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Eye-features


Warriors of our time

Sri Lanka lost two of her greatest sons in the month of August, although 14 years apart.
They fought in different theatres of battle, using very different weaponry. One took his blows out on battlefields, the other in diplomatic corridors. Both victims of brutal terrorist attacks, both valiant defenders of a country at war, these men cannot go unremembered. As the security landscape darkens bringing us ever closer to full scale war, Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Lakshman Kadirgamar are the kind of men for whom the nation will cry out, men whose example we hope military and political leaders will emulate.
The Nation remembers these two Titans - one a soldier, the other a statesman - how they lived and how they served, as we approach the anniversaries of their death.

The ‘little’ General, Kobbekaduwa

“Make my sons in the army some tasty food. Then spice it with love and respect for them and send it to us.”
- General Kobbekaduwa to his wife, Lali

“He called all of us ‘son.’ I knew him quite well. Once he asked me, “son, do you think we can solve this problem militarily?” I answered, “Sir, you know better than me.” And he only said this – “this ethnic conflict cannot be resolved through war.”
- a soldier known to Gen. Kobbekaduwa

By Dharisha Bastians
Men like Denzil Kobbekaduwa cannot be done justice to in eulogies and death remembrance notes. Nor will he be forgotten for the lack of them. The legend of the Northern Commander, killed in a landmine explosion in August 1992, lives on in those soldiers he commanded, the family he trained in the art of loving and respecting soldiers at the front and the people of a nation that, despite a tragic susceptibility to memory loss, has stoically refused to let his memory fade even 14 years after his killing.
For Denzil Kobbekaduwa was above all else and despite everything, first and foremost, a soldier. His method of command was simple. He led from the front. The stories of his camaraderie with his men are the stuff of legend. General Kobbekaduwa spent nights inside bunkers with his soldiers, keeping watch with them and proving to them that theirs was a no lesser calling. Literally willing to give his ‘sons’ the shirt off his own back, there are stories told of how the General once gently covered a wounded soldier with his own clothes and travelled with the wounded to hospitals to see that they were treated. One rainy night in Jaffna, travelling with 26 men on an operation, General Kobbekaduwa saw his driver having a tough time with the vehicle and took the wheel himself. Turning to his men, the General asked – “Boys, there are only 26 of us. The others may not be able to make it in this weather. What do you say, do we go ahead or abort the operation?” All 26 decided in favour of going ahead and got off the jeep to physically lift it over the tougher terrains.
When he was implicated in the military coup of 1966, Kobbekaduwa, then Major Kobbekaduwa, turned his hand at farming, following the advice of his grandmother. “What’s the point in those weapons here? Just stop all this troublesome nonsense and do some farming!” she told him when he was sent home pending inquiry. He spent his days until he was cleared of all charges and recalled to duty in 1970, planting all kinds of fruits and vegetables in his ancestral home in Deldeniya.
After his recalling, there was no stopping Kobbekaduwa as far as the military was concerned. There were few military operations in the 1980s and early ‘90s that he has not been a part of, and this includes the Balawega Operations I and II which were instrumental in saving the Elephant Pass Base in 1991 and expanding the government’s forward defence lines upto the Vettilankerni beach head. Thunder Strike, Vadamarachchi, Jaya Shakthi and Sath Bala all bore Kobbekaduwa’s stamp of participation and command.
The day before he was killed at Ariyalai Point, General Kobbekaduwa firmly believed he was planning, along with his comrades, Brigadier Vijay Wimalaratne and Commodore Mohan Jayamaha the operation that would see an end to the Eelam war for good. This is why he told his wife, Lali, when he left home that time, not to expect him back for a while. “We will come back to Colombo in a week, having won this war,” he promised her.
The high profile team of military officers were travelling together in an almost dare devil way, to lay the plans out for this operation.
In the shocking aftermath of his death, there were many questions raised about the explosion that killed him and the nine others on August 8, 1992. Why did all the officers travel in one jeep? How did the enemy get tipped off about the top secret travel plans? Was the explosion meant to target only the major general, although it managed to get them all in a queer twist of fate that made them all travel in one vehicle, despite the three jeeps assigned for the trip? A one-man commission comprising former Supreme Court Judge, I. Ismail was appointed to look into the killing, although after a storm of controversy, little came of the report.
When and how General Kobbekaduwa attained the degree of popularity he did is still a mystery. The ‘little’ general was naturally loved by the men he commanded, but the way a country was reduced to tears at his killing revealed that he would have posed a formidable popularity threat to any political or military leader of the time. Sri Lanka drew no ethnic lines in loving him either. He was a military commander loved by all the peoples he was sworn to defend.
No, there are no eulogies worthy of such a man. Only tears. And a memory that will grow ever more in our minds as conflict draws nearer and we have to continue the fight without him.
{With reports by Tissa Ravindra Perera, Biyanka Nanayakkara and Dharmaratne Wijesundera}

