Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Manifesto of a ‘Goody Two Shoes’ Sinhalese General
16 December 2008
[see also Ranjith Jayasundera in Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Leader
Govt's war costing more lives than ever in Lanka's history ]
from the regular contributions of defence analysts such as Iqbal Athas (in the
Sunday Times, Colombo), not much has been published about
the internal dynamics of the Sri Lankan army. Even much of Iqbal Athas’s
voluminous output todate partially suffers from defects of being (a) filled with
a scavenger’s handpickings, and (b) feeds from military bigwigs who wish to
present their best face. But, some angles of Iqbal Athas’s coverage deserve
notice (see below, for excerpts from his one of his old column).
Assembled by Brian Blodgett
Military: The Search for a Mission,
1949-2004’, authored by Brian Blodgett (2004) appears to be
the only source on which we can have some reliability. By the end of
2008, even the projections of Blodgett in his final chapter ‘The
Future’ have been hopelessly outdated. However, I provide excerpts
from the penultimate chapter “The Military of the 2000s” (pp.
137-139) below for an overview, on the logistics of Sri Lankan (more
aptly termed Sinhalese) army. The abbreviations APC and
stand for armored personnel carrier and Sri Lankan army
respectively. Other than the
sic noted within parenthesis by me, rest of the annotations
appearing within parentheses are as in the original.
Organization: The army did not made (sic)
any organizational changes during the first three years of decade.
It has three divisions headquarters, an armor brigade, an air mobile
brigade, 33 infantry brigades, a Special Forces brigade, a commando
brigade, four artillery regiments, and several support regiments.
The infantry and artillery brigades have both regular and active
Procurement and Existing Weapons:
In 2000, the
army had 53 reconnaissance vehicles, 38 armored cars, 158 APCs, 25
tanks (18 were operational), 81 artillery pieces, 27 air defense
weapons, and over 300 mortars. In 2001, the SLA
decided that it required additional firepower to support its armored
cars and APCs so it purchased 40 tanks. By 2002, the army reduced
its number of reconnaissance vehicles and armored cars; both to 15
vehicles. In order to provide its troops with more protection and
greater mobility, the army increased its APC by approximately 70
percent in 2001, from 158 to 204. In 2002, the army nearly doubled
its artillery, from 97 in 2001 to 187 in 2002.
The army had between 90,000 and 95,000 soldiers in 2000 and 2001. It
was impossible to determine the exact strength due to the large
number of desertions. In 2002, the SLA’s
strength increased dramatically and it ended the year with
approximately 118,000 soldiers. Some of these soldiers were
deserters who returned due to amnesty. In April 2004, the SLA stated that ‘Upon recruitment to the Sri Lankan army,
they (recruits) are entitled to receive training both at local and
foreign levels and contributed to UN sponsored peacekeeping troops.
Retention, Recruitment and Training:
figures show a substantial increase in the army’s
strength, recruitment is extremely difficult. Between
February and March 2000, the army attempted to recruit
15,000 soldiers. Only 1,500 volunteered. Retention is
poor, in January 2000, over 5,000 soldiers serving in
the north deserted. The army offered amnesty for the
deserters, 507 returned. Regular amnesties (the army has
offered nearly 20 amnesty’s since 1990) ‘do more to
encourage potential deserters than deter’ because the
soldiers know that they can always apply for amnesty if
the need ever arises. Most soldiers desert with their
weapons. ‘Deserters equal an increase in crime and have
ties to the underworld.’ The deserters often return to
the south (where the recruitment centers are) with tales
of the army’s failure and this makes recruitment more
difficult. In September 2004, the SLA attempted to recruit more soldiers with a promise of
higher pay, but the recruitment goal of 4,000 soldiers
was not met.”
has been excluded by Blodgett?
Blodgett was right to point out that, despite the sunshine press
releases from the information section of SLA,
the Sinhalese army has been finding it tough to retain and recruit
new faces for its dirty work. What has been excluded by Blodgett
deserves mention. Here is an excerpt from the Associated Press (AP)
story from Colombo, Jan.30, 2007, captioned ‘Sri Lanka’s disabled
soldiers demand a better deal from government.’:
“Dozens of disabled Sri Lankan soldiers protested in the
capital of Colombo on Tuesday, demanding better pentions.
‘These soldiers have made a great sacrifice for the country, but
they are now living with severe difficulties,’ said Ashoka
Dayaratne, president of the Three Forces and Police Disabled Members
Association, which has a membership of 11,600.
