“President’s leadership, maturity main reasons for victory”
is with such pride and jubilation that the country celebrated
the defeat of the LTTE, over the past few weeks. The political
leadership was commended, and the valiant soldiers who were
instrumental in crushing the Tigers were honoured, with the
heartfelt gratitude of the people. Yet, the war against the
Tigers is not a recent phenomenon; many soldiers sacrificed
their life, limb and youth for this cause that dragged on for
nearly three decades. One such individual is Col. Prasanna
Wickramasuriya. Joining the military in the early 80s, he was
among the first batch of officers just out of the military
academy to face the outbreak of the Eelam War I. Being one of
the most decorated soldiers in the military, he played an active
role in the pivotal Vadamarachchi Operation, the outcome of
which would have changed the course of the war, had the
political leadership at the time been more visionary. Col.
Wickramasuriya now serves as Chairman, Airport and Aviation
Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd. A little known fact is that he is
responsible for the capture of the largest haul of explosives in
Colombo. The Nation met with this soldier, whose only regret is
that he was not able to be there in the battle ground when the
military delivered the final blow to the Tigers
By Vindya Amaranayake
Following are excerpts:
Q: When did you join the military and what was the regiment
you served under?
A: When I joined the military I was just 18 years old. I am
an old Nalandian and straight after school, I joined the
military and became a member of Rajarata Rifles. Our
headquarters was the Saliyapura Camp in Anuradhapura. It was one
of the fighting units. Myself, and the present head of
Presidential Security Division, Brig. Jagath Alwis were in that
same regiment. I still remember the day we went to Anuradhapura
fresh out of the Diyatalawa Training Academy. I joined the Army
in 1981 and underwent Cadet training at Diyathalawa. It was
after 18 months training there that we opted to join the
the time we passed out from the Academy it was 1983. It was the
time the LTTE ambushed 13 soldiers in Thinaveli, Jaffna. So, we
were the very first batch of officers, just out of the academy
to command platoons following the operations that took place
after the Thirunelveli ambush. That was the time, when the
transition period took place. After that there was a certain
issue at Kandaramadam and due to that Rajarata Rifles Regiment
was disbanded. Then we were sent to Diyatalawa once again. After
that my other colleagues joined various other units, but Jagath
Alwis and I were sent to the next hillock. At that time, the
Commander of the Army was Gen. Tissa Weeratunga. He wanted Col.
Waidyaratne to train us.
Finally the disbanded Rajarata Rifles and Vijayaba Regiments
were amalgamated to form the Gajaba Regiment. We were the
pioneer members of that Regiment. I’m very pleased today that
most of the Gajaba Regiment officers have done extremely well in
the battle. They have freed the country from terrorism. All the
officers and men in that Regiment have excelled in their task,
along with the officers and men in other regiments. I’m very
proud of all of them, as a pioneer member of the Gajaba
What made you want to opt for a career in the military back
A: I come from down south, from a village called Weeraketiya.
I have always wanted to join the military and fight for the
country. That sort of thing is in our blood I suppose. By that
time, my uncle Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – now Secretary Defence – was
also in the military. Gen. Tissa Weeratunga was also related to
me. I had a passion to join the military. I would also like to
mention my bother-in-law Col. Fazly Lafir whose contribution to
the military was immense and incomparable. In 1996 he sacrificed
his life trying to save the lives of thousands of soldiers
trapped in Mullaitivu. For that he was awarded the Parama Weera
Q: You are one of the most decorated soldiers in the
military. What were those decorations, and what were they for?
A: I have received the ‘Weera Wickrama Vibhushana,’ ‘Rana
Wickrama Medal,’ and the ‘Rana Shura Medal.’ They were awarded
for bravery. In addition to that, I was wounded twice in battle.
I was awarded the Purple Heart (Deshaputhra Sammanaya) for that,
and Weera Wickrama Vibhushana was awarded to me twice on two
It was then, Col. Vijaya Wimalaratne who headed the newly
formed Gajaba Regiment. He is the father of that Regiment. He
was like our Guru. Amalgamating the two Regiments was a
difficult task. There were officers and men from both Vijayaba
and Rajarata Rifles Regiments. What he did was an amazing task.
Gen. Wimalaratne was also an extremely patriotic man. It was the
transition period from ceremonial Army to combat Army. He was
one of the foremost members who oversaw that transition. He was
the master at counter-revolutionary warfare. I think it is
worthwhile for me to mention him at this point in time. We were
given a lot of jungle training. A lot of fighting in built up
areas, and also the motivational training was conducted. We all
very actively took part in those. Out of all the officers, he
identified the present Secretary Defence as the
second-in-command of that regiment.
