Finger off the trigger, Jaffna
There’s a slightly odd story on Ada Derana about a joint Army/Navy operation to rescue a beach ball some kids had lost at sea. It’s sweet that the Army guy swam after the ball and a Navy boat actually picked it up. It’s is, however, rather odd that there remains such a military presence that children are playing within distance of Army, Navy and perhaps Air Force. Foreign friends have found it a bit odd that there are so many armed soldiers, but I think many Sri Lankans find it reassuring. I actually do. The only security forces that weird me out are the Police. The military, however, has a generally good reputation and they are everywhere. This is not viewed as necessarily bad.
Normally having troops everywhere is disconcerting and militarization is viewed as a bad word. There is also a civil libertarian issue of the central government (and President) constantly having guns on the street. He has used them to surround the hotel of the last guy who ran against him (General Sarath Fonseka). On a basic level, these are people carrying guns which is a bit disturbing to constantly be around.
Coming from the carnage of the LTTE years, however, this presence is viewed as something of a relief. The LTTE actively did blow up buses and street corners and this current batch of troops is perceived as having stopped that. They are not viewed as necessarily oppressive because unlike successive governments which militarized and didn’t deliver peace, this government did. So the militarization may make people feel safer.
I, of course, am Sinhalese and can breeze through most checkpoints. I travel with a lot of Tamil/Burgher types and don’t encounter any harassment. I don’t know what it’s like in the North or East where there’s a big language gap and few of the forces speak Tamil. If anyone has any comments on their experiences I’d like to hear.
Generally, however, the militarization of Sri Lanka is not viewed as a bad thing. More stuff is being handed to the police, but I honestly wish that they would militarize that. My experiences with the police are often quite bad and I dread encounters with them cause they’re often looking for bribes or power trips. I encounter no such behavior from the forces.
Sri Lanka is a militarized state and a generation is growing up thinking that this is normal. This may not be a such a bad thing. Is it?
* as a note, the Derana story refers to kids playing on Marble Beach which was, last I checked, a high security zone off limits to non-military people (and their families sometimes).