 

On August 8, 1992, a convoy of the Sri Lanka Army and the navy northern high command, travelled to Ariyalai Point, at the edge of Kayts Island for a reconnaissance mission. The officers included army’s Northern Commander, Maj. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Commander of the Northern naval area, Commodore Mohan Jayamaha.
In what is considered a militarily suicidal move, on the return journey, all the officers who were travelling in three separate vehicles decided to get into a single jeep to confuse any LTTE spies monitoring their movements.
It is believed that the top brass were engaged in planning a devastating attack on the LTTE in the north, aimed at crippling its activities and bringing the government forces a great deal closer to ending the separatist conflict.
The explosion occurred at 10 a.m. killing Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne on the spot, although both Commodore Jayamaha and General Kobbekaduwa succumbed to their injuries only later. Surgeons at the Colombo National Hospital worked frantically on the General but he passed away one hour after admission.
Brigadier Wimalaratne was functioning as Jaffna Brigade Commander at the time of his death. Others travelling in the convoy including Lieutenant Colonels G.H. Ariyaratne, A. Palipahana, H.R. Stephen, all three battalion commanders, and Major N.S. De Alwis, Military Aide to the General Officer Commanding Northern Sector, Lietenant A. Lankathillake (Navy), Lt. W. D.C.W. Wijepura (Navy) and Pvt. W.J. Wickremaratne also died in the blast.
The only survivors ironically, were the two majors, Ranjit Rupasinghe and Rohan Induruwewa who were travelling in the other vehicle.

***

Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha
“This is how he would have wanted to die”

By Vindya Amaranayake
Extremely emotional and shaken at the memory of her loving husband, Mrs. Vino Jayamaha, wife of Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha revealed details of her husband’s life in a subdued voice. Fourteen years after his untimely death, The Nation met his widow to find out how she is dealing with her life.
“He was a wonderful husband and a great father to my two children and we were married for 17 years. But being a serviceman he could only spend a limited time with us. But the times we shared were the best we could have ever had,” she said, reminiscing life before Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha was caught up in a landmine blast in Kayts.
Although it is 14 years since that fateful day in 1992, and the children having grown up, moving on to lead their own life. Mrs. Jayamaha sadly misses her husband. “We had to get on with our lives but initially it was very difficult. My son was only 11 then and my daughter, 15.”
Mrs. Jayamaha feels that it was her strong faith in God that lead her and helped her to find solace in her children during her great loss. She said, “Now I have a lot to be thankful for, in spite of everything, my daughter is married and she is very happy. My son has finished his education and now he is a lawyer. In a way, I feel that wherever he may be, my husband will be watching over us and help us along.”
Going back to the days prior to the ceasefire, she said, “There are so many officers, senior officers, soldiers and politicians who have sacrificed their lives for the country and they have paid the price with their lives for the sake of the country.”
Being proud of her husband, of who he was and his death for the cause of the country, Mrs. Jayamaha said, “My husband was a naval officer and this is the way he would have wanted to die. He served the nation to the maximum and he loved the service. I cannot say and I do not want to say that the nation has forgotten them. Whatever happens he will always live in our hearts.”
Mrs. Jayamaha, referring to the increasing incidents of violence in the North-East in the past week said losing countless number of lives is senseless. Does she believe that the war is the solution to the ethnic conflict? Mrs. Jayamaha is firm in her belief that a political solution is the only way out: “That is what he would have wished for. That is what I also wish,” she said.

