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Plea to probe Lankan field commanders in Haiti sex scandal

world Updated: Nov 13, 2007 18:32 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran
Hindustan Times
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Local field commanders should bear primary responsibility for the sex scandal involving the Sri Lankan contingent in the UN Peace Keeping Force in Haiti, a leading military analyst has said.

"Before blaming the boys, the hierarchy in the Sri Lankan forces serving in Haiti should be asked to explain," retired Air Chief Marshal Harry Goonetilleke told Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

"They might have winked at the goings on," Goonetilleke said about the scandal in which the UN found that 108 of the 950 Sri Lankan soldiers stationed there had paid local women for sex. Some of the women were very young. The men involved have since been repatriated to Sri Lanka and confined to their camps, pending further investigations, media reports said.

"If only a few men were involved, a court martial would suffice. But here, over a hundred were involved. This calls into question the role of the local hierarchy in the three services. They should be made answerable because these things were happening 10,000 miles away from home," Goonetilleke said.

Asked if rotating the personnel periodically would mitigate the problems created by sexual deprivation among troops serving for long periods far away from home, Goonetilleke said that the troops were rotated every six or eight months. The problems was not non-rotation but of leadership in the field, he meant.

The Sri Lankan government's view is that the UN Code strictly prohibits "transactional contacts" (meaning sex for money) and whole units are sent back if cases of prostitution are discovered. The government sees nothing wrong in accepting guilt and recalling the troops concerned.

But sections of the Sri Lankan media and Sinhala nationalist parties like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) say that the government had acted supinely. They say that only six men had actually erred; that the UN had over-reacted by sending back more than a hundred; and that the campaign had been instigated by a French medical NGO with an intention to demoralize the Sri Lankan armed forces and boost the morale of the LTTE.

How armies manage need for sex

Right down history, armies have faced the problem of managing the sexual urge among their men and have found a variety of ways to deal with it.

Andre Wink says in his work "Al-Hind, the making of the Indo-Islamic Word," that prostitutes were part and parcel of the entourage of the Mughal armies in India. On campaigns in far flung areas, the Mughal armies were rather like "moving cities" equipped with servants, bazaars and prostitutes.

Because of the size of the camp followers, the Mughal armies on the march could not cover more than 16 km a day, and they marched only five days a week. The time spent in communion with each other in these military camps was so much, that a new language "Urdu" could be evolved by the soldiers who came from different ethnic groups.

In France, among the many evils Joan of Arc had to take on was rampant prostitution in the military. She banned it. An account of life in military camps during the American Civil War, says that when not drinking or gambling the men escaped the tedium of daily army life by enjoying "horizontal refreshments", as visiting prostitutes became known.

"Thousands of prostitutes thronged the cities in the war zones and clustered about the camps. By 1862, for instance, Washington DC had 450 bordellos and at the least 7,500 full time prostitutes," the account found in www.civilwarhome.com said. Venereal disease among soldiers was "largely uncontrolled", it added.

During World War II ,the Japanese Army ran a "comfort service" and had "comfort women" accompany the regiments to the front lines across Asia and the Pacific. A study of this phenomenon found in www.exordio.com found that in 1942, the Japanese Army had shipped 703 Korean comfort women to occupied Burma.

The Japanese Army had a schedule for using the services of the prostitutes, with separate timings for ordinary soldiers, NCOs and officers. Time was divided between the various units also.

"The Guardian" reported on May 1, 2002, that the Soviet armies marching into Hitler's Germany in January 1945 "raped every German female from eight to 80". They raped the German women on a "collective basis", the paper quoted playwright Zakhar Agranenko as saying.

After the occupation of Japan in 1945, Japanese businessmen set up "comfort stations" for the American GIs under the Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA). AP put out a story quoting the RAA chief, Seiichi Kaburagi, as saying in 1972, that he remembered seeing 500 to 600 soldiers lining up before the brothels. It became so uncontrollable that the head of the occupation forces, Gen Douglas MacArthur, had to order the shutting of the brothels in 1946.

The Korean War in the early 1950s spawned the same issue. American military personnel, starved of females who they could communicate with normally, visited prostitutes for want of anything better.

In the late 1980s, the LTTE, and its allies in Tamil Nadu like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), accused personnel of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka of raping Tamil women in the North-East war zone. More recently, in Bosnia, some workers in DynCorp, a contractor working for the US government, were accused of being involved in sex-slave trade.