“I know nothing about politics” –
Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera
General Janaka Perera who led several successful battles against
the LTTE in the past, has again come to the limelight after the
main opposition United National Party requested President
Mahinda Rajapaksa to appoint him Defence Secretary. Major
General Perera retired as Army Chief of Staff and served as the
Sri Lankan Ambassador in Australia and Indonesia. Also, there is
speculation of a move to bring this battle hardened military
officer to politics through the UNP. Speaking to our sister
paper Rivira, Major General Perera recalled some of the
operations he led and the difficulties he had to encounter while
trying to battle the LTTE, often times, without the help of
properly trained soldiers or sufficient weaponry. Here are some
excerpts of his battlefield experiences:
By Tissa Ravindra Perera
My fellow officers in the army, navy, air force and the police,
who fought valiantly in the battle field, deserve the honour of
my popularity. I was able to command recognition among the armed
forces by fighting with a sense of responsibility for the lives
of the soldiers who were our assets and achieving many victories
in the battlefield. We were victorious at Weli Oya, without the
support of the Special Forces.
Jaffna was, and still is, one of the main targets of the LTTE
and a strategically important city in the north. I was among the
officers who commanded the forces during the Riviresa Operation
in 1995. When Jaffna was about to fall to LTTE hands in 2000,
the forces under my command saved Jaffna. Prior to Riviresa
Operation, General Daluwatta and General Weerasuriya launched
Operation Leap Forward, on June 7, 1995. The forces retreated in
the battle. This enhanced the morale of the LTTE, while our
forces were under the impression that the LTTE was stronger. On
July 27, the LTTE launched a massive onslaught to destroy the
entire Weli Oya area.
However, my soldiers, with the help of the navy and the air
force, thwarted the LTTE’s attempt. I commanded them as Weli Oya
Brigade Commander. Around 503 LTTE cadres were killed in the
confrontation. We lost only two soldiers. It was of significance
that the forces under me comprised Home Guards, Engineering and
Light Infantry units. However, when I asked for Special Forces,
they told me that the LTTE will attack either Elephant Pass or
Poonaryn and not Weli Oya. The Army Commander and the Chief of
Intelligence was under the impression that it was a false
pretext of Janaka Perera, despite reasons to believe that Weli
Oya was endangered. However, they refused to send the Special
General Rohan Daluwatta told me that he would send a battalion
if the LTTE struck Weli Oya. I told him that I did not want any
forces after the LTTE attacked and asked him to send the forces
before, if he is sending any. However, we were victorious in the
battle. We won it with our strength. I had given two months
training to Home Guards and formed a special brigade with them.
Battle for Jaffna
After Operation Thunder Strike, we realised that we could
capture Jaffna. They were to launch the operation on September
26. I told them that I will commence the operation if forces
were available. However, I did not receive reinforcements on the
due date. Later, they informed me that they would send
personnel, and arms and ammunition when the operation is going
on. I explained to them that it was not feasible and that I
would embark on the operation when they send forces. General
Anuruddha Ratwatte and Defence Chiefs met me and expressed their
dissatisfaction. I told them that we would suffer a serious
setback if the operation commenced on the date fixed by them.
However, we launched the operation on October.
When the battle ended, 311 LTTE cadres had been killed. We lost
only 19 soldiers. All of them realised that they had the
strength to capture Jaffna. The Riviresa Operation commenced
under Generals Neil Dias and Karunatilleka. By then, the LTTE
was well organised and the forces could march only up to Koopai.
Three of our planes were destroyed by LTTE missile attacks. In
this scenario, Jerry de Silva told General Daluwatta that the
injured could not be flown to Colombo or arms and ammunition
airlifted to the battlefield. They were of the opinion that the
operation should be suspended. Later, General Daluwatta
consulted my opinion.
I promised to give a definite word after discussing with my
Brigade Commanders and other officials. Colonel Jive Fernando,
Brigadier Kalangoda, Colonel Sumedha Perera, General Percy
Fernando, and General Gamini Hettiarahchi, were determined to go
ahead. Later, General Daluwatta gave us the green light to
proceed. On November 19, we launched the operation. The LTTE had
set booby traps and landmines on roads, and houses. This was a
major challenge to us, but we attacked Valikamam sector of
Jaffna and proceeded to capture the Colombothurai Jetty.
