By Shamindra Ferdinando
Army Chief Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya yesterday said that the deployment of troops in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was very much less than during the conflict.
"There is a substantial reduction of troops stationed in each district following peace time re-deployment," Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said in an exclusive interview with The Island. The ongoing process, the former Security Forces Commander, Vanni, said was in line with the thinking of Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Responding to criticism of an overwhelming military presence in the Northern and Eastern districts three years after the war, the Lt. Gen. emphasized that whatever critics say, those living in the two provinces realized that there was a noticeable decrease in the military presence. "A case in point is the Jaffna peninsula, once the single largest deployment of ground forces in the entire war zone. We have had four Divisions deployed across the peninsula. The 51 and 52 Divisions were deployed on a holding role. The 53 and 55 Divisions were based on the peninsula for offensive purposes. But today, the Jaffna deployment is very much less than during the war."
The Army chief placed the actual strength in the Jaffna peninsula now at less than half of the war time strength.
Those critical of our peace time deployment had conveniently forgotten that troops were now deployed in areas, where there hadn’t been any presence, both east and west of the A 9 Kandy-Jaffna road for decades. The 200,000 army is spread over all administrative districts amidst the ongoing reorganization. "In fact, we are in the process of working out a comprehensive plan for the post-war army. It’ll basically have three key components. There’ll be a fighting element, support services/logistics and a nation building component," Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said.
"There’ll be many changes. The Task Force VIII involved in the Vanni battle has been converted to 12 Division, now deployed in the Hambantota district," he said.
"The army will continue to maintain 200,000 personnel to meet the country’s security needs. In spite of peace, Sri Lanka’s security needs should be met. It’ll be a grave mistake on our part to lower defences," the Army Commander said.
Commenting on the deployment on the Vanni front, the Lt. Gen. said that at the height of the humanitarian mission, there were five Divisions (53 and 55, which moved southwards across Elephant Pass) and (57, 58 and 59). And there were three Task Forces (TF 3, TF 4 and TF 8). Now, that peace has returned, all these fighting formations had to be reorganized to meet future requirements, he said.
Asked whether the army would respond to war crimes allegations in the wake of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passing a resolution targeting Sri Lanka, the Lt. Gen. said that a Court of Inquiry headed by a Maj. Gen. was in the process of investigating the accusations. Although various people had accused the army of atrocities, they hadn’t come forward with required information to assist the ongoing inquiry, he said.
The Army Chief said that those accusing the army of accountability issues had turned a blind eye to those who gave themselves up to advancing troops on the Vanni east front in 2009 were leading normal lives today. The vast majority of internally displaced persons, too, have gone back to their villages.
The Lt. Gen. said that following the presentation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report in Parliament, army headquarters appointed a board of inquiry to develop a new doctrine in case of a future conflict. "I have received the board’s recommendations. We are going into them. We have already converted the Directorate of Additional Welfare to the Directorate of Veteran Affairs."