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Interviews


“I know nothing about politics”  – Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera

Major 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.
Operation Riviresa
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 Forces.
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.
Strategy
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 planned attack.
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 control.
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 allow it.
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.
Last journey
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 morning.
When I reached Temple Trees, the Defence Council was in progress.
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 captured Jaffna.
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.
Capturing Wijeweera
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 authorities.
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 me.
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.