However, we were not able to proceed due to resistance by the
LTTE that had already received information of our plan. I
informed my senior official that I wanted time to plan our
strategy. They told President Chandrika Bandaranaike that I
refused to carry on the operation. The President telephoned me
and inquired after it. She insisted that Jaffna should be
captured before Prabhakaran’s birth day on November 26. I
explained to her that we would be in trouble if we should take a
hasty decision. I told her that I would capture Jaffna by a well
Two days later she telephoned me and asked about the progress. I
told her that I would proceed with the operation and give the
details of my plan after victory. The former Defence Chiefs did
not have confidence in the operation. I had a sleepless night on
November 30. I was worried about the future of my children, if
anything happened to me. However, I was confident of victory. By
4:30a.m on December 1, we commenced the operation. The LTTE
surrounded us and attacked. Colonel Jive was injured when a
motor hit his leg. The second in command, Major Channa Waduge
told me that CO was hit. I instructed him to proceed with the
operation while I took care of the CO. By 10:30a.m. on December
1, Jaffna was under the security forces. I immediately called
the President and informed her of the victory. The President
told me that she would give us promotions and special
privileges, but I told her that I expected to save my country
and did not expect any privileges. Two days later, the President
called me and informed me that some individuals advised her to
raise the flag in Jaffna. I explained to her that Jaffna is part
of the country and that it was a disgrace for her to visit
Jaffna and raise the flag. I told her that it is only a
tradition for the military officials and the soldiers to raise
the flag in the battlefield. However, several individuals came
from Colombo and held a ceremony after raising the flag.
Advancing to Point Pedro
Nearly 179 LTTE cadres were killed in the confrontation while we
lost only 19 soldiers. After Valikamam, the 53 Brigade was
deployed for another battle in Thenmarachchi sector, killing 131
LTTE cadres. When we were advancing to Point Pedro in the
Vadamarachchi sector, the LTTE cadres fled to the jungles. By
May 12, the entire Jaffna peninsular was under security forces
In 2000, the LTTE launched another operation to capture Jaffna.
In December 1999, General Weerasuriya called me and said that
the officers already posted in Jaffna were not able to carry on
the battle. General Balagalla and Chula Seneviratne were the
commanding officers. I told him that I am prepared to go.
However, General Weerasuriya said General Ratwatta would not
In February, I again asked for permission to go. Then also they
said the Minister would not agree to it. By April 20, the
President was in England for medical treatment and General
Ratwatte in Nuwra Eliya. Army Commander informed me that the
Security Council had taken a decision to send me to Jaffna, as
Joint Operations Commander. He said Elephant Pass had fallen and
Jaffna would fall within days. I told him that I have to take a
suicidal step under the prevailing situation. General
Weerasuriya agreed to send General Sarath Fonseka to assist me.
I told him that it would be my last journey and that I wanted
two days’ time to attend religious observances and to take leave
of my wife and children. He gave me only one day’s time,
compelling me to leave immediately. Then the time was 1:30p.m.
and my flight was at 4:30p.m. Electronic media had already given
publicity to my transfer. When I reached home, my friends and
relatives surrounded me and appealed not to go. They said the
officials are preparing to put the blame of their failed
operation on me inorder to wash their hands.
My daughter was 16 years then and others were not in a position
to understand what was going on. With eyes full of tears, she
begged me not to go, for the sake of their future. However, I
was determined to go. When Elephant pass and Jaffna were about
to fall, the officers in Jaffna called me and said that they
would perish unless I come and save them. This compelled me to
ask for permission from General Weerasuriya to go to north. I
told my daughter, that if I stayed back, one family would be
pleased, but 32,000 security personnel would perish, leaving
their families in woe and misery.
When I reached the north, everything was in disorder. I
stationed additional forces at strategic points and dug up
trenches for soldiers and took measure to enhance their morale.
On May 4, I received a message from the President to come down
to Colombo. I told General Weerasuriya that the soldiers would
be perturbed, if I leave for Colombo. He instructed me to take
the last flight at 7:30p.m., and to return on the following
When I reached Temple Trees, the Defence Council was in
The President said that she had send Lakshman Kadirgamar to
arrange Indian ships to evacuate the soldiers and asked for our
opinion. The Defence Chiefs, Defence Secretary and the Defence
Minister were at the meeting, but no one answered. I told the
President not to do it and explained to her that we would not be
able to save at least 10,000 soldiers, if this plan was carried
out. I said that the only way left for us was to fight and that
I would take up that responsibility.
