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Archive for July 20th, 2009

“They died by the thousands but over the years the Sri Lankan soldier turned out to be more than a match for the well equipped guerrillas of Pirapaharan. It is indeed ironic that some of these intellectuals who 20 years ago were advising Tamil militants that they had to ‘pick up guns’ to fight for self determination are now in full praise of these ‘buth packet’ soldiers. The ‘buth packet’ soldiers ultimately turned out to be the real war heroes and none can deny that.”

This is a land packed with patriots and heroes. On a crowded Pettah pavement you can’t help avoiding bumping into a patriot or stepping on the toes of a war hero after every step you take. Patriots are easily recognisable thanks to the definition of President Mahinda Rajapakse: ‘Patriots are those who are with us (on Mahinda Rajapakse’s side) others are not.’

The mood in this ‘Resplendent Isle’ right now is that if you are not a patriot, you are a traitor. This would, you would agree, place quite a proportion of the populace in a quandary because close to 50 percent of the country did not vote for Rajapakse last time. However, the thinking of those well placed and well heeled now sitting in judgement on patriots and traitors is that the ‘Superlative Victory’ (Vijayagrahanaya) would have eliminated all those doubting Thomas’ and that ‘all are on our side.’

Perils of heroism

In finding heroes we are confronted with much more difficulties. Of course the greatest of them have been found, worshipped, adulated and blessed an infinite number of times much more than heroes of previous times. We do agree that most of them deserve the rapturous cries accorded, the highest ever honours accorded et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But we feel that a warning should be sounded on syrupy sycophancy. The hyperbolic references, the great sacrifices made etc. should be taken with a pinch of salt. Worshippers at the altars of gods or heroes often expect rewards — divine or mundane. This is a peril of heroism which our newly proclaimed heroes should be wary of.

Heroes, it should be realised, live in the hearts and minds of the people and their golden memories are passed down in memory from generation to generation. Those of the past were not felicitated in cardboard cut-outs or posters that defiled neighbourhoods.

No heroes of the past?

A notable feature in the victory celebrations of this 30-year-war we noticed was the failure to remember the heroes of the past 28 years or so. There may have been brief references made to them but surely they should be better remembered? What of those like Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijaya Wimalaratne who died on the battlefield? It is no exaggeration to say that the nation wept for days on the death of Kobbekaduwa who was admired by even his enemies.

There are others like Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne who rid the country of the JVP menace that threatened the nation even more that the LTTE and also cleared the Eastern Province along with Maj. Gen Lucky Algama.

There was Gen. Janaka Perera, one of the most successful military commanders against the LTTE. It was he with Gen. Sarath Fonseka who held the Jaffna peninsula when the LTTE broke through Elephant Pass and was threatening to run through the Jaffna peninsula where an estimated 45,000 soldiers were trapped.

This is not the occasion to recall all those war heroes, most of whom perished on land, air and sea. But they too are war heroes who cannot be forgotten. Certainly during the last two years the armed forces made tremendous progress and accomplished what could not have been made in all those years due to various extraneous conditions.

Old school ties

But the Kobbekaduwas, Wimalaratnes, Waidyaratnes, Algamas Janaka Pereras and many others were war heroes who cannot be confined to the limbo of history. They need no cardboard images or propaganda posters; they live in the hearts and minds of the freedom loving people of Sri Lanka.

Remembrance of war heroes have now gone down to schools. Schools have now commenced ‘felicitating’ their war heroes in earnest.

A notable thing about Sri Lankan schools is that most boys do not grow out of school. In reality though they have left school long years ago, their thoughts keep going back to their old school. To some their old school is the ‘centre of their universe’ and they will do ‘anything’ for their school. It must be said that this fanatical devotion is confined to boys’ schools and not seen even in the more sophisticated Colombo girls’ schools.

The real heroes

It is said that this old school loyalty is a thing that the British left with us but it is not as strong in Britain today as it is here. Now this old school loyalty is filtering down to village schools — for better or worse.

