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Sampur naval withdrawal undermines security

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Passing out parade at the Sampur naval camp Passing out parade at the Sampur naval camp (omlanka.net)

The past few months has seen the dismantling or reduction of several High Security Zones and Defence Establishments in the North and East of Sri Lanka. What is more, these have been proudly announced to the foreign and local media by government ministers and high ranking officials.

One of the latest reports is that the Sampur Naval Recruit Training Centre has been closed and 450 officers who functioned from there were transferred to the Boosa Navy Camp in the Southern Province.

This follows a reported statement by the Minister of Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu Religious Affairs, Mr D M Swaminathan that the ‘Sri Lankan Government pledged to return 818 acres of land in the Sampur region of the Eastern Province to “original owners” by the end of April’. Other reports quoted the Eastern Province Governor Austin Fernando’s statement that ‘237 acres of land which was under the Sri Lanka Navy as a Naval Recruit Training Centre will be released back to its original owners’.

Trincomalee, historically known as Gokanna and Siri Gonamala, is one of the finest natural deep-water harbours in the world. According to ancient chronicles, it had been a great seaport since 543 B.C. and had played a major role in nurturing the civilization of Sri Lanka throughout its history. The Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial powers fought many battles with the Kings of Lanka as well as among themselves to secure this prized possession. The 17th Century warrior King Rajasinghe II built a rock fortress (‘Gale Kotuwa’) to defend Trincomalee. The British and the Allied Powers in World War II also used it as the main naval base of the South East of Asia and Far East Command.

Sampur itself is strategically located very close to the southern tip of Trincomalee harbour and overlooks Koddiyar Bay and the shipping lanes carrying vital civilian and military supplies. It was from there that the LTTE launched attacks on the Trincomalee Harbour, its naval establishments and the nearby military camps at Thoppur, Muttur and Kattaparichhan. Having declared that Tricomalee would be the Capital City of the mythical mono-ethnic separate state of Tamil Elaam, the LTTE had already built a series of clandestine installations in the area during the shameful period of the late 1990s and early 2000s when the then rulers of Sri Lanka were capitulating to the LTTE in the form of the ‘Sudu Nelum Movement’ which drastically impacted military recruitment, the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and PTOMS which would have handed control of the vast Tsunami reconstruction funds to the LTTE. It is not surprising that the same leaders are in charge of the latest withdrawals more than a decade afterwards.

The recapture of Sampur by the Sri Lankan security forces in September 2006 under the newly elected government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa marked a turning point in the nation’s three decade long struggle against the separatist terrorism of the LTTE. Around 70 soldiers and naval personnel sacrificed their lives in this effort to overcome the well-entrenched LTTE which had ruled over this strategic location from 2002, taking maximum advantage of the then government’s infamous Ceasefire Agreement.

The Sampur Naval Recruit Training Centre was established in 2007. Its proximity to the Trincomalee naval base and the Eastern seaboard proved ideal for further securing the region against any destabilising activity either by the LTTE rump or any external powers.

The hasty decision to close down the Sampur naval facilities is unlikely to have received a proper security assessment. While it is understandable that the country’s defence needs must be reassessed after the military defeat of the LTTE, it should not be done at the cost of long-term security interests. In particular, strategically located territory that is important for the defence of the nation should not be handed over to those who have potential links with separatism, or can be coerced to support such a cause. Internally displaced civilians should be resettled in alternative areas and provided the necessary assistance so that they can be fully integrated into Sri Lankan society.

The new government policy of reducing the high security zones, closure of defence forces camps, confining troops to barracks and the release of LTTE cadres suspected of criminal activities may be an attempt to appease the LTTE lobby and other assorted internal and external political forces.

At a time when Tamil separatist fanaticism is being revived while global and regional ‘super powers’ attempt to gain economic and territorial control of Sri Lanka’s strategic facilities, the people of Sri Lanka would expect their leaders to exercise additional vigilance rather than yield to such pressures. Further, some of the countries who are keen on destabilizing Sri Lanka may be planning to have a foothold in the strategically located Trincomalee with the assistance of their separatist buddies operating from Sampur.

Henceforth, we appeal to Maithripala Sirisena, the President of Sri Lanka and the Commander in Chief of the Sri Lanka defence forces to exercise his mandate and ensure that a thorough and a scientific review is conducted by a properly constituted, a professional commission with inputs from serving and retired senior defence personnel and other non-separatist civilian organizations before taking action to reduce any High Security Zones, Defence Establishments and releasing any LTTE carders. We also call on other patriotic political leaders, regardless of party affiliations, to support and advise the President in protecting the hard-fought gains by the heroic men and women of the Sri Lankan security forces.

Ranjith Soysa (Coordinator)
Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights for Sri Lanka (Victoria)
Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights for Sri Lanka (NSW)
Western Australia Society for Peace, Unity and Rehabilitation in Sri Lanka (WA)
Veera Parakramabahu Foundation Inc. (NSW)
Viru Daru Diriya Fund (Victoria)

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