Every sporadic incident is invariably documented by the MP of the area concerned and reported to the Ministry of Defence. The UTHR (Jaffna) alleges that nothing is known to have been done except for the mere acknowledgement of the complaint.

Incidents like the Killiveddy massacre brings into sharp focus the bad elements in the armed forces, but the sporadic incidents of a lesser scale often go unheard. Such occasional incidents in a locality, followed by long periods of calm, is bound to inspire complacency, the UTHR (Jaffna) states. The shocking reality is that it may even encourage further indiscipline among a few in the forces.

The inaction of the Defence Ministry in the face of human rights allegations will prove decisively disastrous against national interests. The Eelam war is fought on two pedestals simultaneously with paramount importance shed on winning the hearts of the on one land while crushing the LTTE on the other.

By and large the troops in operational areas have been doing a commendable job under pressure to divert the minds of the people in their favour.

Civilians who fled the Jaffna city, or more rightly, forced to flee, are now eager to return to areas under the control of the government forces.

Indeed, a crushing verdict that the civilians have had it with the LTTE.

The mass human suffering in the LTTE-held areas, especially in the Wanni where a persistent drought has created havoc, barely makes the headlines in Colombo. But the ground situation is that the hapless civilians may revolt against the LTTE in a bid to escape back to Jaffna, where the government troops anticipate their arrival.

But then the dark clouds of uncertainty still loom large, paling the victories into insignificance. The news of the sporadic incidents scare the guts out of these brave civilians. The problem is greater in the Eastern province.

A new re-deployment campaign saw the Army's balance of power shifting from the East to the Northern theatre of war. A large number of troops was removed from the Eastern border villages creating a vacuum which was generously filled by the LTTE.

With the evacuation of the troops, people in these outlying areas too fled to areas controlled by the Army. Making use of a thin military presence, the LTTE cadres now move freely in populated areas.

The tactical change has made the Army feel insecure and suspicious at the slightest thing in the East, and quite rightly so. But there's still no excuse for indiscriminate violence. True, frustration can have a devastating effect among young soldiers who suffer from battle fatigue. But the establishment must make sure that discipline takes no holidays under extreme circumstances.

The key question that needs to be asked is why no action is being taken. The UTHR (Jaffna) challenges as to why these bad elements are allowed to walk freely. Punishing a few of those in the lower ranks, or more accurately. getting them out of public view, does nothing to change matters, the academics argue.

There are accusations that the Army turns a blind eye to the sporadic incidents and some attempt to protect senior officers accused of encouraging unruly behaviour. Most soldiers fighting for their country want no part in such atrocities and only expect that the civilians would help them to crush the LTTE.

The sporadic incidents can prolong the war.

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