Almost all members had fought against the separatist Tamil Tiger
rebels or were victims of violence associated with the separatist
campaign. Dayaratne urged the government to pay a full pension to
disabled soldiers. Under current law, soldiers become eligible for
full pensions – about 18,000 rupees (US$ 180) per month after 22
years of service. Disabled soldiers with 12 years of service are
entitled to a full pension, but those who have served less than a
dozen years receive a disability pension that is only about
one-third of the full pension, he said.” [The Lanka Academic
website, Jan.31, 2007, vol.7, no.300]
One wonders whether the current SLA
chief Lieut.Gen. G. Sarath Fonseka is currently a member of Three
Forces and Police Disabled Members Association. After all, he
qualifies as the only physically disabled General. Sarath Fonseka,
who assumed command of SLA
on Dec.6, 2005 was the 12th man in the job (since LTTE’s
inception) who had vowed to demolish the Tamil Tigers. He talks
grandiosely, like ‘Goody Two Shoes’, despite having his intestinal
innards scrambled on April 25, 2006. His recent pronouncements, if
catalogued, make one wonder whether his upper marbles have also got
For the uninitiated, I should provide a list of General
Sarath Fonseka’s 11 predecessors and their periods of assignment as
the head honcho rank of SLA, below.
1. Lieut.Gen. D.Sepala. Attygalle (1967 Oct.1 – 1977 Oct.13)
2. Lieut.Gen. J.E.D. Perera (1977 Oct.14 – 1981 Oct.13)
3. Lieut.Gen.Tissa Weerathunga (1981 Oct.14 – 1985 Feb.11)
4. Lieut.Gen.G.D.G.N. Seneviratne (1985 Feb.12 – 1988 Aug.15)
5. Lieut.Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe (1988 Aug.16 – 1991 Nov.15)
6. Lieut.Gen. L.D.Cecil.Waidyaratne (1991 Nov.16 – 1993 Dec.3)
7. Lieut.Gen. Gerry H. De Silva (1994 Jan.1 – 1996 Apr.30)
8. Lieut.Gen. Rohan De S. Daluwatte (1996 May 1 – 1998 Dec.15)
9. Lieut.Gen. C.S. Weerasooriya (1998 Dec.16 – 2000 Aug.24)
10. Lieut.Gen. Lionel P. Balagalle (2000 Aug.25 – 2004 Jun. 30)
11. Lieut.Gen. Shanta H.S. Kottegoda (2004 Jul.01 – 2005 Dec.6)
The educational experience of all these 11 past SLA army
generals, as well as the current top dog Sarath Fonseka, before they
entered the services are nothing but mediocre. Why I mention is
that, the educational experience of LTTE leader Pirabhakaran has
been pejoratively described by Sinhalese journalists as ‘a school
drop-out’ [vide, Mervyn de
Silva’s quip, ‘Velupillai Prabhakaran, an O-Level dropout”,
Lanka Guardian, Nov.1, 1994, pp. 1-2]. The corollary is that all the
SLA army generals mentioned above have never had a
university education to boast of, and even their grades at the GCE
Ordinary Level (O-Level) exams and the university entrance
examinations (GCE Adv. Level), if they had bothered to complete the
exam, remain state secrets!
General Sarath Fonseka’s Bombast
recent issue (Dec.11, 2008) of
Business Today (magazine
of the corporate world) in Colombo, carries an interview with General
Fonseka. Some of his responses have to be evaluated between the
lines for apparent meanings, as (1) he passes the blame to his
predecessors and successors, or (2) glib-talks about numbers,
without divulging evidence. Here are some of his pontifications.
Q; What was your
battle-ground experience like?
General Fonseka: “I spent three years as a Battalion Commander,
another three as Brigade Commander, three years as the Commander of
a Division and three as a Security Forces Commander. I had
considerable battle-ground experience. Wherever I served, in
whatever capacity, I did my job. I never failed. It is unfortunate
that on occasions when we succeeded, others failed, thereby
nullifying gains. We captured Mankulam in 1998 after fighting for 2
years, but later, under a different commander, Mankulam was
abandoned in less than two hours.”
Q: What did you you
General Fonseka: “…At that time 40,000 soldiers didn’t have helmets.
Many had just one uniform and pair of boots. There was a shortage of
40,000 numbers of flak jackets… We were lacking in strength of
numbers as well. The battalions were depleted. I created five more
divisions… The strength of the Army when I took over was 116,000.
Today, it stands at 170,000. So we have sufficient reserves now. I
created 50 new battalions…They [LTTE] started with 10,000 cadres and
with new recruits the number went up to 15,000. They’ve lost around
12,000 fighters. Today they are left with just 2,500.”
As to his acknowledged “battle-ground experience”, if we
tally the numbers of years provided by General Fonseka, it totals to
12. But remember that the current SLA
chief enlisted in the army on 1970, after high school education. So,
if we deduct the 3 years (2005-2008) he had served as the top dog of
SLA, what was he doing during the remaining >20 years or so? –
practicing tale-carrying, politicking and sycophancy!
