Colombo reluctant to demilitarise

Study by U.S.-based institute criticises the government for operating with an ‘old mindset’.

ArmyManJaffna_410px_13_09_26Notwithstanding the four-month-old Sirisena government’s repeated assertions of attaching priority to ethnic reconciliation in the country, the regime has been found to be “reluctant” in demilitiarising the Northern and Eastern Provinces, where Tamils live in large numbers, according to a study of Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based policy think tank.

As part of the study, the organisation has prepared two reports, which were made public on Thursday.

The Hindu was the only newspaper in Asia to have been provided exclusives of the reports.Govt. informedThe Institute made it clear that its study (January 2014-April 2015) was carried out “with the knowledge but not the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government.”

One of the reports, “The Long Shadow of War,” states that “the new government’s reluctance to demilitarise the North and the East, and the continued stronghold over power by the Sri Lankan armed forces should be a major concern for international community, which for now is busy celebrating the new government and its talk of reconciliation.”

Criticising the government for operating with the “old mindset” in security related matters, the study quoted State Minister of Defence, Ruwan Wijewardene who said, during his visit to Jaffna in February, that the government would not remove “any Army formations in the peninsula nor does the government plan to scale down security arrangements.”

Referring to the new President’s action of following his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in entrusting the armed forces with police powers, the report mentions that this “does not bode well for a return to civilian administration.”

The government has also not proposed a timeline or monitoring mechanism to ensure the release of Tamil political prisoners or return of lands to original owners in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, said the second report.

On the reported assurance made by President Maithripala Sirisena in January to release the prisoners, the report, “The Long Shadow of War,” states that “since 2009, an absence of official figures on the number of Tamil detainees continues to torment families of the missing. The government estimates that nearly 300 people are being held without charge under the [Prevention of] Terrorism Act but Tamil leaders offer figures many times that.”