Who Cares, I Served My Country, I am Not A War Criminal – Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Defence Secretary, General Kamal Gunaratne boldly says he is prepared to face anything that comes his way, even if it’s a arrest, as he is not a war criminal. “Who cares, I served my country and let the Government clear my name, and it’s not my business to do that.”
Speaking exclusively to Ceylon Today he notes that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a ‘nonsensical’ and a ‘pathetic’ report.
Excerpts of the Interview
Are you for militarising the country?
A: It’s a wrong perception. Just because somebody has served in the military and retired at the age of 55, you should not consider him in his civilian and retired life as a military man. Of course, he is a man who is groomed to be punctual and work efficiently. A military man is good at management skills. He is also a man who works with speed. He will not harp on one letter for months and months but would take immediate action to expedite it. The difference is that a retired military man will not ‘fire and forget the missives’. When letters are sent to other ministries, organisations or Government departments, others forget it. A military officer will not behave so. They are groomed, so that they always ‘track the missile’. I am taking the missile as an example it does not mean we are firing missiles in real term. A military man will send the first reminder, and then follow it up by a telephone call.
What you mean is that military personnel appointed as public servants perform better than others?
A: I don’t say others are not efficient. However, we as military personnel have special characteristics. Many ask me, with so many organisations under me, how I have the time to serve them all. Therefore, I explained how we manage time with speed, efficiency and be highly dedicated and committed to the service. Just because I served in the military, does not mean after my retirement I should or cannot work in a government organisation.
If you want to make government machinery effective, the thinking pattern should be the same. Only thing is the people should be more dedicated. We are trained to be that whether you like it or not.
Do you advocate that all top positions in the public sector should be manned by military personnel, to execute speedy and efficient work?
A: No. I would not say that. I will never promote that. Nevertheless, my basic principle is, when a military man is retired, his military career should not be a disqualification to work in the public sector. He has knowledge and a wealth of experience in man management or material management or resources management. He should be given a fair chance too and not be deprived of working just because he served in the military. It’s a very wrong perception. Can you name any military personnel that is given a top position that has been a failure? I don’t think so.
Every retired man from the military service is not brought to the Government service. The President is only recruiting. He being a former military man, he knows the capabilities of the military personnel. He would pick up only the cream of the lot. So, just because he appointed us, it does not mean the President is going to militarise the whole set up. When I was serving in the military, I always told my juniors, ‘when you become a senior, well recognised, educated, and matured, you should be more down to earth. When I took this position 14 months ago, except one or two occasions, I have not scolded a single worker in this Ministry, but I know how to get the work done. The moment they realise this man is knowledgeable with experience, positivity, management skills, they will follow him. The Port Authority is one of the most difficult places to work with trade unions, racial problems, and major issues like the Eastern Container Terminal and General Ratnayake is managing it very well.
Why are you suddenly meddling with the Sri Lanka’s National Flag when the country is going downhill with financial instability and issue related to UNHRC, protests in the country mounting? Who wants this change to the flag?
A: I have no intention of meddling with the National Flag. This is a wrong opinion. There are people, who are bringing in various allegations saying the National Flag we use is not the one approved by Parliament. Since I am also the Secretary to the Ministry of National Security, Home Affairs, and Disaster Management, this matter came to me. I have no intention of changing the National Flag but some people who have deeply studied the Constitution including the National Flag, have given some proposals.
Who are these ‘some people’ you are referring to?
A: A few people came and made representations but, I cannot remember them. One such person was Mr. Bandusena and couple of others. It is not just one person. Several persons came to see me at different times. As Secretary to the Home Minister, I am bound to listen to their demands. I know it’s a lengthy process and I have not requested for a change. Why should I? The people, who want to sling mud at us, highlighted this as a big issue. When it came to the National Anthem during the Independence Parade, I categorically said, the National Anthem will be sung only once when the President hoists the flag, and it would be in Sinhala. I was very firm on this matter. However, on the flag it was only a proposal and it was not required by me.
But shouldn’t the National Anthem be sung in Tamil too, according to the Constitution of Sri Lanka?
A: That I don’t know. No point in talking about our Constitution because it was changed 20 times.
If you refer to the flag saying it should be the original flag that is in the Constitution. Then why not also sing the National Anthem in Tamil as it is also mentioned in the Constitution?
A: As far as we are concerned, there is only one National Anthem. You take India, there are more than 500 languages, but the National Anthem is sung only in one language. It’s same in Singapore.
India’s National Anthem is sung in Bengali not in official Hindi language.
