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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Desk Top Dreamers!
Vaali is one of the fascinating characters which characterises strength in the Hindu epic Ramayana. The legend has it that, Vaali sapped half the strength of his adversary when engaged in a face to face combat. And that's why Lord Rama hid behind a tree and directed that crucial arrow to fell Vaali. This is the only instance in Ramayana, the hero Lord Rama is depicted as acting like a coward. In the current Eelam war, one could visualize the gift Vaali had in Velupillai Prabhakaran. For the past five years or so, whenever the Sri Lankan army commanders, politicians or their Indian counterparts open their mouths to predict the fall of Prabhakaran, they were being sapped of half their strength. Among the Sri Lankan power holders who had bitten the dust in this fashion were, J.R. Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali and Ranjan Wijeratne.
For a summary of what had happened in the Eelam war since the end of last May, I'll abridge two reports presented in the Asiaweek and the Economist. First, the Asiaweek coverage which appeared in its June 19th issue.
"After a six month lull, the government has turned up the heat on the separatist Tamil Tigers in their strongholds in Sri Lanka's north. On May 28 a force led by four T 55 tanks overran Tiger bunkers and destroyed several rebel camps. At the same time, the navy and air force bombarded rebel bases in Valveddithurai, birth place of Tiger chieftain Velupillai Prabhakaran,...
"Colombo said 28 of its soldiers were killed and over 100 hurt. Tiger deaths were estimated at more than 100. Said government commander, Cecil Waidyaratne: 'Prabhakaran is like a crab in the pot and the water is getting hotter'. But things have looked bad for the guerillas before. Though running short of funds and ammunition, the Tigers apparently still have 7,000 armed men."
If the words of Sri Lankan army commanders have the power to demoralise the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, by now Prabhakaran and his rebels would have given up their fight. Since 1983, for umpteen times, the Sri Lankan army personnel have eaten crow on the demise of Tamil Tigers. In this context, the meal related metaphor, "crab in the pot", employed by the army commander Cecil Waidyaratne is more apt to the performance of the Sri Lankan armed forces than to the Tamil Tigers.
The Colombo correspondent of the Economist wrote about this somewhat sarcastically in his July 11th report. And one should note that the Economist is no friend of Tamil Tigers. This is what the Economist published on the recent performance of the Sri Lankan army.
"Almost every month in Sri Lanka's civil war, government troops in the north launch a new attack on the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. Each is preceded by a series of curfews, warning Tigers as well as civilians of what is in store. The latest offensive began on June 27th; army commanders admitted it was a repeat called Strike Force Two - of what had already failed a year earlier. In that operation the army pulled back because its attempt to seal off the Jaffna peninsula proved too expensive in soldiers' lives, So why try again, when the military situation appears much the same?
"The army claims that so far Strike Force Two has claimed the lives of at least 300 rebels ten times the army's death toll.
Maybe, but the security forces can produce barely a score of Tiger corpses. Army commanders argue that the guerrillas take back their dead for burial as 'martyrs'.
But if, as the army claims, 200 rebels did die in a single confrontation, then just how many survivors were needed to carry away the dead and wounded, and their weapons?
"The Tigers have claims of their own. They say they have lost 17 or so fighters in the offensive, while inflicting heavy casualties on the security forces. Broadcasts from Jaffna's Voice of the Tigers say that guerrillas attacked one of two navy craft that were disembarking several thousand government troops; the Tigers also launched a surprise attack on a nearby camp. Maybe, but communications are cut with Jaffna and journalists are not allowed to visit the war zone.
"Take your pick, therefore, of claim and counter claim.
On July 5th a military aircraft flying over Elephant Pass, at the entry to the Jaffna peninsula, came down in Tiger held territory; 19 passengers and crew, including six officers, were killed. Military commanders were unusually quick to acknowledge that the incident had taken place, but denied that rebels had shot down the aircraft. The Tigers, who are known to possess the capability, were quick to say they had. Perhaps truth will be casualty next year, too, in Strike Force Three".
The Sri Lankan army with its man power estimated to be around 70,000 is literally and figuratively limping in the battle field. More than 7,000 of its members (who are still being paid for their services) have become physically invalid due to injuries. It is a dubious honour for a country's armed forces to have more than 10 percent of its members in the injured list. This becomes a laughing matter, when one takes into account the estimated man power of Tamil Tigers (7,000 according to the Asiaweek report), which is calculated to be about one tenth of that of Sri Lankan army. Yet to be confirmed stories are also circulating in the news media that quite a number of Sri Lankan armed forces personnel are engaged in the "sports" of inflicting wounds personally to prevent them from being drafted for the front line duty in the battle front. These form the mentally invalid population of the Sri Lankan army.
But, the desk top generals still dreamt of a situation in which they could gain upper hand in the fight against the Tamil Tigers. An Associated Press news report on March 1st of this year told us what Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa dreamt. "We are on the offensive now, taking on sensitive targets of the rebels", gloated the guy, who held the title of "overall commander of the Sri Lankan army for the northern sector". His buddy, Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, the commander of the Sri Lankan security forces in Jaffna, issued a challenge to Prabhakaran via Asiaweek's correspondent John Colmey, "Tell him, there's a devil waiting to meet him on the other side".
Under a trance of avaricious articulation, Brigadier Wimalaratne blared his blarney, "Their (Tigers') training camps are in Jaffna, their senior command is in Jaffna, their radio station and their propaganda machine are in Jaffna. To defeat the Tigers you have to take it (Asia Week, Aug. 14).
Well, on Aug. 8th in Kayts, Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne with eight of their colleagues went to meet their Maker, without fulfilling their dreams. I would say that the Sri Lankan military men should not be deprived of the vicarious pleasure of dreaming something, which is not happening in reality. And these are the generals who owe their bread and butter to that fantastic dreamer, J.R. Jayewardene, who dreamt of a dharmishta society (not so long ago!) in which he could live as a king till the end of his life. And why not the Sri Lankan government arrange an annual ceremony on September 17th, to award medals of valour for these desk top dreamers from the army? What is special about September 17th? It happens to be the day of birth of Sri Lanka's well known phoney disciple of Buddha and Gandhi, His excellency J.R. Jayewardene.