Q: You served under such giants like Gen. Kobbekaduwa and
Gen. Vijaya Wimalaratne. What was it like serving with men of
A: It was really great. It was a similar condition like that
which exists between the present Secretary Defence and the Army
Commander. The LTTE identified this fact. Gen Wimalaratne was a
typical solder – battle hardened and highly committed. We were
200% motivated under their command. We would not have minded
crossing a mine field at that young age. He gave that amount of
motivation to the men in all ranks. He had a talent to do so.
That was one of the foundations for the victory we have gained
They were deployed to Jaffna and Yal Devi was running at that
time. We used to get onto the train from Anuradhapura, I still
remember that. One of the Officers Commanding was Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa. Then he was in the ranks of Major. The other OC was
Maj. Palipana, who died along with Gen. Kobbekaduwa. Then there
was Gamini Gunasekara. We are under those three. My company was
housed at Duraiappah Stadium. One company went to Elephant Pass
and another went to Point Pedro and Velvatithurai. The Pallali
Base was not expanded like it is today. Then we had another
detachment at Jaffna Fort. During that time I was chosen to be
the Special Operations Platoon Commander. Then I became a
Platoon Commander. It was again a transition period, because
prior to that they were doing a lot of smuggling operations.
They were doing a lot of training in those days. There were a
lot of lamppost killings taking place to frighten the general
public. We were carrying out a lot of limited operations during
that time. I took part in most of these operations.
After sometime, I remember Brigadier Shavendra Silva coming
into my company. I was a senior subaltern and he joined as
Second Lieutenant. So I’m very proud today of their
achievements. Even Kamal Gunarathne and Jagath Dias were with
us. Once again, the credit should go to people like Gen.
Wimalaratne and Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and also
the present Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
Q: You took part in the Vadamarachchi Operation. It is
known as one of the most successful operations during the early
Eelam Wars. What were your experiences in that operation?
A: I was one of the senior platoon commanders during the
Vadamarachchi Operation. It was during that time the brigade
concept first came into our Army. There were two Brigades and
Brig. Wimalaratne was commanding one and Col. Kobbekaduwa was
commanding the other. There was a total of around 8,000 troops.
I still remember when the entire two brigades were lined up on
the Pallali Airport tarmac prior to the operation. That was in
1987. There again I remember Shavendra was with us. There was
another officer called Shantha Wijeratne with us. He died during
the operation. It was a tough operation. The LTTE had just
returned from training. They were trying to terrorise the people
there. I still remember how we broke out from Pallali and went
to Thondamanaru. They wanted to delay our progress towards
Vadamarachchi area. So, they blew up the Thondamanaru Bridge. On
the first day itself there were a lot of casualties due to
minefields. That was the time they were laying a lot of
anti-personnel mines. A lot of our soldiers suffered due to
mines. On the fourth day we were getting close to Velvatithurai.
When we were about to attack the Canada Bunker in the
Velvatithurai Town itself, I was shot in the chest. Everyone was
trying to evacuate me and I remember telling them not to worry
about me but to move forwards. By that time we had overrun that
bunker. My battalion was commanded by the present Secretary
Defence who was trying to communicate with Col. Wimalaratne. I
faintly remember them trying to call in a helicopter. I think
I’m living today because of Col. Rajapaksa and Gen. Wimalaratne.
I never thought that helicopter would come that close to the
battle. Then I was brought to Pallali and surgery was performed
on me. When I was shot, I was taken about 150 metres back by my
colleague Lt. Shantha Wijesinghe. He was the one who carried me
back towards the chopper. The sad part was when I was in the
military hospital the next day, I learnt that he was shot and
fatally wounded later succumbed to his injuries. That was a very
touching moment for me. He was the person who defended the
Kokilai camp as a Second Lieutenant against the LTTE’s first
Q: Is it true that Prabhakaran was almost captured during
that operation? What went wrong?
A: By that time, the military had gone past Velvatithurai,
towards Point Pedro. Then, Prabhakaran and 10 other leaders were
cornered. That was the time the Indian Peace Keeping Force came
and landed in Pallali. They started dropping reinforcements to
them, and so we were forced to conclude the operation and come
back to Colombo.
If we had a good relation with our neighbouring countries and
had better political understanding, such a situation could have
been reversed. That is the difference I see between Presidents
J.R. Jayewardene and Mahinda Rajapaksa. I suppose President
Jayewardene did not have many options back then. I think our
foreign policy was not good enough at that time.
Q: Other than Vadamarachchi what were the other operations
you took part in, while you were in the military?
