Road to Peace

Mahinda Rajapaksa went through a most trying period during the first five months of his Presidency, from barely two weeks after his election, with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launching attacks on the security forces and civilians. From early December 2005 until mid-April 2006, then President Rajapaksa showed considerable patience and forbearance, for which he won international admiration, in the face of provocative violence by the LTTE that killed nearly 600. He allowed limited attacks on LTTE positions only after it carried out a failed suicide-bomb attack to assassinate the Army Commander in April 2006. He demonstrated his commitment to peace and negotiation by re-opening talks with the LTTE, which it had unilaterally walked away from in April 2003. But the LTTE did not reciprocate his moves for peace.

Mahinda Rajapaksa did not hesitate to take a determined stand on behalf of the people when the LTTE closed down an important sluice gate at Mavil Aru in the East, cutting off water for drinking, agriculture and livelihood for nearly 50,000 people of all communities, leading to the danger of a major humanitarian crisis in mid-2006. He used the security forces to re-open the sluice gate at Mavil Aru. From then on, the security forces proceeded to clear the LTTE from other areas of the East such as Muttur and Sampur, strengthened the protection to the strategically important Trincomalee Harbour, and finally liberated the entire Eastern Province from the LTTE in July 2007.

Speedy action was taken to restore democracy to the region with the holding of Local Government elections there and elections to the first Eastern Provincial Council, all within one year of clearing the region of terrorism. The Provincial Council elections saw the emergence of a former child soldier of the LTTE, Mr. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, as the Chief Minister of the Province. The process of democratization was further enhanced when the former leader of the breakaway group from the LTTE, Mr. Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, whose nom-de-guerre was Karuna Amman, was sworn in as the Minster for National Integration and Reconciliation.

The Nagenehira Navodaya (New Dawn in the East) programme was soon launched as the major initiative for the economic development of the East, complete with infrastructure development and new opportunities for investment in the region. In continuance of his commitment to democracy, elections to the Eastern Provincial Council were held again in 2012, with the UPFA-led by the President obtaining a majority.

Liberation of the North

The success of the armed forces in retaking Mavil Aru was followed by the launch of a major humanitarian military operation to free the North of the island too, from the grip of the LTTE. From around September 2008, the armed forces advanced in the North defeating the LTTE in its several Northern strongholds of Pooneryn, Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu, until its final defeat on 19th May 2009.

In the final stages of the battle, the LTTE demonstrated its ruthless nature by holding thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields, and later as hostages, for the protection of the LTTE leadership that was expecting to escape through some form of foreign assistance.

Of much importance in the successful defeat of the LTTE and its terrorism, was the firm stand that then President Rajapaksa took against western powers and international institutions that pressured him to have a ceasefire with the LTTE during the last stages of the battle. He rejected those pressures as interference in the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, and was not swayed by threats of economic and other reprisals by western forces that were supportive of pro-LTTE expatriate Sri Lankans in those countries.

Following the defeat of terrorism, President Rajapaksa took key measures to restore democracy to the North. Shortly after the victory over terrorism, steps were taken to hold Local Government elections to the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Vavuniya Urban Council in the North.

President Rajapaksa also made an important commitment to resettle all of nearly 300,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians in the North under a 180-day resettlement and rehabilitation programme. A very large number of the internally displaced were resettled within this initial period. The Government completed the resettlement of all of the IDPs, more than 290,000, in September 2012, just three years after the end of the conflict, establishing a record for the speed and success of such work among countries that have suffered from armed conflict. Furthermore, most of the vast extents of land mined by the LTTE as it fled the areas it controlled were also cleared and made safe for resettlement.

One aspect Mahinda Rajapaksa especially stressed was the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres, and especially the child soldiers recruited by the LTTE. There were 11,000 LTTE cadres who surrendered to Government troops. All former child soldiers were re-united with their parents, and many also started attending regular schools both in northern towns as well as in the Colombo District.

“Uthuru Vasanthaya” (Northern Spring) was the special initiative of President Rajapaksa to expedite development in the North, and make the people in the Northern region partners in the country’s progress. This programme saw heavy investment in infrastructure development in the north. Considerable investment also came to the region, including the opening of branches of major local and foreign banks, and many other financial services. The North was also once again included in the tourism map of the country.

Reconciliation

With his commitment to democracy and pluralism and his understanding of the need for reconciliation among the communities in the country after a conflict that prevailed for more than three decades, President Rajapaksa in May 2010 appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to study the reasons for the failure of earlier ceasefires with the LTTE, the genuine hardships undergone by the people during the terrorism of the LTTE and the battle against it, and also to seek reconciliation among communities based on restorative justice.

In order to take forward the recommendations made in the LLRC Report, a National Plan of Action (NPoA) was prepared to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission following several rounds of consultation with key implementing agencies. The progress achieved under that programme during President Rajapaksa’s tenure can be found at www.llrcaction.gov.lk.