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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Manifesto of a ‘Goody Two Shoes’ Sinhalese General

Selected 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

  Apart 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).

 Numbers Assembled by Brian Blodgett

Brian BlodgettThe book Sri Lanka’s 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 By the end of 2008, even the projections of Blodgett in his final chapter ‘The Future’ have been hopelessly outdated.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 SLA 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.

 Command and 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 volunteer battalions.

 Weapons 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.

 Personnel: 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: Although reported 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.”

 What 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 roasted.

 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!

 SLA General Sarath Fonseka’s Bombast

Sarath FonsekaThe 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 differently?

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 of SLA 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 Tamils.

 Some 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]

 (2) Anti-Fonseka divisions, led by those who salivate to replace the top honcho: This is a new-division, which was constituted since November 2005.

 (3) Assassination 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.

 (5) Free-loaders’ division (aka, Ghost paychecks division): This is a secretive division, the membership of which as well as its annual budget remains classified.

 (6) Glib-talking 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 Colombo 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 Athas

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 ‘top secret’.

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.

This ‘Training Headquarters’ came directly under the charge of Maj. Gen. Hettiaratchi. He located himself there until he was moved out to Anuradhapura 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.



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