Schools remembering their war dead and living heroes is to be appreciated but let us remember that amidst all these remembrance ceremonies we tend to forget­ in my opinion — the real war heroes who won the war, the poor village boys and boys from the urban slums who lost their limbs, became living zombies or perished in the dust, sand or mud of the north and east. Whether they were equipped with required arms, sufficiently trained and motivated particularly in the early years of the conflict have been debated often.

These were boys who were ridiculed by Colombo’s elite intellectuals and typewriter strategists as warriors fighting for their ‘buth packet’. Yes, the poor boys joined the forces for a meagre salary to be enjoyed not by themselves but to send their salaries home for their humble parents to live on. These ‘mercenaries’ it was said were no match for the highly motivated guerrillas fighting for a ‘just cause.’

They died by the thousands but over the years the Sri Lankan soldier turned out to be more than a match for the well equipped guerrillas of Pirapaharan. It is indeed ironic that some of these intellectuals who 20 years ago were advising Tamil militants that they had to ‘pick up guns’ to fight for self determination are now in full praise of these ‘buth packet’ soldiers. The ‘buth packet’ soldiers ultimately turned out to be the real war heroes and none can deny that.

Napoleon Bonaparte who knew war perhaps as no other, is on record saying: ‘A soldier is he whose blood makes the glory of generals.’ It is indeed satisfying for this columnist to recall that we placed our faith in these poor soldiers in the early years of the conflict in another newspaper many a time (in a column also titled Serendipity) when most others were ridiculing today’s heroes.

The lines of Thomas Grey written in praise of humble English peasantry comes to our mind as we think of the thousands of poor rural and urban youth from the army, navy, air force and the police (over 600 policemen slaughtered in one go in cold blood) now lying in unknown graves in the jungles of the east.

Here rests his head upon the lap of earth
A youth to fortune and fame unknown
Fair science frowned not on his humble birth
And melancholy marked him for his own
Large was his bounty and his soul sincere
Heaven did recompense as largely sent:
He gave to memory all he had, a tear,
He gained from heaven (it was all he wished) a friend.

(Sri Lanka Guardian)

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Sri Lanka has told the EU though the military capacity of the LTTE had been destroyed in Sri Lanka their international network, particularly in Europe, remained well intact and unless the EU acts urgently to arrest this trend, the situation could get worse, initially for the hosts.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU Ravinatha Aryasinha has impressed on Members of the European Parliament (MEP) the need for the EU and member states to use whatever influence they had on Tamils of Sri Lankan origin, a majority of whom still remained in the category of ‘refugees’, to support peace in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Belgium today quoted the Ambassador as saying the rejection by European voters of those who campaigned on a pro-LTTE platform at the recently concluded European Parliamentary elections, should encourage the EU to “re-calibrate its relationship with Sri Lanka” and “engage in a constructive manner in the post-LTTE context”.

The Ambassador thanked the members of the group who acted as “voices of sanity” in the early part of this year, when a few within the European Parliament sought to embarrass the Government of Sri Lanka during the last stages of its operations to defeat LTTE terrorism.

He said these detractors were wrong in their “diagnosis of the problem” believing that the LTTE had the capacity to transform, as they were in their “recommendation of a solution” in demanding that there should be a ceasefire.

He said the Embassy would engage the full spectrum of political groups in the new parliament with a view to keeping them abreast of post-conflict development in Sri Lanka and looked forward to constructive engagement with members interested in Sri Lanka on a sustained basis.

Reminding them that it was less than 8 weeks since the guns fell silent in what was a 30-year long terrorist conflict, the Ambassador said as much as the government would like to, they could not overnight restore normalcy to the lives of the 287,000 persons displaced, who were placed in this predicament due to the LTTE moving them from place to place to be used as human shields in the fighting.

The Ambassador also acknowledged that the needs for the displaced people in camps in Vavuniya were substantial and was stretching the capacities of not only the government, but also the 4 International organizations, 21 International NGOs and 26 local NGOs working within the Welfare Villages.