Then, is that comment about 40,000 soldiers without helmets
and shortage of 40,000 flak jackets some kind of Freudian slip? One
can think about shortage of 400 or 4,000 helmets and flak jackets,
but 40,000 sound absurd. May be these “40,000 soldiers” were ghost
figures used for puffing the military pay check!
General Fonseka has gloated in this interview that the number
cadres stands now at 170,000. If he is truthful, he should have let
the world know that democratically speaking ~160,000 heads out of
170,000 can be counted as Sinhalese, as it has been the decades-old
racist, recruiting policy of SLA to limit the entrants to predominantly Sinhalese
ethnics, that gave birth to LTTE in 1970s. Tamils were/are not
tolerated in SLA. One is tempted to ask General Fonseka that how many
of his 54,000 new recruits were indigenous Tamils and Indian-origin
Unlisted Divisions of the Sri Lankan Army
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s (1879-1953) wisecrack of 1935,
referring to Papa Pius XI, “The Pope! How many divisions has
he got?” can be
paraphrased to the current SLA
honcho, “Sarath Fonseka! How many divisions have you got?”. Though
he claims that “I created five more divisions”, one gets the
impression that all the divisions of SLA
has not been listed and accounted by the analysts like Blodgett.
Here, I make an attempt to provide a listing of some
unlisted divisions of
SLA, in alphabetical order.
(1) Amnesty and
Deserters’ dog-catching division: This division is old as the
beginning of Sri Lankan civil war. Here is a short item on army
deserters that appeared almost 15 years ago. “Army headquarters has
asked the police to help track down soldiers who desert. In ten
years 22,547 have deserted the army; 131 of them are officers.
Deserters on the loose pose a serious security threat, a spokesman
said. Many have been responsible for armed robberies and other acts
of violence. The bulk of the deserters are from the Gampaha,
Kurunegala and Anuradhapura districts, according to an army
headquarters source.” [Lanka
Guardian, Jan.1, 1994, p.1]
divisions, led by those who salivate to replace the top honcho:
This is a new-division, which was constituted since November 2005.
division: This division is old as the beginning of civil war.
The objectives of this division is targeting LTTE’s leader, its top
rankers (like Lieut. Col. Shankar and Tamilchelvan) and public faces
among Tamils who sided with LTTE (such as G.G. Kumar Ponnambalam and
Tamil legislators Joseph Pararajasingham, Nadarajah Raviraj,
Kiddinan Sivanesan). See below, for some more details.
(4) Foreign Plumbers’
patronage division: This division has been in existence since
Lalith Athulathmudali’s period. Its objective is contacting and
contracting foreign plumbers, who have retired from their services.
Those who have benefited from this division include old hands of
foreign plumber organizations like Mossad, ISI and RAW as well as
foreign mercenaries like Keeni-Meeni Services.
division (aka, Ghost paychecks division): This is a secretive
division, the membership of which as well as its annual budget
Goebells’ division: currently manned by some who jumped from
academia for better prospects (such as Secretary to the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs Dr. Palita Kohona, Ambassador Permanent
Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN Geneva office Dr. Dayan
Jayatilleka, Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating
the Peace Process Prof. Rajeeva Wijesinha) and some professional
pols like “Defence Affairs Spokesman Minister” Keheliya Rambukwella.
(7) Horny Casanovas’ division:
According to some journalists, this division’s headquarters is based
on the holy city Anuradhapura. Providing
routine employment for the operators of the oldest profession,
pimps, taxi drivers and low scale hoteliers is one of the objectives
of this division.
(8) Presidential patronage
division: This division routinely gets renovated, after the
presidential elections in 1988, 1994, 2005. The standing rule is
that old codgers were eased out and those who show allegiance and
have links (via blood, marriage, village and other routes like
sharing the same family name) to the newly elected President get
installed. Political chameleons among the Sinhalese and ethnic
minorities were also tolerated for their waste picking maneuvers.
(9) Sinhala sprit-blessing
division; This division was tentatively instituted, circa
1961-1962. The objective of this division is to inculcate the
Sinhalese soldier with a facetious conscience that they are not
flouting the preachings of Lord Buddha as long as (a) they are not
in conflict with Tamil citizens, and (b) they believe that Tamil
Tigers are not humans but sub-humans.
(10) Tamil collaborators’
division, aka Benedict Arnold division: For details, see above,
Presidential patronage division. Membership in this division costs
the members to automatically lose their Tamil identity, as evinced
by the Tamil proverb, Oorudan pahaikin Verudan kedum [You earn the village enmity; Your
roots go extinct]. Not only the politician tribe, but even the
academic tribes (like the Hoole Brothers) have indulged in this for
petty gains. The members are offered with sundry patronages at the
coast of having leashes in their neck and scrotum.
