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UN missions: Army seeking way out of Geneva quagmire
Published Date: 13/04/2018 (Friday)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 

An ambitious Sri Lankan project to enhance its share in lucrative UN peace keeping operations is in jeopardy for want of a cohesive strategy to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against the Sri Lankan military.

 

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake yesterday explained measures that had been taken by military authorities, including a screening process of officers and men in accordance with UN standards.

 

Senanayake said so in response to a query raised by The Island following the inauguration of the Directorate of Overseas Operations (DOO) in Colombo 3 by Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, PC. However, Waidyaratne, a former senior Senior Additional Solicitor General of the Attorney General’s Department didn’t meet the press.

 

Army Commander addressed the media after Maj. Gen. Mervyn Perera, Director General, DOO, had briefly explained the responsibilities of the new directorate.

 

Senanayake asserted that the Army could deploy a fully equipped Brigade; the number of Sri Lankan military personnel deployed on seven UN missions worldwide is 416.

 

Asked by The Island why the war winning political leadership, current dispensation as well as the Army headquarters had failed to place evidence/data that could form the basis of Sri Lanka’s defence at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Senanayake acknowledged that there were ‘defects’ in the mechanism. Senanayake explained how the post-war situation, too, had contributed to the crisis.

 

The Army Chief said that personal agendas certainly made matters worse.

 

The Island also sought an explanation as to the failure on the part of the Defence Ministry, Foreign Ministry and those who had been at the helm of the Army since the conclusion of the war nearly a decade ago to defend the armed forces, Senanayake stressed that his predecessors had performed their responsibilities. "Had they failed in their duties, I wouldn’t have been here," Senanayake said.

 

The Army Chief declined to comment on accountability on the part of Defence and Foreign Ministries.

 

Sri Lanka undertook first sizable overseas mission in 2004 with the deployment of 750-member strong contingent in Haiti during the tenure of Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda as the Commander of the Army during Norway arranged Ceasefire. Although, war erupted in August 2006, Kottegoda’s successor, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka sustained the Haiti mission throughout the campaign.

 

The Army Chief said that he was seeking a different approach to accountability issues. Over the years, all had basically adopted similar strategies though he was confident that the issue needed to be addressed in a different manner, Senanayake said.

 

The Island references to US and British government representatives in June 2011 at the first defence seminar in Colombo and in the House of Lords in Oct, 2017, respectively and the failure on the part of the government to bring such ‘evidence’ to the notice of Geneva didn’t receive any specific response from the Army Chief.

 

Senanayake said that Army Headquarters was yet to finalise an MoU with the HRCSL as regards the screening process. Senanayake admitted that they hadn’t been able so far to decide on a time-frame for the screening process. Senanayake said so when The Island pointed out that the 100-member Sinha regiment contingent hadn’t been able to leave for Lebanon as the screening process was not considered complete.

 

Senanayake said that the Army was ready to fully cooperate with the HRCSL and other authorities, including police and intelligence services.

 

Asked whether other countries contributing troops for UN missions had been subjected to screening process in a manner similar to the system imposed on Sri Lanka, Senanayake said that needed to be verified.

 

At the onset of the briefing, Senanayake recollected the largest ever rescue mission successfully conducted by the Army on the Vanni east front in 2009.

 

Senanayake explained peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations undertaken by the Army under the UN mandate.

Source: The Island

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