However, he said that recent reports such as the one about 1400 deaths in the Welfare Villages were without basis.  He said the total number of deaths over the past month was only 163, an average of 5.6 deaths per day, which according to Sri Lanka’s Secretary, Health Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage was well below the internationally set upper “sphere guidelines” of 13.2 per day, for a population approximating that presently within the Welfare Villages.

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Major General Jagath Jayasuriya, the new Commander of the Sri Lankan Army would be taking the challenge of leading a peacetime army. It would of course be a challenge. However, without his predecessor, Gen Sarath Fonseka — who was last week appointed to the newly legislated position of the Chief of Defence Staff — Major Gen Jayasuriya would have been assigned to a far more daunting task: fighting a full blown war against the LTTE. Gen Sarath Fonseka, who functioned as the Commander of Army for a period of over two and half months, leaves a legacy which many a predecessor could never accomplish: the annihilation of the LTTE, the most dangerous terrorist groups according to the rankings of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI).

According to the latest senior security forces appointments made last Sunday (12), Commander of Army, Gen Sarath Fonseka was appointed to the Chief of Defence Staff; a position which was hitherto a nominal posting till it was granted legal power under the act of Chief of Defence Staff passed in parliament.

The Commander of Navy, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda was appointed National Security Advisor, a place hitherto non existent in the national security hierarchy. However, it is pertinent to note that even in the US, from where the Sri Lankan officials may have taken a leaf, the influential post of National Security Advisor, who functions as the chief advisor to the President on the national security affairs is an extra constitutional post, which first came into being in the early 50s under the Eisenhower Administration.

Successor

The Army Chief of Staff, Major General G A Chandrasiri, the second senior most officer of the Army, who was serving under a service extension, was tipped to succeed Gen Fonseka. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Commander in Chief decided to appoint Major Gen Chandrasiri, who served earlier as the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna and as the competent authority on the IDP camps and the Governor of the Northern Province as well. The appointment was made as Dickson Jaela, the then serving Governor was tipped to become the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the Maldives. This paved the way for Major General Jagath Jayasuriya, who was till last week, the Security Forces Commander,Vanni, to the post of the Commander of Army.

Still, Major Gen Jayasuriya, a Royalist, was the 10th in the list of seniority. However, as the new regulations limits the appointment to the post of the Commander of Army to the officers from infantry units, armoured corps and selected officers of Engineering Units, seven contenders were eliminated, leaving Major Gen Chandrasiri and Major Gen Sumith Balasuriya. The latter however has tendered his retirement papers after service of 34 years. On Sunday, 12, Major Gen Jayasuriya was appointed the commander of army at age 50. Going by the tradition, he could serve till his retirement at the age 55 till 2014.

One reason for the appointments to be made last week was that, Vice Admiral Tisara Samarasinghe was to retire in the course of the week. The first option was to grant him a service extension. However, later it was decided to appoint him as the Commander of Navy. Rear Admiral Samarasinghe, who has excelled in all overseas training programs he pursued with exemplary performances, would be the 19th commander of the Sri Lankan Navy. After taking office, he told the press that he would plan to modernize the Sri Lankan Navy. He said the Navy would re-equip its Israeli built Saar 4 class Missile Gun Boats with missile systems.

The upgrading of the Gabriel II anti-ship missiles of the missile boats, Nandimitra and Suranimala, which are dysfunctional at the moment would increase the conventional warfare capability of the Sri Lankan Navy. In addition, he said the navy would develop a naval air wing. The Sri Lankan Navy now operates four vessels – SLN Jayasagara, SLN Sayura, SLN Sagara and former US coastguard cutter, SLN Samudura which can handle the take off and landing of helicopters. A previous plan during the tenure of then commander of Navy, Vice Admiral C A C Thisera to develop a naval air wing based on the platforms of Indian built Offshore Patrol Vessels was scuttled due to financial constraints.

Role of the Navy

Since the war has come to an end, the role of the Navy would likely expand in the coming years given Sri Lanka’s strategic location as an island nation. As Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone is expected to expand too, the role of the Navy would likely grow. This is in addition to keeping an eye on the re-equipped LTTE and its overseas cells. The enhanced role would require the expansion of the naval fleet, which is clearly not upto the task at hand.

