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Sri Lanka Crushing of the Tigers, A Lesson for Noynoy Aquino III?

by Alliance-Philippines (AJLPP) Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010 at 6:25 PM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

If the Aquino administration is to deliver on its promise to crush the decades-long insurgencies in the Philippines by 2013, it might be worthwhile to study Sri Lanka’s success in defeating terrorism. On July 3, newly appointed military Chief of Staff Ricardo David Jr. said the Aquino government hopes to crush the communist New People’s Army and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front by 2013. Three years may appear overly ambitious given the experience of former President Gloria Arroyo in 2006, when her government vowed—but failed—to end the twin insurgencies before her term ended on June 30.

Sri Lanka Crushing o...
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July 14, 2010

Sri Lanka Crushing of the Tigers, A Lesson for Noynoy Aquino III?

Los Angeles --If the Aquino administration is to deliver on its promise to crush the decades-long insurgencies in the Philippines by 2013, it might be worthwhile to study Sri Lanka’s success in defeating terrorism.

On July 3, newly appointed military Chief of Staff Ricardo David Jr. said the Aquino government hopes to crush the communist New People’s Army and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front by 2013.

Three years may appear overly ambitious given the experience of former President Gloria Arroyo in 2006, when her government vowed—but failed—to end the twin insurgencies before her term ended on June 30.

Copying Sri Lanka's Lesson?

In an exclusive interview in his Colombo office at Temple Trees, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa told The Manila Times how he ended 30 years of fighting against fierce and well-armed separatists in just three years.

He said that he would like the world to perceive Sri Lanka as “a country that had defeated terrorism.” And having realized peace and stability, the country was “looking forward to a developed and better country.”

So how did President Rajapaksa do it? His formula for success may sound like common sense rather than a secret—treat the military well, don’t allow foreign forces to fight local battles, win the support of the people, and most important of all, be decisive.

Use Peace Talks to Build Up Forces for Attack

First,try peace talks. When Rajapaksa was first elected president in 2005, Sri Lanka was struggling to maintain a shaky ceasefire with the separatist Tigers, which controlled the northern and eastern parts of the island nation.

The Tigers were branded as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including India, the US, Canada and members of the European Union. The group was notorious for carrying out assassinations, which included fellow Tamils and even India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The Tigers were also well armed, and even had its own navy called the Sea Tigers and an air wing, the Air Tigers.

Rajapaksa’s successful military campaign against the Tigers did not begin with an offensive, however.

He tried but failed three times to bring the Tigers to the negotiating table, even declaring that he was willing “to walk the extra mile” to talk peace in their controlled territory, the President said.

After the build Up, Go on the Offensive

But in mid-2006, when the Tigers closed the sluice gates at a reservoir in eastern Sri Lanka and cut off water supply to some 15,000 villages in government-controlled areas, Rajapaksa seized the opportunity to deploy soldiers.

After successfully entering the rebel-held area in the east, the soldiers held their ground despite retaliatory attacks by the Tigers. From there, the military continued its campaign.

The people in the strife-torn areas were “starved” for development, which could not take hold because there was no peace, President Rajapaksa said. In fact, the locals themselves wanted government troops to remain in the rebel-held territories because they feared the Tigers, he added.

“People were suffering,” he said. “There was no development at all.”

His government eventually withdrew from the negotiating table in 2008, much to the dismay of donor countries, including the US, Canada and Norway.“One thing is certain,” he told The Times. “There are people you can negotiate and get nowhere.”

Treat the military well

When Rajapaksa came to power, it was apparent that Sri Lanka’s Army was also going nowhere.“The morale of the [armed] forces was weak,” the president said of the military then.

Many soldiers did not have weapons, and those that did had no bullets. Many also did not even have combat boots, he added. He appointed his brother—retired Army Lt. Col. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa—as Defense secretary. The brother remains in that post today and is among those credited with the Sri Lanka’s victory over the Tigers.