A: I took part in most of the operations during Eelam Wars
One, Two and Three. I was in all the major operations, including
Jayasikuru. There I was a battalion commander and I was wounded
there during that time. I think that was in August 1, 1997. I
was at Omanthai. Our axis was along the A9 Road when the LTTE
attacked the Omanthai camp. I had to defend as my battalion was
there. The LTTE came on a do-or-die mission. About 300 LTTE
cardres surrounded my camp. There I had a troop of artillery and
troop of armour. The terrorists couldn’t overrun our camp. We
were able to kill at least 112 terrorists.
Q: You are responsible for the capture of the biggest
explosive haul brought to Colombo by the Tigers. Can you explain
how it happened?
A: It was in 1994. It was the time I got my only break to
the Kotelawala Defence Academy. I was an Adjutant there. On that
day I was coming back to Colombo from Ratmalana around 5 in the
afternoon, to pick my wife before going home. Her office was
somewhere close to the Central Bank. By the time my vehicle
passed Dehiwela Junction, the road was congested with traffic.
Suddenly I saw a vehicle trying to overtake mine from my left
hand side. I could see the vehicle in the side mirror.
I was in uniform with my buddy and the driver. At that time,
I was not carrying any arms on my person. I noticed that the
driver of that vehicle saw me. I think my uniform alarmed him a
little. Then the vehicle was trying to overtake mine from the
right hand side. He was trying to somehow overtake my vehicle
and even scraped my vehicle on the side in the process. I felt
something was not right. It was the time I have just returned to
Colombo after a long tenure in Jaffna, I was suspicious of the
movements of the vehicle. I’m a person who is always a little
alert. Anyhow, because of the traffic, the suspicious vehicle
could not go far. So I overtook that vehicle and parked across
the road to block the progress of the suspicious vehicle. I got
off my van and realised the suspicious vehicle was a fully
tinted double cab. I wanted the driver and the person seated on
the passenger seat to get down from the vehicle. I also noticed
there were two girls seated at the back of the cab. I led the
two men towards the side of the road and started asking them a
few questions. During that time we were very conversant about
the geographical area in Jaffna. We have been virtually living
in those areas. So, every by-lane, cross road was very familiar.
Then he showed me his ID and I saw that he was from Iruppalai. I
was very familiar with that area. Then I wanted find out when
they crossed the Thandikulam road block. Whenever someone
crossed that roadblock a pass was issued. They told me they
crossed it six months ago and gave me a cover story. But after
searching the driver I found a pass, which said that they in
fact crossed the road block two weeks ago. Then I found a
cyanide capsule in his pocket. By then I have realised that he
was a hardcore LTTEer. Then I called military intelligence for
their assistance. Meanwhile, I had sent a procurement vehicle
which stopped at the scene upon seeing me, to the place the
suspects claimed they had been staying. Then, after the
discovery of the capsule, a person claiming to be the uncle of
the suspects and a Sinhalese man who had rented out his house to
them reached the party on the road. Then they all were detained
and questioned. Then we found out that they had left a parcel
under a bed at the place they were staying. There we discovered
a massive amount of RDX explosives hidden there. It is the most
lethal type of explosives and that haul was the biggest found in
Colombo. They were on a final recce mission. There was a false
bottom in the cab and a switch. They were planning to stack the
explosives there and ram that vehicle into the Air Force
Headquarters, which was at Thummulla back then.
We also found out from the two girls, the following day a man
named ‘Param’ was supposed to meet them at a certain place. He
was the Colombo coordinator for the LTTE. We sent a party there
and apprehended the person. Through him, we learnt about suicide
missions targetting several important people in Colombo.
Q: In your opinion, what are the reasons why the war
against the Tigers was successful this time?
A: I think the number one reason is President Mahinda
Rajapaksa’s political leadership and his maturity. He had been
studying this problem for a long period of time. He had been in
the political system for the past 30 years. He had seen the
mistakes made by the other leaders. More than anything else, it
was his maturity in looking at any problem that made this
possible. First of all he was trying to organise the foreign
policy. He understood that we had to have the support of our big
brother India, and other countries as well. Had an eventuality
occurred, he knew how to handle that.
The number two reason was he was educating the people. Our
biggest problem was recruitment. That he handled very well. He
appointed the right person as the Secretary Defence, a person
who had undergone this mill for a long time. He was the best
suited person to hold that position. It is the same with the
commanders of the three forces. He appointed the right people at
the right time.
I must express my undying gratitude for all the officers and
men who sacrificed their today for our tomorrow and, starting
from the President’s leadership, the commitment of the three
service commanders and the IGP, all the ranking officers and
soldiers. Then there are thousands of others who sacrificed
their limbs to make sure the LTTE is defeated.
I must also make a special mention of Former Director
Operations, Maj. Gen Udaya Perera and head of PSD Jagath Alwis
who served the country along with me.