Meanwhile, with the military threat posed by the LTTE negated, Sri Lankan forces are in search of a new mission. The deployment of a mass army to police the former warzone and keep a tab on possible LTTE infiltrators, does not augur well in the light of the economy of forces principle. There are several mission options available for the Sri Lankan forces: One such is the greater participation in the UN peace keeping operations. Another would be assuming an enhanced role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation in the north-east. Both would provide an economic rationale for maintaining a mass army.

In line with the security forces of the other parts of the Asia, what is equally important is transforming Sri Lankan forces to meet the challenges of the 21 Century, in an era of Revolution of Military Affairs (RMA) which has rendered mass armies largely redundant, at least in inter-state conflicts. That could only be achieved through investing heavily on the technological sophistication.

New army appointments

The new commander of the Army, Major Gen Jagath Jayasuriya has effected the following appointments effective from Friday.

Major General Mendaka Samarasinghe has been promoted as the new Chief of Staff of the Army. Maj. Gen. J. J. P. S. T. Liyanage has been appointed as the Commanding Officer of the Volunteer Force. Maj. Gen. D. E. W. B.Jayatillake has been appointed as the Adjutant General, Army Headquarters. Maj. Gen. G. P. R. Silva has been appointed as the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna.

Maj. Gen. A. M. Perera has been appointed as the Director General, Army headquarters. Maj. Gen Kamal Gunaratne has been appointed as the Security Forces Commander, Wanni.

Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake has been appointed as the Director Planning, Joint Operations headquarters.

Brig. T. S. Meedin, will assume duties at the Joint Operations headquarters. Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe has been appointed as the Chief Signals Officer.

Brig. P. G. A. Weeeasinghe has been appointed as the Commanding Officer, Military Police.
Brig. B. A. Perera has been appointed as the Commander, 58 Division. Brig P. M. P. Jayasundara has been appointed as the Director Planning, Army headquarters.
Brig G. R. Kulatunge has been appointed as the Director Military Academy, Diyatalawa. Brig. Shavendra Silva has been appointed as Director Operations.

Brig. M.K.D.Perera has been appointed as the Commander, 51 Division. Brig. Chagie Gallage has been appointed as the Commander, 53 Division. Brig. Duminda Keppetiwalana has been appointed as the Commander, 59 Division.

Col. P. B.D. Dias has been appointed as Security Forces headquarters, Mullaitivu. Col. W. R. Palihakkara, has been appointed as the Deputy Pay Master. Col. K. P. A. Jayasekera has been appointed Operations Commandant, Colombo.

Col A.M.T.Dharmasiri has been appointed as Director, Sinha Regiment, Ambepussa. Col. H. Kulatunge has been appointed , Jaffna Town Commandant.
Col. W. A. M. Weerasuriya has been appointed as the Brigade Commander, Colombo 112 Brigade.

Col. K. A. W. Kariyapperuma has been appointed as the Brigade Commander, 552 Brigade.
Maj. Gen. P. S. T. Liyanage has been appointed as the head of the Artillery regiment.
Maj Gen A. S. M. Zaheer has been appointed as the Col. Commandant, Military Intelligence Corp. Maj. Gen. D. R.W. B. Jayatillake has been appointed as the Col. Commandant of the Sinha Regiment.

Maj. Gen. R. M. D. Ratnayake has been appointed as the colonel of the Regiment, of the Ceylon Light Infantry regiment. Maj. Gen. M. P. Pieris has been appointed the colonel of the Regiment of the Mechanized Infantry Regiment.
Maj. Gen. S. W. L. Dawulagala has been appointed as the colonel of the Regiment of the Gajaba Regiment.

Maj. Gen. L. B. R. Mark has been appointed as the colonel of the Regiment of the Gemunu Regiment and Brig. E. P. D. Abeysekera has been as the colonel of the Regiment of Signals.

(Lakbima News)

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