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HELPING FEUDING SOLDIERS COOL DOWN

“Peacekeepers are not soldiers but only soldiers can do it.” In the world we live in when countries, religious or ethnic groups have disagreements, instead of resolving them peacefully, they accuse each other, send soldiers, plant landmines and often hurt innocent victims who get caught in the middle. When this happens, the United Nations peacekeepers step in to help calm things down. The Nation visited the “Institute of Peace Support Operations Training Sri Lanka.” (IPSOTSL) to see how battle-hardened Sri Lankan soldiers are re-educated to fit into the role of peacekeepers.

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Peacekeeping- all about winning hearts and minds

This is what the IPSOTSL is training the armed forces to do, as they prepare for their role as peacekeepers in Haiti…

By Rathindra Kuruwita
When tempers are flaring and people are angry, it’s almost impossible to work things out unless some calmer heads step in to sort things out and reestablish order. This happens all the time, at school the peacekeeper may be a friend, a teacher or an older classmate; at home, it may be a sibling or a parent or relative. No matter who acts as a peacekeeper, the goal is always the same: keep the fighting parties away from each other, defuse the situation, investigate the facts and try to work out a solution to the problem that everybody can live with.
That is the mission of a UN peacekeeper and the Sri Lankan armed forced have played a major role and made a name for themselves in peacekeeping. Although peace keeping is a job of a soldier, just any soldier cannot be a peace keeper. They have to undergo special training to step into the shoes of a peacekeeper. To give our forces the necessary training “Institute of Peace Support Operations Training Sri Lanka.” (IPSOTSL) was established in Kukuluganga in 2004.
The camp is situated in an area of 6.5 acres and has the capacity to train more than 350 at a time. Soldiers are trained on how to handle various situations faced by a peace keeper through role plays.
“This is an ideal place to have a camp because the terrain is very similar to that of Haiti as it is a mountainous country. The only difference is that it is much hotter as the trees have been sold for timber” said lieutenant Colonel Mahinda Weerasooriya, commandant of IPSOTSL.

The beginning
The first step was taken in July 2002 when our troops attended an exercise called the multi platoon exercise, at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operations and Training. It was organized by the Centre for Excellence and Global Peace Operating Initiative, the two institutes that support peace keeping.
“It was attended by platoons from eight countries and the main focus was to understand how to develop peace keeping in South Asia. I attended it as a student and instructor” said lieutenant Colonel Mahinda Weerasooriya.
“Around 40 of our troops participated in this exercise. They impressed the international observers who were there, who thought Sri Lanka would be a good place to start a peace keeping school” he added.
The institute was established on July 12, 2004 and the first training exercise, the Multinational Platoon Exercise (MPE-3) or operation ‘Sama Gamana’ was conducted with the participation of six platoons (77 officers and 437 other ranks) from US, Nepal, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Observers from 20 countries attended to see whether internationally accepted UN standards were followed.

“ Sri Lankan troops were introduced to the basics of peace keeping through that mission” lieutenant Colonel Mahinda Weerasooriya explained.

Training peacekeepers
In a short period of time both the institute and our peacekeepers have won international recognition.
“We have trained 331 officers and 5272 other ranks. We conduct exercises twice a year, one in October and the other between November and December” said the commandant. “The troops undergo a 14 day training programme called a standard generic training module, which is followed by all peace training schools. To be accepted as a peace keeper and engage in peace keeping activities one must complete this programme.”
The course commences by teaching the trainees about the UN, its beginning, the function of role play and its growth followed by modules on peace keeping missions, multicultural environment, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. But the most important aspect is stress management Colonel Weerasooriya, pointed out.
“We focus a lot on stress management, because it is not an easy task to stay in Haiti for six months, away from ones home and loved ones.. No matter how high the payment is, it is very difficult to do this. So, they are under a lot of pressure” he said. “They can contact Sri Lanka, but to contact home it costs five dollars a minute. So most of them ask their families to call them. But to call Haiti it costs 88 rupees a minute which is a huge burden on the families.”
In the 14 day programme trainees are taught 26 subjects including how to go on a foot patrol, a vehicle patrol, how to disperse a crowd, how to face and cope with a sniper attack and DDR. In addition, they are also taught how peace keepers should disarm, demobilize and reintegrate insurgents.

