Salawa catastrophe and military presence in N&E

By Manekshaw

The huge explosion at one of the major arsenals in the country located at Salawa Army camp in the Kosgama area last Sunday (5) had highlighted the extent of the storage of heavy weaponry and indicating the extensively militarized state the country remained for nearly three decades in the past.

All sorts of arms and ammunitions stored in the Salawa arsenal exploded and destroyed all buildings in the campsite which was established in 1994.
Following the end of the civil war in the country in 2009, the civilians, directly affected by the civil war in the North and the East, have been agitating constantly to reduce the military presence and withdraw the military installations from the two provinces.
However, the last Sunday’s Salawa Army camp explosion has highlighted the presence of military installations with heavy weaponry in the highly populated areas in the South.

Apart from the military installations which were set up in strategically important scenic locations during the British period, the necessity of establishing new military camps and expanding the existing camps was felt following the insurgency in the South in 197i.
Thereafter, from the early eighties onwards not only Army camps but also Navy bases and Air Force camps with airstrips and helipads were established rapidly and extensively countrywide following the separatist struggle launched by the Tamil militants from the North and the East.
The Salawa Army camp with its armoury was established in 1994 and the military facility remained as one of the four major arsenals to supply arms and ammunition to the military installations countrywide.
The Salawa Army camp explosion occurred a week after the Security Forces actively engaged in the natural disaster relief activities in the areas affected by flood waters and earthslips in various parts of the country.
It was in the backdrop Security Forces were praised for their remarkable involvement in the flood relief activities, the disaster of a different nature occurred causing immense damage to the residents within a 500-metre radius of the
Salawa Army camp.
Nearly 80 houses including the Kosgama Salawa Hospital sustained damages extensively due to the explosions in the Salawa armoury.
The Salawa campsite and the surrounding areas look like a ‘ghost town’ with damaged buildings due to the mysterious explosion in the camp.
Prior to 2009, when the civil war was in progress, explosions, aerial bombardments, artillery shellings and the firings from multiple rocket launchers had terrorized the entire Northern and Eastern region with enormous destruction caused to lives and assets.
Reduction of
military installations
Since the military installations remained a nightmare with the continuity of war for nearly three decades, the civilians in the North and the East prioritized the call for the reduction of military installations in the two provinces and also raised their voice against setting up new camps and expanding the existing camps.
However, the explosion at the Salawa military facility while justifying the call made by the civilians in the North and the East to reduce the military presence had emphasized even the need of reducing the military presence in the country at large.
When the whole country was under the grip of a ruthless civil war, it was the arms dealers and the undertakers who had profited immensely.
As the gun running activities were carried out extensively by the militants, the successive governments which came to power right from the beginning of the militant activities in the North and the East were compelled to beef up the defence expenditures to take the upper hand in fire power.
Following the Salawa Army camp explosion, the Tamil National Alliance’s former Parliamentarian Suresh K. Premachandran in a statement renewed his call for the removal of Army camps from the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Though the civil war had been fought extensively in the North and the East in the past there had been hardly any catastrophe in the nature of Salawa Army camp explosion.
Military installations were attacked by the LTTE in several areas in the North and the East and it was after overrunning the camps the armouries were destroyed along with the seizure of arms and ammunition.
Overrunning the Elephant Pass Army Base had been the biggest of all attacks carried out by the LTTE in 2002.
At the end of the civil war Security Forces wiped out all LTTE camps in the North and the East and captured an enormous amount of arms and ammunition from the outfit.
The explosion at the Salawa Army camp armoury even makes one to think whether the arms and ammunition captured from the LTTE were even dumped in the military facility.
Responding to the renewed call made by former TNA Parliamentarian Suresh K. Premachandran to remove the Army camps from the North and the East, Army Spokesman Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera said that the military presence in the North and the East shouldn’t be viewed from a communal or political angle.
The Army Spokesman also went on to say that in the post-war atmosphere the Army was deployed extensively in carrying out humanitarian activities and it was evident when the natural disasters occurred in the country recently.
However, with President Maithripala Sirisena inviting the developed countries to invest in Sri Lanka at the summit of the G-7 countries in Japan a week ago, the big time investors from abroad will certainly give priority to looking into the aspects of how far the country has been demilitarized since the civil war ended seven years ago.
Therefore, the call for demilitarization from the North and the East and the huge explosion at Salawa Army camp which had sent shock waves throughout the country, shouldn’t give wrong signals to the countries which would have been impressed by the call made by President Maithripala Sirisena to invest in Sri Lanka.