(11) Unbelievable number
crunchers’ division: One of the favorite sources of information
for anti-LTTE media folks, having their head offices in
and Chennai. This division also provide feeds to international news
agencies (including BBC, Reuter and AP) that seem to suffer from
budget drought and staff deficit.
Some Notes on the Assassination Division from Iqbal
I doubt that quite many would disagree with my above listing of some
unlisted divisions of the SLA. But,
corroboration by Iqbal Athas in 2004, on the activities of the
Assassination division - euphemistically tagged as Long Range
Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) - and the denial of General Fonseka’s
immediate predecessor Lieut. General Shanta Kottegoda, is publicly
available. Excerpts (The words in large case and within parenthesis
are as in the original):
“Located somewhere near the borders of
Tiger guerrilla dominated Wanni, it was only known as ‘Training
Headquarters’. That again was by a select few who were associated
with it. They knew its significance and importance but kept it a
To others who saw it
occasionally from a distance, it looked just another building where
troops were billeted. No one raised questions. No one offered to
explain either. The area was out of bounds to all but a handful.
…. the very day Sri Lanka Army was marking
their 55th anniversary. Last Sunday morning Army Commander, Lt. Gen.
Kottegoda, arrived at Army Headquarters in full ceremonial regalia.
There was a guard turn out. He was then received there by Major
General Sunil Tennekoon, Security Forces Commander,
Jaffna. That was in his capacity as Colonel
Commandant of the Artillery Regiment. His men were according a guard
of honour to their chief.
Thereafter he walked
towards the Army Headquarters building to be received by Chief of
Staff, Major General Chula Seneviratne. The latter conducted him to
a dais in the nearby lawn from where Lt. Gen. Kottegoda addressed
troops. Seated in the front rows were members of the clergy whose
blessings he received earlier. Later, it was time to partake in
Kiribath and sweetmeats with those present. All ranks and
representatives of the media were present.
A reporter asked Lt.
Gen. Kottegoda whether he had disbanded the LRRPs or stopped
training. He responded angrily ‘I am not mad to do such a thing. Not
in my wildest dreams….’ He said their existence is very essential
and these men were still being trained.
Lt. Gen. Kottegoda was
worried his remarks on that occasion, reflected in some media,
tended to give the impression that they were part of his address to
troops. That would have amounted to an official admission by an Army
Commander before all his troops about covert LRRP activity and the
targets they accomplish. ‘I did not tell that to the troops. I have
the tape and you can check it out if you want,’ he told The Sunday
Times. But he insisted what he told reporters at the traditional
Kiribath interlude was ‘absolutely correct’. The LRRPs have not been
disbanded and training activity was continuing. ‘There is no change
in this’, he said.
What was this ‘Training Headquarters’ and
why was it important? It was the nerve centre or the higher command
from where all LRRP activities were directed and controlled. As the
name ‘training’ implied, it was also the nerve centre from where
such activity was carried out. Though this headquarters has been
closed down, The Sunday Times
will not reveal where it was located. Installed there were computers
that contained highly classified information about guerrilla
activity, operational records and many other vital data. It was
hooked on line to an intelligence agency in
Colombo. The staff maintained other records.
Headquarters’ came directly under the charge of Maj. Gen.
Hettiaratchi. He located himself there until he was moved out to
as General Officer Commanding the Army's 21 Division. Thereafter, he
was still responsible for this higher command of the LRRPs.
The demise of this
‘Training Headquarters’ came on August 20 this year. It was spelt
out very inconspicuously in the middle of a two page list of
‘FUNCTIONAL CHANGES TO THE ARMY ESTABLISHMENTS AND REDEPLOYMENT -
G/OPS/250/GEN (54)’. Dated 18th August 2004 and signed by then
Director General - General Staff, Major General Parami Kulatunga it
was distributed to 12 different Army establishments.
Pointing out that the
Army Commander has approved functional changes for establishments
and redeployment of troops with effect from August 20, 2004, a one
liner from Maj. Gen. Kulatunga simply said ‘Training HQ at (name
withheld) to be suppressed’. That meant the closure of the ‘Training
Headquarters’. This was how Maj. Gen. Hettiaratchi who was charged
with the training LRRP groups was relieved of his responsibilities
in this regard.” [Sunday Times,
Colombo, Oct.17, 2004]
Make a note that the
above-mentioned “Director General - General Staff, Major General
Parami Kulatunga”, then ranked No. 3 in the SLA,
went to meet his Maker on June 26, 2006.