How to win friends and influence people
Unlike the traditional combat uniform of a soldier, UN peace keepers wear a special uniform. Because of the colour blue, they are called ‘blue helmets’ “Peace keeping is all about negotiation” said Colonel Weerasooriya. “We can’t use force like we do in Sri Lanka. We should try to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner”

He also pointed out that that there was a fundamental difference between military training and peace keeping. “ Normally an army reacts with maximum force, whereas in peace keeping, our main weapon is negotiation. The soldiers are taught how to control their aggression and to adopt a neutral outlook. We go through a lot of exercises to check whether these trainees over react in a pressure situation, the reason being that a peace keeper must never over react. When we work in another country, we have to rules of engagement, we have to follow international law and the laws of that particular country.”

There is a difference even in the way a soldier and a peacekeeper carries his weapon. “Normally a soldier cocks a weapon and patrols with the safety pin off. But in Haiti we have to keep the finger away from the trigger. Instead of looking tough we adopt a more pleasant demeanor. Actually we even teach the trainees to smile and act in a way that will win the hearts and minds of the people.”

Peacekeeping is not about hiding or running away from danger, but adopting a strategy to overcome adversities using minimum force. There are instances where a peacekeeper is allowed to fire. “We can however use force in particular situations, when the life of a peace keeper is under threat, or when we feel that the life of people around us is under threat, or else when there is a threat on the life of a UN officer or property.”

“Then we have to use power, but we have to prove why we opened fire. So peace keepers carry cameras to record what the situation they were in when they opened fire. Our soldiers have proven themselves time after time, and are considered as the best in the profession”, he said “ Many countries have requested us to send troops but unfortunately we can’t because of the country’s situation.”

Peacekeeping mission in Haiti
In 2004 a Sri Lankan peace keeping contingent of 750 went to Haiti under the leadership of Brigadier Amal Karunasekara. In two years Sri Lankan peacekeepers have won the respect of both Haitians and peacekeepers of other countries.

“The first president of the country came into power with the help of local gangsters, and after coming into power, he allowed these men to do what ever they wanted. Then there was a military coup and he was deported. But around 27 000 soldiers loyal to the former president left the army and some of them became rebels. But most importantly there are more than 27000 weapons in the hands of civilians or with militiamen” said Colonel Weerasooriya.

“They have divided some areas of the country and control them as separate territories. They have road blocks and foot patrols of their own, and although not entirely hostile they like to show off, and want to assert their dominance when they encounter peace keepers. Sometimes they stop our peace keepers at their road blocks and ask them to turn back or demand food or ammunition. On occasions like that sometimes I have talked with them for hours till we reached a settlement.”

“People in Haiti are African. Their main languages are Creole and French. Our main problem is that they hardly speak English” said Colonel Weerasooriya. “But Sri Lankan peace keepers are well respected because Haitians know that we behave like proper peace keepers. Unlike peace keepers of some other countries we use force when it’s really needed and instead depend on negotiation.”

.But all is not smooth sailing, adds the colonel. From 2004 four Sri Lankan peacekeepers have been killed and the main threat is the snipers. “There are snipers but since we are the most skilled force in Haiti and have a lot of experience, snipers normally avoid us but we have been attacked by them nonetheless,” he said.

Sending a positive image
Colonel Weerasooriya denies the idea that sending troops to foreign countries when there is an internal conflict is a waste. According to him it is a great opportunity for our army.

“The UN has accepted that the Sri Lankan army is capable of operating internationally. We have proven that the Sri Lankan army is not an army that violates human rights and we have proven that we are a well disciplined army. Through peace keeping missions we can combat the negative image created by various people. We also gain a lot of experience and exposure and the lessons we learned are very important.”

He added that many high ranking military officers of other countries are impressed with the Sri Lankan army and they will spread a positive message. “The best thing is that the commanding officers of Haiti come from countries like the USA, Brazil and Argentina and they are very impressed, and have openly stated that if they have to select peacekeepers for future missions, they will definitely select men from Sri Lanka.”

