The President has spoken

Daily News Editorial 

President Maithripala Sirisena has set the record straight. For the umpteenth time that is. Earlier, he had declared, in no uncertain terms, that he would not compromise the country’s War Heroes and would not stand for a hybrid courts. He was followed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who also declared unequivocally that no War Hero would be brought before any tribunal.

But Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the Joint Opposition, were not convinced, or rather feigned to be unconvinced. They were only interested in exploiting our War Heroes for narrow political gain, assuming a monopoly as the protectors of the country’s War Heroes, never mind that they unceremoniously threw the war winning army commander behind bars.

Addressing War Heroes at a function at the Defence Services School, in Kurunegala, on Wednesday, President Sirisena once again reiterated his pledge to stand by the country’s War Heroes and declared that no War Hero would be subject to any inquiry relating to abuse of human rights. He said he is not prepared to make any War Hero a suspect on charges levelled against the armed forces and the government on the alleged violation of human rights during the war against terrorism. Pointing out that it is the responsibility and duty of the government to protect the War Heroes, who fought for the Motherland, the President assured that he would always fulfill his responsibility as the President and the Commander-in-Chief.

But, in the same breath, he also stressed that he was unable to protect those found guilty of acts that are not connected to national security and those who are guilty of killing media personnel and sportsmen. President Sirisena could have not been more emphatic. He has declared his stand unequivocally and all right thinking members of the public, no doubt, would approve of the position he had taken. The President has now cleared the air, and, convincingly so, and the Joint Opposition can persist with it’s threadbare slogan of a government witch-hunt against War Heroes only at considerable political risk to itself.

No war is fought clean and the Eelam was no exception. To deny that there were no excesses, on the part of security forces, is closing one’s eyes to reality. As the saying goes the end justifies the means and today the people from VVT to Dondra Head are reaping the fruits of peace, thanks to the sacrifices made by our forces. To completely turn one’s back on these valiant men and throw them to the wolves, would, therefore, seem not only ungrateful but a treacherous act. President Sirisena, as the Commander-in-Chief, has therefore fully stood by the forces and has assured their protection, indemnifying them from any allegation of human rights violations, in the line of duty. The President’s firm stand vis-a-vis the country’s War Heroes, and the tone and tenor in which he made this pledge, no doubt, would have convinced the public of his sincerity. It has certainly taken the wind off the sails of the Joint Opposition which had been carrying out a campaign to portray the government as being an “anti-War Heroes”, based on the arrests of some criminal elements among the security forces.

The President made it clear that all those responsible for criminal acts, among the forces, would have to suffer the same consequences, as in the case of the ordinary members of the public who are arraigned before the law, for crimes. The President, no doubt, has made this distinction to impress upon the public that crime never pays, whoever may be the perpetrators. True, members of the security forces may have committed excesses in the battle against the LTTE. But these could, by no means, be categorized as cold blooded killings, as in the case of the murders of Lasantha, Prageeth and Thajudeen. These were not conducted in the heat of battle but carefully planned and executed. Hence the President’s position that he will not cover such elements in the security forces will be widely acknowledged by the public.

Today, hardly a day passes without some former member of the armed forces, or a serving member, reported to be involved in serious crime, such as murder, rape, or robbery. What would be the position if the President grants blanket immunity to all armed forces personnel? This is exactly what the Joint Opposition is telling the government to do. Will not such a course lead to a complete breakdown in law and order leading to a state of anarchy? Members of the security forces cannot have a license to commit criminal acts just because they fought on the battlefield.

True, the question of manpower compelled the recruitment of persons to the forces without proper screening, and, needless to say, a not inconsiderable number of criminal elements found their way into the tri-forces. It is these elements that did the dirty work of politicians to get rid of meddlesome journalists and others. Therefore the President’s decision to put the record straight is not only timely but also puts the whole issue in its proper perspective.