Govt. justifies sending warship to Red Sea



By Saman Indrajith

Defence State Minister Pramita Bandara Tennakoon told Parliament yesterday that Sri Lanka, as a maritime state, had global responsibility to neutralise terrorist threats to international shipping in the Indian Ocean and surrounding seas, and therefore, the government had decided to deploy a naval vessel in the Red Sea to combat Houthi rebels.

Responding to a question raised by Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, Minister Tennakoon said that the decision to deploy the naval vessel against Houthi rebels had not been prompted by Lanka’s relationships with the US or Israel. “We must use the Red Sea route for our exports and imports. We need to ensure that the route is free from terrorist activities. If we detour that route to circumvent the African continent, then the prices of our exports will increase. That will affect our economy badly. Prices of what we import will increase. We as a nation are against any form of terrorism anywhere in the world. In addition, we have a global responsibility to fight against terrorism. We always expect the international community to support us. When we do so we have the responsibility to consider the international community’s needs,” the Minister said.

Premadasa said that the government had decided to deploy a naval vessel at a cost of Rs 250 million at a time when the country’s population, including its children, is facing starvation. “What comparative advantage will this decision of spending Rs 250 million will bring to this country? Ours is a bankrupt nation, we cannot afford this. Isn’t the President aware of the true situation prevailing in this country when making this sort of decisions,” Premadasa queried, demanding to know why the government should not first address the economic problems here before fighting other’s wars.

Minister Tennakoon said that there was a need to think globally rather than looking at problems like frogs in a well. Sri Lanka’s international obligation is to combat terrorism and its commitment to fulfilling its maritime responsibilities. “India recently sent a rocket to the Moon. That is when it has more than 800 million poor people who are poorer than the poorest of this country. None in that country demanded that they should first feed every citizen or build toilets for each family before sending rockets to the Moon. We would not bear any additional expenses for this deployment as the Navy already operates on the high seas in this area which has been identified as a trafficking hotspot for guns, narcotics and people smuggling. This move is a vital regional security obligation,” the Minister said.

Opposition Leader Premadasa: “India has sent a rocket to the Moon successfully. But we are a nation that has been bankrupted by rocket sending experiments. The Rajapaksas too sent a rocket to space and that too contributed to bankrupting our economy. Has the international community offered debt relief of Rs 250 million in exchange for deploying our vessel spending that much money? Instead, this money could have been used to buy computers for school children.”

SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem said that Sri Lanka as a founder member of the Non-aligned Movement should not be involved in others’ wars. This decision is to please the US and Israel. “This decision is against Sri Lanka’s non-aligned foreign policy. Sending the Navy at the behest of the US and Israel while the President is getting ready to attend the Non-Aligned Summit in Uganda’s capital Kampala in a few days is a joke,” Hakeem said.