A: Yes that is written in something similar to Hindi. Therefore, that’s it. As far as I am concerned it’s one language.
So the law says sing in both languages and we are not abiding by the law?
A: I don’t think so. May be we are but as far as we are concerned, we will sing in Sinhala only.
Is this your opinion?
A: Not my opinion. It’s the practice. Only once or twice it was sung in other languages but people made various amendments to the Constitution which should not have been the case.
Some 31,000 new recruitments were made to the military. Is it because many are retiring?
A: Yes. We have an establishment. There is a specific requirement of military personnel for the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. When there are vacancies we have to fill those vacancies. During the previous Government, they wanted to downsize the forces and they allowed it to happen naturally or automatically. Now, 10,000 personnel are retiring and the former Government recruited only 2,500 odd. There are other requirements too. There were 12,200 ex-combatants who were rehabilitated and released to the society and we ended terrorism but we could not end the ‘separatism’. The separatist ideology still exists. Of course, we reduced it from military means to prevalence of an ideology. There is a segment of the international Tamil Diaspora who wants to resume it and we have to look after that area. There is also extremism in the country which is dangerous. What happened on Easter Sunday? Everything was relaxed and the people in power were ‘sleeping’. Due to ignorance and negligence there was a huge catastrophe. We have to maintain certain troop levels. However, this new 30,000 soldiers are not going to be fighting soldiers. They will be skilled people, who will be good in construction field. As per the vision of the President, there is a requirement of skilled labour for the construction field and if we do it with our skilled labour, the cost will be reduced by 60%. There are vital Government constructions that would be undertaken by these new recruits. Of course, they would be a normal workforce but enlisted by the Army and they will also receive pension.
How are the progress in Capacity Building and Modernisation of Sri Lanka?
A: Everything depends on the Leadership. Every level of the military leadership, every standard will be maintained with the leadership. President started the multi development task force under General Mallawarachchi and around 34,000 unskilled youth are enlisted to that organisation. They will be holding Government jobs such as labourers and drivers, and already they are employed. They will have to undergo six months training.
What are the plans to rebuild Jaffna and Vanni into prosperous districts?
A: The amount of money spent after the war ended was enormous. The lion-share during the Government under Mahinda Rajapaksa went to the North and the East. All the roads were completed and electricity supply and the housing projects are going on. We have employed more than 3,000 Tamil speaking Police officers. We have enlisted ex-combatants to civil security departments. The renovation of the rural tanks will be undertaken by the Army.
Is it cheaper to use military for labour work?
A: In military, primary role is to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. We also have so many secondary roles and nation building has a lion share.
Who is the real culprit behind the Easter bombings?
A: Investigations are going on. Of course, the CID has concluded the investigations on the most of the cases and has handed over the files to the Attorney General (AG). The AG has to go through each sentence of those reports with his staff. Parallel to that, former President Maithripala Sirisena Commission report is also there. The CID branch concluded report and the former presidential commission report will be studied to check on the similarities and the differences. If findings are similar then it’s fine to conclude, but if there are differences between both reports, the AG will have to inform the Commission or the CID to probe further. To prosecute somebody over a massacre of that magnitude we should be 100 per cent accurate otherwise those mentioned in the report will go scot free and not be able to be taken to task. It’s a professional job and you will get to know the details once it’s concluded.
BBC Sinhala Service said the detectives have found out that the mastermind behind the bombings was not Zahran as mentioned in the report. What do you think?
A: I am not ready to discuss about the findings as it is now with the AG. Let him go through the findings and proceedings. Despite, we have completed the inquiry we cannot go openly and tell the public these are what we have found. There is a legal procedure that has to be followed. Let the BBC say whatever they want they lost their credibility of our people because of the way they presented the situations of this country during the war. They were absurd.
The report says about India’s RAW is being involved in the attack. Do you think so?
A: I told you; let the AG’s department handle the matter.
One of the bombers’ wife, a Tamil, Sara Pulasthini, the report says had fled to India. Is that confirmed?
A: Yes. She has fled to India. Those details are under inquiry still.
Pulasthini fleeing to India was exposed over a year ago, but why hadn’t the CID or intelligence followed her to India and brought her back?
A: You can ask the same question about extraditing Bond Scammer Arjuna Mahendran. Extradition involves many procedures.
Don’t we have an extradition treaty signed between India and Sri Lanka?