Using peacekeeping in Sri Lanka
The Colonel said that the experience the army has gathered from peace keeping missions can also be applied to the present Sri Lankan war situation..
“Yes we can use the knowledge. Especially in the East where major fighting is over and now it is more about winning the hearts and minds of people” he said.
But he added that sending peacekeeping missions to the North was not practical at present because there was still heavy fighting. “There is still a lot of fighting in the North, and I think that sending peacekeepers to that area will lead to a lot of casualties.”
He added that it would also create a doubt in the minds of soldiers and it might cost them their lives. “In war there is no room for hesitation”, he stressed.
Colonel Weerasooriya also said that the Sri Lankan Police should learn about peacekeeping. “There are a lot of instances when there are clashes between the police and striking workers or university students .I feel that with proper training, most of these conflicts could be resolved with ease.”, he said.

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Keeping the peace in Haiti

Lt. Col. Weerasooriya’s experience in Haiti

By Rathindra Kuruwita
Lt. Col. Weerasooriya is one of the privileged few who has been to Haiti on a peacekeeping mission. Privileged because, only the best of the best is chosen.

“I went with the fourth contingent on June 2006” said Lt. Col. Weerasooriya. “It is very competitive. Only soldiers and officers with an unblemished record are chosen. They also need to have a record of high performance and have undergone the necessary training.”
The Sri Lankan contingent comprised of 750 soldiers. A Colonel or a Lt. Colonel is in charge of the mission, while another Lt. Col. is second in command (2IC). The contingent also had nine Majors and 28 Captains. “I was the 2IC of our mission in Haiti” he said.

Main duties
“My main duty was to ensure law and order in the area reserved for our peacekeepers and to protect civilians. The area we had to cover is around 4,600 sq. kms., and was divided into five camps, with five Majors in charge. They secure the areas with roadblocks, searches and foot patrols. Our main base was at Leogane, with a camp also at Kilik, which is the area that has a large concentration of the warring factions.” He said.
The Colonel added that the most dangerous region was Martishan, the second largest slum area in the world. “These people are very poor and they fight for the smallest things. It is in an area of 10 sq. kms. which is divided between 10-12 armed groups. Sometimes, they fight among themselves and we have to go into such areas to settle disputes.”

Saving lives
According to what the Colonel said, I got the impression that there is never a dull moment while on duty, because in Haiti, even the smallest traffic accident could trigger violence, and Sri Lankan peacekeepers have saved many lives.
“On the first week of my stay, the Haitian police commissioner came to our camp and said that hundreds of people were attacking a Haitian police contingent guarding a hospital run by American doctors” he recalled.

“I thought the commissioner was exaggerating and asked Capt. Manoj Kulesekara, our intelligence officer, to investigate. Within a short while, he called back saying that people were attacking his men. I took a small group and went to his aid but, halfway through, we were also surrounded by angry mobs and only made it to the hospital with much difficulty.”
It was only then that the Colonel realised that the Haitian police commissioner had understated, rather than exaggerated the gravity of the situation. “On arrival at the hospital, we found that we were dealing with, not hundreds but, thousands of Haitians, who started attacking us with stones. We called for backup and started negotiating with the people. Our negotiations started at 1.30 pm and went on till 2 in the morning. We were able to save the hospital from total destruction and the lives of many Haitians. Even the American ambassador in Haiti, came to our camp and thanked us.”

The Lt. Colonel recalled another occasion when they prevented a catastrophe. “Men of a village, slew 19 men from another village. Many feared a battle that would take hundreds of lives” he said.
However, Lt. Col. Weerasooriya and his men intervened and kept a close eye on the activities for three months. “We intervened and for three months guarded an area of 6 sq. kms. We posted troops on every road and at every junction. Sri Lankan peacekeepers spent many nights under trees, keeping a constant eye on the situation.”

The shootout
It is not everyday that a peacekeeper pulls the trigger but, Lt Col. Weerasooriya said that they had to on several occasions.
“Once, when we went to settle a dispute between two gangs, they united to attack us but, we stood our ground and dispersed the groups by firing warning shots.”

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Negotiation was the only way

L.C. Senivirathna has severed as a peace keeping soldier in Haiti for six months and has returned to Sri Lanka with the unique experience that he has acquired during his service as a United Nations Peace Keeping soldier.

“I was given election work, and that was not an easy task, despite what the people believe. This is much harder than any other work. I have gained a lot of experience in trying to mollify and negotiate with gagsters,” he shared his experience with The Nation.
He noted that the situation in Haiti was much more different from the situation in Sri Lanka. “They are not fighting a brutal war, like we do here in Sri Lanka,” he explained the difference.

