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Vigilance vital to prevent LTTE resurgence - Major General Shavendra Silva

2014 May 23

by Ranil Wijayapala

Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN Mission in New York, Major General Shavendra Silva

Major General Shavendra Silva, popularly known among the people as the 58 Division Commander during the battle against terrorism is now the Deputy Permanent Representative at Sri Lanka’s UN Mission in New York.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, at a time Sri Lanka is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the great victory it achieved against the LTTE, Major General Shavendra Silva said that those who were affected by terrorism will not allow a rise of the LTTE again in Sri Lanka, but the sympathisers living overseas are trying their best to see the rise of the LTTE again for their own reasons.

Therefore, he said that Sri Lanka must not wait until the LTTE is a significant threat again to draw the attention of the international community and the recent proscription of 15 LTTE front organisations was an example to this end. He also said that Sri Lanka can prevent a resurgence of terrorism if it maintains vigilance with regard to LTTE activities.

Excerpts of the email interview:

Q: Five years have elapsed since that historic day that marked the total defeat of LTTE terror on Sri Lankan soil. As a ground commander who was directly involved in defeating the LTTE on the battle front how do you feel about the difference between the period of terror and the period after that terror period ended?
A session in progress at the UN

Then 57 Division Commander Major General Jagath Dias and the then 58 Division Commander Major General Shavendra Silva (then Brigadier) after capturing the LTTE stronghold, Kilinochchi in January 2009.

A: I am happy to observe the difference in our country after the end of three decades of terror. The people are free from the fear of terrorism and the economy is developing rapidly. We committed ourselves at the optimum level to overcome the terrorists because we knew that our country and people will benefit immensely after defeating terrorism. Our dedication and commitment were critical during the terror period to eradicate terrorism. Simply put, the fact that the people are living without the fear of terror is more of an achievement than the prosperity we enjoy at present.

Civilians crossing over to Army controlled areas during the final stage of the battle against the Tigers

Q: Despite the sacrifices made by our heroic soldiers in defeating the ruthless terrorists there is an internationally backed operation to make those heroic soldiers villains and to highlight the terrorists as innocent victims. How do you see this situation?

A: Those who remember the terrorist activities in Sri Lanka will never say that the terrorists were 'innocent victims'. The terrorists, their sympathisers, and supporters are the only people who agree with this description. Having lived abroad during these past few years I can see very well how reality is manipulated, especially these days when their “international campaign” is trying to gain momentum to achieve what the terrorists lost on Sri Lankan soil. All service personnel who were directly involved in defeating terrorism on the ground, did nothing but their job for the army or their respective service to the people of Sri Lanka and the country.

Q: We knew that there was international pressure on Sri Lanka when it was engaged in the battle against LTTE terrorism. Now even after the defeat of that ruthless terror outfit we are facing much more challenging situations on the international front. As a former ground commander and now as a diplomat how do you view these different scenarios?

A: As I said earlier, the aim of the terror campaign that failed in Sri Lanka and the international campaign outside the country are the same. Earlier we received the help of certain countries to defeat terrorism in Sri Lanka. Now we have to work with a wider range of countries and with their backing overcome the international campaign against Sri Lanka. In the terror campaign, it was easy to identify the adversary. In comparison, there are lots of unknown factors in the international campaign.

For example, we don’t know all the factors that may affect certain countries’ position regarding Sri Lanka. Many of these countries don’t know in-depth the ground reality in Sri Lanka and what sustained the terror campaign in Sri Lanka. We need to focus and reach out to these countries. Some countries are not aware of the real situation but, other countries turn a blind eye while being fully aware of the real situation to pursue their own agendas.

Q: As the former General Officer Commanding the 58 Division who played a key role in defeating the LTTE on the ground you had to face a challenging situation at personal level when you were appointed as the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN. How did you take up those challenges and what kind of role you are now playing in defending the country at international fora.

A: I’m stationed in New York where the UN Headquarters is located. The Permanent Missions of almost all the countries in the world are based in NY. In addition, there are many NGOs who work with the UN. I see my primary role as contributing to the Government’s efforts of countering the international campaign by portraying the real situation in Sri Lanka to the UN and representatives of other countries.

I meet a lot of different people and try to reach out to them. Sometimes, I meet people who know about Sri Lanka and who can understand the complexity of the situation. I also meet others who have little knowledge and those who have been misinformed. We sit down with all of them and put our views across. Also, we try to anticipate negative developments and try to address them before they become big problems.

Q: What is more challenging - to work as a diplomat or as military commander?

A: I think both roles have their different sets of challenges and aims, so it is not fair to compare them. However, I think both roles require a similar strategic approach to achieve objectives.

I will also add that there are differences in the challenges a military commander faces in wartime and in peacetime. A war time commander, especially during high intensity situations such as the last two years of the conflict in Sri Lanka, is totally different from a military commander during peace time. A military commander in wartime has to deal with ever present dangers and the risk of death.

