The Sunday Leader

Is Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Sri Lanka’s Version of the USA’s Blackwater?

At the time that Rakna Arakshaka Lanka was set up, there was some mention in the mainstream media of its establishment with the attendant speculation as to its nature and purpose.
However, since that original recognition there has been virtually no reference to it in the English media except for mention in connection with the military training program at the country’s universities for which it was allegedly responsible.

Some of the employees who were present at the 4th Anniversary celebrations of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka

Various internet websites, not all of which are reputed for the absolute accuracy of their reporting, have made mention of its existence and the purposes it could serve, none of them of a particularly acceptable or attractive nature if one was to believe what was reported! What does appear to be the case is that the Defence Secretary has established a security company with a comprehensive range of operations that is very clearly para-military in its complexion and intended operation. The company’s very extensive website, which includes photographs of professional quality of its plant and equipment, names its Objectives as follows:

• To provide security to vital public and private institutions, installations, localities of economic interest inclusive of those connected with provision of national security enabling to maintain uninterrupted economy of the country.

• To assist the Security Forces and the Police by minimising their engagements in security duties at vital public and private institutions, installations, localities of economic interest outside operational areas enabling them to be engaged in active duties in operational areas.

• To assist in the development process of the country.

• To assist disaster management activities at times of national calamities.

• To assist the government in meeting the problem of unemployment.

• To be of assistance in the future welfare of ex-service and Police personnel.

• To assist the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order by training male and female security personnel employed by private security services.

What is apparent is that, while this is a wholly state-owned entity, it does not answer to the legislature or its Committee On Public Enterprises (COPE) and, through it to the people of this country in any shape, form or fashion.
This should be a matter of singular importance in a situation where there are very few oversight bodies or checks and balances in our system of government to begin with and which, for lack of a more specific term, can be described as some kind of ‘dictatorial democracy.’ While this might be wholly in keeping with ‘governing arrangements’ post-18th Amendment, it is neither healthy nor acceptable in a country that still pays lip-service to democratic practice.
In fact, the Objectives of the company can be interpreted in such a manner as to permit it to engage in a very wide range of activities, inclusive of providing what amounts to activities duplicating many of those which a conventional democratically-elected government or its more formal security services would normally perform.
If you don’t believe me, I leave it to your powers of comprehension to enable you, the reader, to arrive at your own conclusions particularly if you are able to check out the Rakna website which is listed in the post-script to this column. Recent accusations that this security company was playing a mercenary role in the seas off Somalia, while they might not be of immediate concern in the matter of the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka’s waters, have implications in the area of international relations that transcend those of some outfit playing at ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ on the high seas, allegedly providing security to some ship owner in the farthest reaches of the Arabian Sea or Indian Ocean.
Since the company operating this para-military organization is wholly owned by the Sri Lankan state, any repercussions that are generated by the actions of any Rambos they might cut loose on the ocean wave, would, undoubtedly, come home to roost with the Sri Lankan nation. What is most disturbing in the context of the Sri Lankan reality is the fact that the government, in keeping with the ‘very valuable thinking’ of the President, to quote the organization’s website, has chosen to set up this private, paramilitary organization which has an intelligence wing and an armed wing, among others, while we still have not demobilized our security forces approximating half a million men and women (as described by Mr. Keheliya Rambukwelle before the end of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam/ LTTE/ ‘Tigers’).
If this is not the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Blackwater mercenary organization that played (continues to play?) a truly infamous role in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t know what is! In fact, the catering and other commercial enterprises that it claims to be embarking upon more recently suggest that it is seeking to expand horizontally and vertically into a very comprehensive business with the patronage of the President and government and with an avowed intent of providing elite military and intelligence services, to boot.
Blackwater has been subject to investigation and exposure by the media in the US and elsewhere, something which has not occurred in Sri Lanka and most unlikely to occur given the abject servility of its Fourth Estate to those that are in absolute control of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka. Of course, despite white van abductions, extra-judicial executions, shadowy entities operating seemingly above the law in the matter of illegal treasure-hunting, etc. etc. the opposition parties do not appear to have any great interest in examining, leave alone protesting, the establishment of an armed force that is under the complete control of the Defence Secretary and his brother, the President, outside the scrutiny of the citizens of this country.
In keeping with current trends in the country and the behaviour of our government, should we start thinking seriously of trading-in our national anthem, ‘Namo, Namo, Matha’ for that Broadway classic, ‘Anything Goes?’

P.S.
For those with access to the internet, let me suggest that they ‘Google’ the Wikipedia entry on ‘Blackwater’ which is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackwater_Security_Consulting as well as other websites such as http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=8353942004369311258, In addition, Rakna Arakshaka Lanka’s website is at http://www.rakna.lk/pgs/watwe.htm.

11 Comments for “Is Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Sri Lanka’s Version of the USA’s Blackwater?”

  1. MCN

    Sir:

    Interesting piece but the author focused only on some aspects of the RAL concept.

    Internationally, security contractors are part of a new business model, increasingly common worldwide in the West and East and this may have social benefits such as job creation etc.