In order to realise a solution for the problem, what needed in Haiti was a great deal of negotiation with the gangsters, Senevirathna added.
He said that since he was a married man, the time spent in Haiti, away from his family was a difficult period for him: “The only way to keep contact with my family was talking to my wife over the phone.” (PG)

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Lance Corporal Ranasinghe on war and peace

Lance Corporal Ranasinghe is one of the instructors at the IPSOTSL and was part of the first Multi Platoon Exercise in 2004. He has been working as an instructor since January 2005.

“I am a member of the Gemunu Regiment. I was working in Vavuniya when I was selected to be part of the demonstration unit, after that I was selected as an instructor” he said.

“My main responsibility is to teach the trainees how to handle an enemy road block, how to conduct a foot patrol and to give them an introduction on explosives,” Lance Corporal Ranasinghe said. “These things are essential for a peace keeper”
“We are soldiers and we have become excellent fighting machines” he stressed. “But there is a difference between war and peace. And, we need to change ourselves to fit in to the role of a peacekeeper” he added. “We teach them how to do that and to become an efficient peacekeeper” (RK)

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Where brains do the talking, not guns!

“This experience changed me a lot” says Sgt. Major Perera, who has just completed his training and preparation to visit Haiti with the next contingent of UN peacekeeping troops.

“In our battle fields we don’t negotiate with our enemies. Here, we let our guns do the talking. Peacekeeping, however, is totally different. Peacekeeping is a combat which can only be achieved with brains, not with guns. I have two children whom I won’t be able to see for the next six months. Actually, this is a bitter experience, but I’ve learnt ‘stress management’ now and I know how to overcome that situation. So there’s nothing to be worried about. I’m ready to go there.” Perera says with a smile. (RJ)

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Kukuleganga holiday resort where Mother Nature beckons

By-Promodh Gamage
Looking for a place to relax with only Mother Nature as one’s companion?
Then the place you must head for is the Kukuleganga Holiday Resort which is situated in the midst of a beautiful rural setting. “The best feature of this scenic location is that besides being able bask in the wonders of Mother Nature, it can be reached after just a 2 hour drive from Colombo” says Ajith Senadeera the Manager Administration of the resort.
The breath-taking vista of the mountains draped by overhead clouds, the refreshing feel of cool breeze blowing across the resort is mind- blowing.

The omnipresence of the green colour of Nature , brings calmness to the restless mind, helps one to relax from one’s busy life-style. The whole resort is based on the concept of ‘Family entertainment’, at the same time providing space to bond with the Mother Nature. In short, this is one of the best places to get away from the mad rush of city life.

History of the resort
The Kukuleganga Holiday Resort was previously the camp site for the engineers of Kukuleganga Electricity Project. It has now has been taken over by the Army, refurbished and modified, for, “the accommodation of the multinational troops who arrive for training in the United nation peace keeping training camp”, resort sources said.

However the army has decided that locals should be able to enjoy the scenic beauty of the resort when there are no ongoing training sessions. This will also help to generate funds needed to maintain and improve the resort. “Our main purpose is to give this place to the locals to enjoy, though we could have given it to foreigners easily. We are not looking to make a large profit out of this” said Bimal Widanage the Chief Executive Officer. The Kukuleganga resort is interconnected with the institution of peace support operation training school and has been managed by the Army for three years.

Facilities
The facilities are exquisite and are exact replicas of luxury apartments in Colombo city. The resort has the capacity to accommodate 200 guests easily, and the rooms are well furnished and fully air conditioned. There are dining areas and sitting areas, pantries with required electrical appliances and bathrooms with washing machines and driers, available in all single, two and three bed roomed apartments. “We have 64 apartments all together: 18 three bed room apartments, 18 two bed room apartments, 28 single room apartments. Broadband wi-fi internet facilities are available free for all the guests in the internet café and 24 inch TVs are available in every room with satellite connection. All the apartments are provided with telephone facilities the Resort spokesman said..

The restaurant, which could hold approximately 150 to 200 guests, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a buffet setting. The menus include a variety of dishes .There is also a pool table. A mini mall has been established by the administration to sell day to day needed products as well as swimming suits for the guests .A fully air conditioned auditorium has been established for those who wish to conduct meetings out side Colombo city.

The resort includes a small swimming pool, a sauna and a fully equipped gymnasium for those who wish to maintain their health . For sports lovers, the resort provides a tennis court, badminton court and a squash court.

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