After proving its worth in crushing the LTTE, Sri Lankan soldiers are now helping internationally as UN peacekeepers
The Sri Lanka Army – which decimated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), dubbed by many as the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world – is now focusing on increased contribution to UN peacekeeping missions.
Already, 750 soldiers are stationed in Haiti and 150 in Lebanon. The latest batch was sent to Lebanon on Tuesday (July 10th).
Sri Lanka Army spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya said in the post-war era, the army has paid more attention on training its soldiers on international humanitarian law.
"We started deployment of peacekeeping battalions to Haiti in 2004 and to Lebanon in 2010. We are looking forward to receiving more offers from the UN. In addition to these two countries, the members of our military work as observers and staff officers in a dozen countries in Africa," Wanigasuriya told Khabar South Asia.
"Already, a centre had been set up in Kukuleganga south of Colombo to train soldiers and officers for peacekeeping," he said.
"Increased participation in UN missions brings us economic benefits in terms of valuable foreign exchange. Already, we have earned $142 million. We have received numerous letters of commendation from the heads of UN missions in the countries where our soldiers and officers work. It will boost the image of the military and the country as a whole," he said.
A press release posted on the army website on July 9th said the 15th Sri Lankan Battalion currently serving the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) had been commended by all past and present MINUSTAH Force Commanders because of the exemplary nature of the team and troop proficiency.
According to the statement: "Those SRIBAT Peace Keepers between Feb 7th-June 30th, 2012 had successfully conducted a multitude of humanitarian projects such as distribution of food and water, dental and medical camps, distribution of school accessories, conduct of vocational training programmes, reconstruction of common places, arrangement of friendly matches, provision of security, community-oriented programmes, etc.
"In compliance with tasking orders of MINUSTAH, 15th SRIBAT recently helped douse a raging fire erupted aboard a foreign ship, anchored at Miragone harbour while simultaneously preventing looters reaching the vessel under fire. Similarly, SRIBAT actively helped rescue missions in the Petit-Goave bus accident which killed 15 passengers. SRIBAT troops also supported the authorities to crack down on one of the notorious gang leaders in Haiti who was responsible for many killings and crimes."
Lalith Kumara, 28, (name changed upon request) returned to Sri Lanka recently after ending his period of service in Haiti.
"I could save a lot of money for my future. I am a newly wedded person. Hopefully, with my earnings from the mission in Haiti, I will build a new house for my family. When we have children, we will have increased needs that involve money. Then, I can use my saved money. Actually, it is economically good for us. Also, we get international exposure," Lalith said.
Since the war ended, the army has been involved in numerous local programmes to assist civil administration, including city beautification, dengue eradication and construction work. It is now preparing for a three-day international seminar next month in Colombo at which 63 countries were invited to share and discuss post-conflict experiences.
At a Wednesday (July 11th) news conference, Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya said army officials would share its experiences related to post-war reconciliation for long-lasting peace.
External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris told Khabar there is an increased demand from different quarters to share the experience of Sri Lanka's security forces in crushing the LTTE, which in addition to a well-entrenched guerrilla force, also had an air wing and a naval unit.
"Our navy has contributed immensely in curbing transnational human smuggling. Actually, other countries have benefitted from our experience," he said.