One might think it’s just the lives of the troops. But in our scenario, it was the lives of my own troops, the army, the civilians and even the terrorists because after all, they are Sri Lankans. Every life is important. As a military commander, you have to achieve your aim, but you always consider other factors.

Q: The international media is still trying to find fault with the Sri Lankan military. Do you think that Sri Lanka has done enough to counter the allegations specially about the alleged 40,000 civilian deaths at the final stages of the battle against terrorism?

A: The government has presented its views. But the numbers and stories our critics use keep onchanging. I don’t think the numbers stand up to scrutiny. But that doesn’t stop people from repeating them. We have to counter these allegations at every opportunity because that is the only way to put an end to it. If we think we have done enough and stop our efforts, our critics will come up with something new. So we have to be always vigilant and not be complacent.

Q: Two resolutions were passed at the UNHRC urging Sri Lanka to probe into alleged war crimes and allowing the UNHRC to monitor the progress of those investigations. What is the impact on Sri Lanka due to these resolutions and how is Sri Lanka reacting at the UN level tothese resolutions?

A: The resolution was a result of a campaign led by certain countries. They are still continuing with the campaign. But we will be working with other countries which understand and support us to counter the resolution. With the support of these allies, we are trying to reach out to all relevant parties and keep them informed of the progress, such as developments in the domestic processes.

We must show them that Sri Lanka is able to solve its own problems and there is no need for an outside probe. Sri Lanka has said it would not cooperate with the UN investigations. But we are continuing with UN projects in several other areas. As to the impact, Sri Lanka will not be directly affected by the resolutions. However, we have to be cautious that they don’t lead to an indirect outcome.

Q: The recent events (killing of Gobi and two other former LTTE terrorists) in Sri Lanka prove that there are attempts by the LTTE rump to raise its ugly head again. How do you analyse those incidents and do you think that the LTTE is capable of raising its head again in Sri Lanka?

A: The LTTE in the 1970s began with a few people with home-made bombs and other crude weapons. But within a few years it evolved in to a formidable outfit capable of posing a threat to the State because not enough was done to tackle it militarily.

We have to ensure that the political conditions that permitted the spread of terrorism do not repeat. For example, the LTTE became strong not only militarily but also politically after they eliminated all political leaders and claimed its status as the sole representative of the Tamil people.

Sadly, terrorism still appeals to some people as a quick solution. For example, we wonder if some sections of the Tamil diaspora would still support the LTTE if they were at the receiving end of the LTTE terrorism. But terrorism only leads to loss of life and destruction as the 30 years of terrorism showed.

However, those who were affected by terrorism will not allow the LTTE to rise again in Sri Lanka but sympathisers living overseas are trying their best to see the rise of the LTTE again for their own reasons.

Q: The Sri Lanka government recently banned 15 Tamil diaspora organisations as 'LTTE fronts'. How has this been viewed by the UN Member countries?

A: The government has kept the international community informed that the proscriptions were aimed at stopping funds flowing into Sri Lanka from outside connected to terrorist activities.

Some countries in the international community may want to find out more information as some of the listed personnel are residing in their countries.

The government has no objection to sharing information on this issue with foreign governments.

In addition, the proscriptions were in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions aimed at suppressing terrorist financing.

This move is a step that Sri Lanka has to follow as a responsible member of the international community.

Q: We see that the US has similar views of LTTE activities on the international front. How can Sri Lanka get international support to suppress fund raising and the reactivating LTTE internationally?

A: Today, terrorist groups are inter-connected and are involved in many dangerous activities such as human trafficking and drug dealing which affects many countries. The LTTE had a vast network connected to illegal activities that raised funds for terrorism.

We have reason to believe that the LTTE network is still active abroad even though it was defeated militarily in Sri Lanka. We must not wait until the LTTE poses a threat again to draw the attention of the international community. Therefore, whenever we obtain information regarding such activities we must seek the help of the international community. An example is the recent proscriptions. We also have to convince other countries that LTTE activities can affect them too. The international community is aware that many terrorist movements are not limited to one country alone.

Q: Do you think that Sri Lanka can contain the LTTE without allowing it to raise its ugly head again?

A: Sri Lanka can prevent a resurgence of terrorism if it maintains vigilance on LTTE activities. During the conflict, the LTTE tried to isolate the people in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces from the rest of the country because that fitted their agenda for a separate State.

A whole generation grew up isolated from the rest of the country. Now, we must make all communities feel that they are part of Sri Lanka.

The government has undertaken to rebuild the infrastructure such as roads and schools in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces and to improve the economy of those regions.

Also, the government is implementing the LLRC recommendations on reconciliation.

Q: You played a key role in the battle front and also in the diplomatic front. What are your future prospects?

A: I’m an officer from the Sri Lankan Army. Other than the values and guidance I got from my parents, the main part of my life and identity was fostered by the army. What I am today is a result of what the Army did for me. The government appointed me as an Ambassador at a crucial time to an important location.

I will be returning to the Sri Lanka Army after finishing my diplomatic assignment. I have always felt that I must give back to the Army the enormous exposure and the experience I gained while serving as an Ambassador.

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