    Sri Lanka can also offer RAL services to regional countries in a variety of areas. If used well they can be brand ambassadors for the nation. Nepal and the UK did this very successfully with Gurkha regiments serving worldwide.

    • Pacha Epa

      MCN
      The Gurkha comparison is akin to comparing apples with oranges. Nowhere did the Gurkha regiment(s) provide the kind of services that RAL promises to do. They were used simply as a fighting force alongside the British army. As for things like the Gurkhas developing catering operations…………..!

    • MotleyFOOL

      You got it wrong. Please don’t shame the Ghurka’s. The Ghurkha regiments were used by the British for their high endurance, altitude and penetration of impregnable enemy terrain that a local UK soldier would find challenging. The other is their loyalty to her colonial master. Never were the Gurkha’s a pariah fighting force, mercenary, VIP security or private army unlike RAL or Blackwater (now changing names Xi and academi) to avoid international prosecution. Also KM- services in UK made of retired British SAS officers who trained our STF.

      • Ebenezer Thurairajah

        Yes, the Gurkhas are a great regiment but the operative word is “USED”…
        They were and are continuing to be USED by the Brits.. with little given in return except empty promises – they even have to fight for their pensions

        If Blackwater and the like are good enough for America.. , (since everyone seems to look to America and the West for what Sri Lanka should be like)…, then it’s good enough for Sri Lanka

        • Emil van der Poorten

          Ebenezar Thurairajah
          Never having been among those who believed that “what was good for the west was automatically good for Sri Lanka,” I cannot come close to accepting that Sri Lanka needs its very own Blackwater! In fact, I don’t think ANY nation, particularly one pretending to be a democracy, needs anything of that nature.
          Let’s not try to categorise people by insinuation and half-truth, okay?

  2. naman

    Ratna Arakshaka is essentially a group to keep a tab on undergraduates who value freedoms of press,judiciary and who ready to fight corruption and value human rights

  3. Ebenezer Thurairajah

    Dear Mr van der Poorten

    It’s what Western ‘democracies’ (or those claiming to be such) DO that matters – not what they say they do.

    The US, Canada and the UK etc etc.. are being held up by all and sundry as shining examples that Sri Lanka should follow and emulate. In fact, should some have their way, we should actually bend over and allow boatloads of ‘concerned groups and individuals’ to have their way with us into the bargain ! Theres a whole Greek chorus in the West dedicated to the realisation of this enviable goal

    but I digress……

    So why not emulate ? And while we are about this emulation, let us not do any of it by half-measures.. Let us therefore have our own Blackwaters, GardaWorlds, Aegis’s and of course our very own ‘Gurkha Security Services’ as well (MotleyFOOL and pacha epa, please note )

    In the end, we shall be just like the West.. and isn’t that something us natives, so long bereft of the paternal, guiding hand of the Europeans, our betters.. should aspire to ?

    Oh.. and another thing.. The objections seem only to be due to the fact that these things can always be attached to the name ‘Rajapakse’.. Were they attached to names which are accepted to be ‘heriditary rulers’ of this little corner of the planet . I imagine there would be little discord.. and perhaps even (dare I say it?).. approval ?

    Thank you for clearing up the fact that you are not one of the True Believers.. but the ranks of the True Believers are many.. much more than those of your ilk who don’t believe that SriLanka should ‘Ape the West”…. and they will win out in the end.

  4. Ebenezer Thurairajah

    Dear Mr van der Poorten

    May I bring to your attention the following document

    http://www.seasecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/SAMI-Standard-Executive-Summary.pdf

    There are guidelines for private security companies operating in maritime regions. Now, I think it’s inconceivable that this could have been prepared solely for the existence of Rakna.. so I can only assume there are other private security companies operating in maritime regions

    With the increase of maritime piracy, and the inability of nations to protect commercial fleets, I don’t really see an issue with private enterprise getting in on the act.. especially

    So it seems that the UK, US, Canada and Sri Lanka (perhaps many more as well) are all playing “Sinbad the Sailor”.. does it not ?

    My question though is.. why should we not play as well ?

    • Emil van der Poorten

      Ebenezer Thurairajah:
      To answer your last question: there is something seriously wrong in an alleged democracy establishing private armies and navies and spy agencies which are financed by the state but do not answer to its electors or their representatives. There is a pejorative term to describe the type of political philosophy that spawns these kinds of entities and it was, I believe, first instituted by a guy called Mussolini.

      But then, you don’t seem to have a problem with the “privatization” of the rule of law, national or international either, it seems, so ……………

      • Ebenezer Thurairajah

        Thank you for your reply… I suppose I do agree with you that there is ‘something seriously wrong’ about ‘alleged democracies’… provided of course that by ‘alleged democracy’ you don’t mean to point to little old SL alone and do encompass all the other ‘alleged democracies’ as well.

        ” “privatization” of the rule of law” tsk, tsk…. . there you go, putting words in my mouth… :(

        What I said was “I don’t really see an issue with private enterprise getting in on the act”

        • Emil van der Poorten

          Ebenezer Thurairajah:
          Your words speak louder than anything I can say in contradiction!

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