Defence Secretary vows to eradicate drug menace in Sri Lanka

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Defence Secretary Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne has reiterated that punitive actions would be initiated without delay against prison, law enforcement and other officials, who were found to have abused official powers through corrupt practices, abetting and collaborating with underworld criminals and drug traffickers.

He said the law enforcement authorities have already taken all measures to identify those uniformed men who were abusing powers vested with them, to get involved in corrupt practices.

“When we were in the military academy, we were taught that the most dangerous enemy is the enemy within. We now need to identify and confirm the enemy within us to eradicate the drug menace. Otherwise, it will be a futile effort”, the Defence Secretary said.

Addressing a gathering at the foundation laying ceremony held to establish a new rehabilitation centre at the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), at Nittambuwa, on Friday (26), he assured to take all necessary measures to eradicate drug menace in Sri Lanka soon, the Ministry of Defence said.

The Defence Secretary said drug addicts needed sympathy, support and assistance to get rehabilitated to reintegrate into the society to lead productive lives.

The fully-fledged rehabilitation centre, which is targeted to rehabilitate nearly 1,000 drug addicts, will be constructed with the assistance of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The event was also held to mark the ‘International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking’, which falls on June 26.

While stating that the underworld and drug dealers should be ashamed of feeding their families using the money earned by abetting wrongdoings, the Defence Secretary noted that eliminating drug menace was a mammoth task and needed to bring all the notorious drug kingpins to book to do justice to the future generation.

The Defence Secretary stressed that the first corrective measure should be at rescuing children who had fallen prey, the second was saving the future generations and the third was to identify those who abuse the respective official capacity by abetting the wrongdoers.

Chairman NDDCB Dr. Laknath Welagedara said the NDDCB, which had been in operation for 36-years since 1984, was expanding treatments and rehabilitation facilities in order to ‘build a drug-free, healthy and secured nation’, the first response onto the nation’s policy of prosperous country following the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

He said the new building, ‘Nawa Diganthaya’ for treatment and rehabilitation centre, would be built in partnership with the Government of Germany and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) while the construction being undertaken by the Sri Lanka Navy.

Deputy Ambassador of Germany Andreas Berg said Germany was supporting the initiative as a part of a much larger project strengthening the capacity of Sri Lanka to prevent and counter-terrorism and violent extremism through effective criminal justice responses.

“The expansion of this rehabilitation centre reflects the fourth pillar of the larger project and this is to strengthening capability and capacity in the prison sector”, he said.

Berg said the expansion of NDDCB’s new facility would support the government’s efforts to decongest prisons, in which a high number of drug users are being currently held.

He further said the project would complement the efforts by the government to tackle the challenges of drug menace in the country and consider treatment not as a method of punishment in addressing the issue.

“We are looking forward to working in partnership with the government, UNODC, civil society, judiciary and prison officials in curbing drug and drug abuse and violent extremism,” he said.

Head of Global Maritime Crime Program of the UNODC Alan Cole said since the land routes for drug trafficking had been restricted amidst the COVID-19 lockdowns, maritime routes become more attractive for drug traffickers while placing Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) at the forefront in the regional fight against the drug trafficking.

Assuring to provide advice curbing organized crimes in prisons and drug menace Cole hailed the government’s new strategy to take them out of the prison system and initiatives introduced to rehabilitate them.

Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary Ravinatha Ariyasinghe, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Maj. Gen.(Retd) Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya, Defence Ministry’s Additional Secretary Malika Sooriyapperuma were also present at the occasion.