A: I am not sure. However, as far as the criminals are concerned, we have about 18 red notices. Already two are in custody in India and we are negotiating with them to get them back to Sri Lanka. ‘Kimbula Ela Guna’ and one more person we are trying to extradite to Sri Lanka but the process is lengthy.
Do you confirm Pulasthni fled to India and she did not die at the blast in Sammanthurai?
A: As per the information we have, it is so. However, I cannot say anything more as the inquiry is still going on. I cannot give the exact answer.
It is said that Commission report also finds faults on former President and the Prime Minister. Can you respond?
A: I have already told you, I being a defence expert, my answer is that this whole episode is due to the negligence and ignorance by the authority. When I say authorities I mean the President, the Prime Minister, Secretary Defence, chief of national intelligence, the army commander, the IGP etc., All of them received 100% accurate information and nobody took notice of the information.
The UNHRC report has been dismissed by the Government. We withdrew from the US cosponsored resolution and slammed the High Commissioner’s recent statement. Is rejecting and denying all the allegations, a way forward for Sri Lanka?
A: When I talk about the UNHR Commissioner Bachellet’s report, it is full of nonsense and I mean it. No other better word than that. I don’t know where they got all the information and on what basis they have come to such conclusions. Since my name is also there, I don’t want to elaborate on that too much. However, as far as I am concerned, the report and statement are very pathetic. I mean the UNHRC and its Commissioner should be respectable people, and when they voice something, they should do it in a respectable manner. They have to listen to all sides. Listening to someone and including that in the report before dishing it out to the entire world, I don’t think there is justice served.
Do you think, Nishantha was behind informing the UNHRC?
A: I don’t know, but it could be. The UNHRC has fixed people without any reason and how many are behind bars without a reason now? I think you should study that. I am sure you know much more than what I am telling you. It is very pathetic, when someone who served an organization like the CID, should try to take political revenge and put others in trouble.
Don’t you think since we have not revisited the resolution and the recommendation that such allegations are mounting on Sri Lanka?
A: We had done the LLRC report but they never consulted that. Our government appointed various other commissions, especially the Paranagama Commission, but the UNHRC never bothered to look at it. The saddest thing was that the former government co-sponsored a resolution against our country.
How confident is the Government that it could challenge a big organisation like the UNHRC?
A: We don’t want to challenge. That was my personal opinion and not the Government’s opinion. However, what want to tell the UNHRC to open their eyes and see truth. See the reality without just writing reports against us based on bogus information.
So are you not willing to probe the alleged human rights violation in the country?
A: Everybody is talking about the human rights violation but nobody is talking about the number of dead bodies that were found in villages those days. So many children were taken as child soldiers. Nobody is talking about those crimes by the LTTE. All the time they say human rights but not a single fellow is dying today. Nobody has appreciated and will not appreciate it.
But such dismissal has landed top military persons like Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya who was in Brazil, Maj. Gen. Priyanka Fernando, you and many others are trouble and they are paying a price since governments did not clear their names, claims, and allegations. Shouldn’t the Government do it this time?
A: Gen. Jayasuriya returned from Brazil when his tenure was over. Maj. Gen. Fernando had done something so was asked to return. We have been trying to clear our names, however, when the UNHRC does not accept it, what could we do?
So these UNHRC reports will continue to haunt all of you in the future too. Is that right?
A: Yes. They have listened to only one side.
What about murders of Lasantha, disappearance of Ekneligoda, the 11 youth abduction by the Navy, etc., when will there be a closure?
A: There are inquires going on. During the previous government Shani Abeysekera and many others conducted inquiries. You cannot point the fingers at somebody and say ‘he murdered him’. You have to prove it. Let the law enforcement authority prove it. You cannot just prosecute somebody in courts without any proof. Already the AG has taken action on the killings of the 11 youth and indictment was served.
What is your message to the UNHRC?
A: They should give a fair hearing without taking bits of news from other people. Please be impartial.
A strong resolution on Sri Lanka is expected in March. How is the government going to handle it?
A: It’s not my business as a Secretary of Defence to attend to it. Let the Foreign Ministry handle it.
How will you clear your name from the UNHRC report?
A: We are not war criminals. I have done my service for my country and its people and even you are walking freely today because I spent my entire youth in the jungle fighting the terrorists. I have done my part now it’s up to the government and the foreign ministry to clear my name.
General, now the matter has gone one step further with referral to the International Criminal Court. Can we remain quiet?
A: I am not scared of anything as I am not a war criminal.
What will you do if when you travel overseas and you are taken into custody?
A: I’ll face it. Who cares!
(Pic by Anuruddha Medawattegedera)