Not only did government properly arm and take care of the soldiers, President Rajapaksa said that they also took care of the families of those killed in action, even giving them the slain soldiers’ salaries.

He was also particularly proud of Sri Lanka’s Navy. “We built [up] the Navy,” he told The Times. “We used those small boats concept.”

Initially, the government also had problems recruiting soldiers, but the president said that when he allowed one of his sons to join the Navy, all of a sudden other Colombo boys also enlisted.

Fight your own battles

President Rajapaksa said that he also took lessons from the history of Sri Lanka, which like the Philippines has a colonial past. The Portugese colonized the island state in the 15th century, followed by the Dutch in the 17th, and finally by the British in the early 18th.

The president said that he was particular about using Sri Lankan troops in the campaign against terrorists. The country, meanwhile, received humanitarian assistance from abroad and bought weapons from foreign countries, including China.

Using local state forces gave government a psychological advantage, the president explained. If they had allowed foreign soldiers to fight in Sri Lanka, “the people will think that they have come to invade the country,” he explained.

“That feeling is there,” he said. “It happened in Sri Lanka. It is happening in Afghanistan. It happened in Iraq.” “They are our people, the terrorists,” Rajapaksa added. “They are not outsiders. We don’t want to kill all these people. You can’t. What you want to do is change them.”

Conduct a good propaganda program.

President Rajapaksa said that they air-dropped leaflets that contained messages urging the rebels to lay down their arms, and they even distributed small radios so that people and the terrorists could tap into government broadcasts.

He added that as soon as the government had controlled the eastern part of Sri Lanka, they held local elections—despite pressure from the international community not to rush into it.

Also, the president said that they launched on a massive development program, building infrastructure.

This was conducted as the military campaign shifted to the rebel-controlled north. When people in the north saw what the government was doing in the east, the troops had an easier time winning over the locals there.

Collateral Damage

But no body can deny it that there were a lot 0f human rights abuses. As in any conflict, the fight against terrorism in Sri Lanka was not without collateral damage. The final stages of the conflict left as many as 300,000 Sri Lankans displaced, according to

Recently, the European Union had pressed Rajapaksa’s government to address allegations of human rights violations. And on July 16, United Nations (un) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created an expert panel to investigate the alleged abuses.

The following day, Sri Lankans led by a government minister protested in front of the UN office in Colombo—forcing them to shut down.Also on Tuesday, President Rajapaksa told The Times, “I’m not worried because we have nothing to hide. I have nothing to hide.”

He stressed that the military was instructed not to harm civilians, but the problem was that it was not always easy to identify terrorists, who mixed in with civilians and posed as noncombatants.

onseka, who was the Army commander in the campaign against the Tigers, lost in the recently concluded elections against Rajapaksa, who won nearly 58 percent of the votes. The general had a falling out with the president and had filed an election protest charging that Rajapaksa had cheated.

Fonseka is awaiting trial for allegedly organizing a coup. Government officials, who refused to be named, told The Times that they were also looking at alleged anomalies regarding arms sales to the Sri Lankan military during Fonseka’s tenure.


He also told The Times that some 4,000 former Tigers were undergoing “rehabilitation” in addition to another 4,000 who had completed that program, which includes teaching them livelihood skills.

He stressed, however, that participating in the rehabilitation program did not exempt the former terrorists from criminal liabilities.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s economy seems to be humming a year after the Tigers’ defeat. He added that the he wanted to accelerate development in the former territories of the Tigers, making the quality of life in those depressed areas at par with the rest of the country.

“That era is now over, no more,” the secretary said in a speech at the economic summit in Colombo last week.“Sri Lanka is poised to exploit its latent strengths,” he added.

And like President Benigno Aquino 3rd in his inaugural address, President Rajapaksa said that the people were his main concern in plotting the Sri Lanka’s future.

“What I want is to develop the country and make people happy,” he told The Times. He also said that he would like to be remembered as a “man who loved the people and the country.”

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