SRI LANKA: Opposition demands dismantling of war time security measures 

Basil Fernando



Nearly five months have passed since the government claimed complete victory over terrorism by the defeat of the LTTE. And at the same time, it was claimed that peace had arrived. However, throughout the country the presence of the security forces and the operation of the security system go on in the same manner as before. This week the opposition demanded that the government security is brought to the level of peace time security and an end to the ¡¥war time¡¦ measures.


The opposition complained that the road blocks in Colombo itself continue to be maintained in the same manner as before the victory. In fact, one of the opposition leaders claimed that things have even become worse. The opposition further said that huge numbers of security forces are given to the president and those who are close to him. The security of the head of the state and others involved in important matters is always a matter of priority, the opposition said. However, it claimed that ¡¥war time¡¦ security measures justified by massive threats by suicide bombers of the LTTE are no longer justified. It claimed that one of the secretaries to a ministry takes with him 200 security officers, not for security reasons but to boost his image.


There are complaints everywhere that whenever the president¡¦s vehicle and others like that of the Secretary of Defense passes by, the people have to move away from the immediate area and turn their backs to the road (in ancient China and during the times of monarchies in several countries this practice was also followed). Often security personnel in the area chase these people even into private compounds and prevent any form of movement. Often at public functions the people who attend have to remain in a fixed location until the ceremony is over, however long it may take. In addition to the security people the goon squads employed by some ministers are also brought to these functions to ensure that people are not allowed to move.


The opposition claimed that Sri Lanka has the largest number of bullet proof vehicles in Asia and that five more such vehicles have been ordered. When VIPs of the special presidential clique travel they are accompanied by large numbers of vehicles carrying security personnel in their entourage. The opposition demanded a peace time protocol to be introduced for the use of such vehicles. Prior to the time of the conflict Sri Lanka had such protocols for the use of vehicles and security for the head of state, ministers and some others. With suitable rearrangements such peace time protocols, as rightly demanded by the opposition, need to be introduced.


During the time of the conflict security personnel in civilian clothes were introduced into all places. Their job was to perform a surveillance function regarding possible suicide bombers and other security threats. However, even now, large numbers of security officers are tirelessly recruited and are present almost everywhere. Instead of being on the alert for possible terrorists they now perform a surveillance function against ordinary civilians. The spread of such a security wing is to create a fear psychosis among the people, particularly those who are engaged in opposition politics. Such surveillance creates suspicion in the population and helps to develop a mindset where the people distrust each other. This kind of security presence adversely affects the community spirit.


The spread of the security apparatus helps to maintain a conflict time mentality, even in peace time. Why should such a tense mentality be maintained any longer? The only reason is to utilise this security apparatus in order to boost the party political strength and power of the ruling regime. Political leaders traveling with a huge entourage and security vehicles creates images of some kind of supermen with extraordinary powers. That kind of image building does not manifest a democratic spirit but smells of authoritarianism.


The worst impact of such a security presence is felt by the children. This ¡¥war time¡¦ like image creates lasting impressions of fear among the children. They also grow up without any experience of a peacetime mentality. For teachers and adults who want to impart a democratic spirit and one of friendly and easy community relationships, this kind of military and security presence makes it impossible for them to practically demonstrate what they are trying to teach.


It is obvious that the claims of a return to peace under the present circumstances will sound hollow as long as this kind of security presence remains. There are also a quarter of a million people living in IDP camps and their conditions and treatment have been criticized once again by the United Nations. The government has reportedly said that it accepts most of such criticism. However, the sincerity of such acceptance can only be judged by practical actions to give freedom of movement to these persons who suffer the worst conditions of life in the country. Their presence in camps does not help to give credibility to any claim that the government is trying to return to a peace time.


The anti terrorism laws are being maintained in the same way as during the ¡¥war time.¡¦ None of the actions needed to return to a peace time can take place until the normal laws of the country are revived and the Prevention of Terrorism Act is repealed. It is an absurdity to claim a return to peace time while the people are ruled by the draconian laws of the PTA and other emergency laws.


Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-056-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,