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Weliweriya and the Challenge of Demilitarizing the North

Weliweriya and the Challenge of Demilitarizing the North

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Published by Thavam Ratna

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Published by: Thavam Ratna on Aug 06, 2013
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08/06/2013

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5 Aug, 2013Photo courtesy   Ada Derana
Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake, a former military spokesman anddecorated combat officer, assumed duties on the 1st of August 2013 as the20th commander of the Sri Lanka Army. No former commander ever assumed dutiesunder more inauspicious circumstances for barely had the ceremonial takeover of command concluded than straightaway came reports that the Sri Lanka Army hadclashed with unarmed protesters in Weliveriya in the Gampaha District, with scoresinjured and several dead.The new commander has ordered an Army inquiry into the incident andnotwithstanding the same, since civilians are dead, with emergency regulations nolonger in force, a magisterial inquiry must also be held into the deaths of theindividuals concerned. Awaiting the pending results of the inquiry and at least the magisterial inquiry reportmust be made public to show justice being manifestly done; the following are somecrucial aspects and facts which require the attention of the Army and Magisterial
 
inquiries as well as the attention of the Rajapakse Administration.
 A comprehensive defense review is required
 Any country following the conclusion of a long drawn out war, would take stock of itspost war situation, its post war national security challenges and assess its needs andrequired resources. Sri Lanka has not really done anything like that and just continued with the huge military machine built up to fight the Tigers, long after they are no morein Sri Lanka. Consequently we have a larger defense budget in peace time than in wartime and the utilization of the military in everything from the most benign urbandevelopment projects to the potentially more potentially deadly crowd control as Weliweriya demonstrated. A comprehensive defense review in Sri Lanka is requiredand the Rajapakse Administration should engage in such an exercise.
Should the military be deployed against unarmed civilians?
The United States military has a policy of never deploying its forces for armed action within the United States in situations where the military would be expected to combat American civilians. Specially trained police and the equivalent of our special task force(STF) are available for deployment against even heavily armed civilians, but essentially civilians are managed and controlled by a civilian force rather than the military, analmost essential feature of a democratic and free society. The rationale behind thispolicy is rather simple. Militaries and military personal are not trained to either useminimum force or deal with apprehending or neutralizing opponents, be they unarmed, lightly armed or even heavily armed, as police forces are trained. Military personnel are trained to defend against or attack and destroy armed actors engaged in waging war, whether such war is conventional, jungle guerilla type or urban terroristic.By no stretch of the imagination were the Weliweriya crowds, any of these. With theemergency laws no longer in effect the legal basis for the military deployment was alsodubious.
The rules of engagement of the military and respect for the media
Now the military spokesman in his initial response was to claim that the police hadrequested Army assistance for a situation which it could not control or contain. This isin itself surprising, because one presumes the police should have requested its riotsquad and not a military contingent of almost brigade strength headed by an infantry  brigadier. However there are key rules of engagement which the inquiry shouldexplore, such as at what point and how long after using tear gas was lethal or deadly force used and why? Namely why did the Army fire live ammunition at crowds that were clearly running away. Generally the objective of crowd and riot control is todisperse. So when crowds were dispersing why was deadly force used. Numerousdocumented eye witness accounts state that when fleeing protestors took refuge in thenearby Catholic church, any place of religious worship a historic and time honoredplace of refuge and safety. Yet, like in the Ratnayake Free Trade Zone protest, wherethe protestors who fled into the factories where followed into the private premises forretribution with deadly force rather than apprehension, the military by numerous eye witness accounts, followed the villages into the church, forced them to kneel down andthen split open skulls and caused grievous hurt with rifle butts. There have been someallegations by security authorities that homemade explosives similar to Molotov cocktails were used by the protestors. Even if this was so, an issue would arise as to if 

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