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Is Sri Lanka Serious About Demilitarization?

Jul 7, 2016
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Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is talking big yet again. This time it’s about demilitarization. Speaking in Colombo on July 6, Mr. Samaraweera said that the government hopes “to complete the demilitarization process” by 2018. And we’re not just talking about the war-torn Northern and Eastern Provinces, the foreign minister is referring to the entire country.

Where is this coming from? Should a statement like this be taken seriously? “The top brass in the army still call shots with this crisis ridden government,” says Colombo-based journalist Kusal Perera.

Perhaps Mr. Samaraweera would be willing to reveal the precise number of troops currently stationed in the north and the approximate rate at which a military drawdown would occur. In light of the foreign minister’s remarks, should we look for the defense budget to finally stop growing?

In fact, 18 months into President Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure, demilitarization has yet to begin and the military remains heavily involved in civilian life in the north and east. What’s more, various government officials – both civilians and military personnel – have justified the country’s continued militarization on specious national security grounds. This even happened last month.

Frankly, if demilitarization is such a high priority for the government, then the president and the prime minister should be conveying that message to the public. “A weak, conflicting leadership shared between President Sirisena and [Prime Minister] PM [Ranil] Wickramasinghe will not be able to handle demilitarization, even if their government survives that long in one piece,” notes Perera.

To conclude, Mr. Samaraweera’s recent remarks should be looked upon with profound skepticism. This appears to be another disingenuous effort designed to deflect diplomatic pressure. The bottom line is that, if Colombo is truly serious about demilitarization, the coalition government has a very unusual way of showing it.

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