Daily News Editorial: No more barriers

September 1, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Checkpoints are usually found at border crossings between two countries, such as USA and Canada. This is to ensure that visitors travelling from Country A to Country B have all the correct papers and would not pose a security or other threat. But here in Sri Lanka, there was a unique situation where a “border crossing” in all but name operated for nearly two decades at Omanthai near Vavuniya, physically separating the North and the South. Worse, it not only physically distanced but also emotionally divided the various communities in the island.

This military checkpoint came into being as a result of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) dominating most of the North in the 1990s. It was vital, from a national security point of view, to ensure that the LTTE would not have access to materials that could be used for purposes of terrorising the Southern populace. Hence baggages and personal belongings of North-bound persons were checked. Persons coming to the South from the North were also checked to block the entry of hardcore terrorists and items such as explosive devices. It was a necessary evil in the context in which it came into being and operated thereafter. Beyond the checkpoint was a so-called “No Man’s Land”, followed by Tiger-controlled territory.

This checkpoint was so deeply ingrained in our psyche over a period of time that many people referred to villages bordering the North as “Border Villages”, an anachronism of the highest order. It became an accepted fact of life that no one disputed. The checkpoint somehow reminded the people that they were living in a physically and emotionally divided nation.

Even after the complete liberation of the North from the LTTE in May 2009 and the re-opening of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road to civilian traffic, the military continued to operate the Omanthai checkpoint though on a somewhat reduced scale. This was the right thing to do, because one cannot afford to take chances with national security immediately after a war.

However, six years after the war when the North and the South have been completely integrated and the people are free to move as they please anywhere in the island (a right guaranteed by the Constitution itself), there is no need to maintain a checkpoint, even in reduced form, that harks back to the era of division. That could somehow give the impression that the North is a separate part of the country. This is the last thing our country needs as the Government is working towards achieving genuine reconciliation among the different communities.

Fortunately, the defence authorities have come to the same conclusion and dismantled the entire checkpoint complex with effect from Saturday. The checkpoint was redundant for some time anyway because the Northern rail passengers and goods are not subject to any checks at all.

It is a step in the right direction that will give a correct signal to the International Community that Sri Lanka is no longer a nation divided on ethnic lines. To Sri Lankans, it will mean they are free to travel to the North and South without even a minor hassle. It will bring the communities even closer together.

With the Omanthai checkpoint gone, only a very few checkpoints manned by the Police are still being maintained in Colombo primarily to check heavy vehicles entering the city. At some point in the future it may be possible to remove them as well, but such matters are best left to the security analysts and experts who know what they are doing.

It must be stressed that the removal of military checkpoints or posts does not compromise national security in any way, because the defence authorities are taking adequate alternative measures. It is a well-known fact that remnants of the overseas network of the LTTE are still operating in certain countries, but the security authorities are taking cognizance of this and devising appropriate responses. According to the Military Spokesman, a new security system similar to what is operational in the South will be adopted to maintain security in the North in the immediate future.

Indeed, it is vital to make a pragmatic assessment of security needs in the context of emerging global threats and deploy appropriate security measures. Coincidentally, this is the theme of the Sri Lanka Defence Seminar 2015 which begins tomorrow in Colombo. Such a periodic review of security concerns is essential for our region due to the emergence of new global terror outfits such as the ISIS.

Here in Sri Lanka, as the results of the recent polls indicate, the people have comprehensively rejected the politics of communalism and division. Their message is that all communities are keen to live in harmony in one nation sans any barriers. Omanthai, that physical and psychological barrier to reconciliation, is now no more and lasting peace is one step closer.

Courtesy: Ceylon Daily News