I requested for a consignment of MBRLs. I left for Jaffna
immediately and continued the operation. Very often, we missed
out meals for the whole day, but ammunition was more important
than food. So, we suspended flights bringing food supplies and
used them to airlift arms and ammunition. Later, we received a
consignment of MBRLs. Finally, we overcame all challenges and
The people in Jaffna were perturbed that they would be deserted
if we left Jaffna. We cleared their doubt and told them to pray
for the victory of the army. From the following morning, the
people organised special prayer sessions at kovils and churches.
They helped the army to track down the LTTE suicide cadres in
Jaffna. I addressed the nation and pledged to prevent the fall
of Jaffna or else, to die for the country’s sake.
The security forces that fought valiantly deserve its respect.
However, we were concerned about the safety of the civilians. We
carried on our operations without hurting the innocent people.
It was a group led by me that arrested Rohana Wijeweera on
November 11, 1989. My duty was to take him into custody.
However, I did not harass him. I even made arrangements to send
his wife and children safely to Colombo. Wijeweera went with me
and made plans with a friendly businessman to arrange a van for
them to travel to Colombo. Wijeweera’s daughter wanted to carry
her pet dog in the van. I explained to her very kindly not to
take a dog that would bark and draw the attention of others at
check points. I only arrested him and handed him over to the
However I did not play any part in the subsequent events. After
the victory in Jaffna, the Security Council met on July 6 at
which, I pledged to eradicate the LTTE. Meanwhile, the President
went aboard. At the Security Council Meeting, the President told
others to allow me to settle the conflict.
On July 22, I received a letter from the Headquarters removing
me from operational duties and appointing me as Chief of Staff.
I lost only a post but the country lost many things with that.
However, I command respect among the police and security
personnel, who were in the operational areas with me and the
people of the country. I consider it the position bestowed on
When I was Ambassador in Australia I built cordial relations
with the Indonesian Ambassador. I was aware that the LTTE’s arms
smuggling racket through Indonesia should be obstructed, if the
LTTE is to be crippled. Meanwhile, I prevented the LTTE’s
fund-raising campaign in Australia. When I was appointed as
Ambassador in Indonesia, I could have refused it and continue as
Ambassador in Australia, but I was determined to break down the
LTTE’s international arms racket. This culminated in arresting
the second in command of the LTTE arms procurement network, with
the help of the Indonesian Government.
I am worried about my removal from my Ambassadorial post because
the LTTE will have the opportunity to reorganise their arms
procurement network and smuggle massive consignments again. The
LTTE is an international terrorist organisation. If they
influence the Sri Lankan Diplomatic officials in Indonesia, it
would not be favourable to us.
Indonesian President is a Military Intelligence Official; we
must build healthy bi-lateral relations with them. I am not
aware why Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted
me to appoint me as Defence Secretary. I do not expect any such
post. In 1995, During a meeting at Temple Trees, General
Ratwatte and General Jerry De Silva said the war would be ended
in six months. I explained to them that it would take at least
another three years, under an effective plan.
They victimised me for my statement and demoted me from the
post. I was sent to Weli Oya as Brigade Commander.
In 2001, a friend of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe telephoned
me and invited me to contest the elections. A friend of Mangala
Samaraweera also made the same request. However, I refused their
proposals. I was offered the post of Deputy Minister of Defence,
but I preferred to serve as Ambassador in Australia.
Earlier, the Australian authorities were under the impression
that the LTTE was an organisation of militants fighting for
liberation. After the terrorist attack on Pentagon in America, I
negotiated with the American Government and got them to ban the
LTTE. I served the country in the battlefield as a military
official and in Australia and Indonesia as an Ambassador,
without craving for posts or positions.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a personal friend of
mine and a fellow military officer, who was with me in several
military operations in the Eastern Province and in Vavuniya in
the late 1980s. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a Regimental Officer in
the First Gajaba Regiment that joined in the battle to save
Jaffna Fort in 1990. He is a person of high calibre. It is sad
that people are divided in many ways. The LTTE says Janaka
Perera is a dangerous man. They published it in their websites
as well. I am not a politician. I was in the army for 34 years
and in the Diplomatic missions for six years. However, I never
forget the soldiers who were with me and their families.