***

Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne
“He was a loving husband and doting father”

“I’m against war. We have seen enough fighting and blood shed in this country and all around the world. I have nothing against the Tamil people in this country; they are not on par with the terrorists. I strongly believe we should find a peaceful solution for the problem. Going to war is not going to solve any problems.” These are the words of Mrs. Manel Wimalarathne, the courageous wife of Major General Vijaya Wimalarathne who was slain in a mine blast along with Lt. Gen. Kobbekaduwa in 1992.
Looking back 14 years, Mrs. Wimalarathne remembers her husband as a loving man and a doting father. However, as a responsible army officer he always put service above all. She said, “He put duty before everything else, even the family. He was a good soldier and was very dedicated to his job. So whatever he did he did with a real feeling for the country and for the job.”
Mrs. Wimalarathne spoke with immense gratitude to the army, especially the Gajaba Regiment, who in the absence of Major General Wimalarathne took care of the family. “The army looked after us. In fact the regiment he was with, the Gajaba regiment, are still looking after us. If we need anything or if there is an emergency they will send somebody for our security.”
A dedicated soldier and a patriot, he never neglected his children or forgot to spend even a little time with them, guiding them and loving them. “He took the maximum out of the little time he had with his children. He was always attentive to their needs and he would take them on holidays and vacations. He took care not to let them feel his absence.”
Speaking fondly of her two children, who grew up in the absence of their father she said, both of them are doctors and doing really well in their chosen profession. “They are in their own way following the footsteps of their father and I am quite happy that they decided to do that because in that way they are doing a great service like their father.”
“Now they are both married and happy with their chosen paths. I am a grandmother now,” said the vivacious lady, laughing.

***

His monument is the cornered terrorist

He did not have to answer to the people. He did not have to do the popular thing. All he had to do was to keep his leader happy. And yet, he worked more for citizen and country than party and party leader

By Malinda Seneviratne
The problem with striking personalities is that they tend to show up mediocrity. When the political field is made up of the inarticulate, the ill-informed, the cheap, the shady and the pedestrian, someone who is articulate, well-informed, culturally well-rounded, and endowed with things like dignity and integrity is usually unwelcome. The passing of such people is lamented officially but in secret the mourners are relieved. Not so the people.
Lakshman Kadirgamar was not your typical ‘man of the people.’ He was a ‘National List MP’, a political appointee and not an elected representative. He did not have to answer to the people. He did not have to do the popular thing. All he had to do was to keep his leader happy. And yet, he worked more for citizen and country than party and party leader. He proved that just as the fact of being elected does not yield representation, not being elected does not forbid proper representation either.
He is no more. And yet, as in the case of those who see beyond the political moment and have a vision that goes beyond expediency, Lakshman Kadirgamar’s contributions to the well being of all Sri Lankans continue to yield results. His example continues to teach us.
Those who grew up with him, studied with him and worked with him will no doubt say much about the man and what he was like outside of his public profile. I didn’t know him like that. I met him twice: once when I made a request, as a citizen, to speak to him on issues pertaining to constitutional reform and in particular the 17th Amendment and once when he invited a bunch of journalists for dinner, a few weeks before he was assassinated.
Lakshman Kadirgamar. A man of stature on several counts. He stood tall and way above most of us. He didn’t make me feel small, though. He listened attentively and not out of courtesy. He made his observations and inquired about the possibility of working with his party’s committee on constitutional affairs. He accepted the refusal with grace.
On the second occasion, it was less formal. I met him at his Wijerama Mawatha residence, along with Rajpal Abeynayake, Bandula Jayasekera and Ajith Samaranayake. He spoke about the party, the issue of succession and predicted that Mahinda Rajapaksa would be the presidential candidate, predicted that he would win and that President Kumaratunga would slowly but surely lose control over the SLFP. That is indeed what happened. He didn’t take sides on what was clearly a contentious issue in the party, but did say this ‘Whatever it is, we have to admire the President; the fact that she single-handedly faced the UNP when they burnt copies of the draft constitution in the year 2000 shows her character. She made us men all look small.’
He is no more. How do we remember him? I am reminded of what Christopher Wren once said ‘if you want to see my monument, look around you’.  Put simply, if the LTTE has finally been labelled the pariah it has always been by the international community, that Mother of All Authorities that passes judgement on such things, it is mostly because Kadirgamar did what he did. He did the little things that matter: the documentation, the follow-up, the networking, the diplomacy, all inscribed with his inimitable power of persuasion and quiet eloquence. Not a word out of place. It worked. He worked. Not for a President or a political party or a government, but a people, their history, and their future.
He is no more, but even in death, therefore, the LTTE suffers much, thanks to the life he lived and the work he did. Those who believe in democracy and human rights, those who do not confuse freedom fighter and terrorist, those who differentiate LTTE from the Tamil community, are needless to say grateful.
He is no more. No one is indispensable, at least in the long run. In the ‘short run’ we are incapacitated. We need to grow new limbs, therefore, and when we do, it will do no harm to draw heavily from the Kadirgamar Genetic Code.