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General Nalin Seneviratne VSV 1931- 2009
“Nothing except a battle won can be half as melancholy as a battle lost” (Duke
of Wellington 1769-1852)
General Nalin Seneviratne VSV the 10th Commander of the SL Army died on August
12, 2009 aged 78 years. He joins in Valhalla those who were in the thin red line
of defenders of the nation who predeceased him. History will record that he was
the first army commander who defeated the LTTE in 1987, resisting attempts by
the faint hearted to abort the epic Vadamarachchi battle in its first hour. The
war was finally won when the LTTE was wiped out by General Sarath Fonseka in May
He will be remembered for his almost boyish enthusiasm in whatever he did, his
approachability that made subordinates believe he was human and available at all
times. He had great moral strength to lead in times of exceptional stress and
misfortune as in Jaffna in the mid 1980s and the courage of his convictions to
stand up for his subordinates. He had sincerity and charm to mean what he said
and deal with compassionate cases and community issues. He however, lacked
somewhat in showmanship which some excelled in, although he made sure of success
of the army he led in war which was what mattered.
While there may have been a lacuna in his tactical knowledge being an Engineer,
he made up for it by getting to know, even though late, what was needed to be
done. Good judgment and decision making followed easily. He would give his
subordinates a reasonable ‘free run’ but no one doubted that he knew when to
seize the reins himself. Being a leader by example he was a superb communicator
and encouraged, even provoked his subordinates to give him ideas and even advice
as he was sure of his own ability to ensure success. His subordinates knew he
really cared for them and their ambitions and rallied round him. He involved
himself wholly with everything in the army and everybody in it. There were no
cliques and favourites. Hopefully he was not the last of the Mohicans.
The six foot General was educated at Royal College, Colombo. He joined the then
Ceylon Army and was commissioned into the First Field Engineer Regiment Ceylon
Engineers from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on July 30, 1953. He
followed the Royal Engineer Young Officers course at the School of Military
Engineering Shrivenham UK before returning. Much later in the 1960s he followed
a Plant (Heavy Machinery) Engineering course in the USA, the first SL Army
officer to be trained there. Much later in the 1980s, he followed the National
Defence Course in Delhi before he took command of the army. When he did so he
also became the second Engineer Officer to command the Army following General
Denis Perera, a very hard act to follow, as standards had been set that did not
exist before. He made sure they were kept.
Much of his service was within the folds of the Field Engineers including his
period of command of the Regiment which while honing his expertise as an
Engineer inhibited his knowledge of many officers in the army, something he
needed to work on when he became Army Commander. He did so by visiting regiments
all over the country including when they were on field training.
He served as staff officer to the Commander Task Force Illicit Immigration
(TAFII) and was based in Mannar in the 1960s. He was the First Commander of the
Engineer Group (1977-1980) and then the Support Group (1982-4). He took a stint
in a civilian government job in the UK offered him by Minister Lalith
Athulathmudali. He was also Commander of 54 Force HQ in Jaffna. He commanded the
SL Army from 1985 to 1988 having taken over from Lt Gen Tissa Weeratunge.
The zenith of his tenure as Army Commander was the victorious 1987 Vadamarachchi
battle in which the LTTE were decisively beaten. The nadir was the forced
induction of the IPKF into SL in 1987.
He had tremendous moral courage which was tested to the hilt when he was hemmed
in the Jaffna fort in 1984, yet he made sure while the soldiers morale was high
that it was not at the expense of the people of Jaffna and that they were not
unfairly affected by continuing military action. There was little if any co-
lateral damage. The late Maj Gen George Thevanayagam who was a Sinha Regiment
officer and was himself from Jaffna summed it up when he said that the people of
Jaffna would not harm Gen Seneviratne even if he was to walk its streets in the
dark. This was echoed by many Jaffna civilians too.
Gen Seneviratne intuitively grasped the essence of a problem posed and revelled
in finding a solution which those affected at the end possibly believed was
their own. He also had a rollicking sense of humour and could add stinging wit
to it when called for. It made many careful not to ask or expect anything that
took their personal fancy.
He was a natural leader of people as he led by example. He never asked anyone to
do anything he himself had not done or was unable to do. He was upright and
straight forward. The standards of conduct, behaviour, and integrity set by him
and General Perera are the ones that the army still tries to emulate.
Like all Engineer officers most of them over 6 foot tall Gen Seneviratne was
also good at sports. He played rugby for the Engineer regiment and the army.
The Engineers tradition of carrying out national development projects in many
parts of the island continued under then Col Senviratne especially in the
Mahaveli H2 area using heavy earth moving machinery of the Plant Squadron. He
was very proud of their achievements.
After leaving the army he was a very effective and efficient Governor North East
Provinces. He also did much to improve the welfare of his staff by finding and
constructing suitable living quarters and generally improving their living
standards. Yet he spent little on improving his own residence which latter is
the first thing some others gave priority to on appointment.
Gen Nalin Seneviratne who was not in good health at the end, leaves behind his
wife Mala and their only child, Dushyanthi married to Khavan Perera and their
two daughters. All ranks of the army who served in his time and his numerous
friends and relatives will miss him very much. He will be remembered by all for
a long time to come and his contribution to the SL Army and his regiment will be
well recorded in history.
Lalin Fernando (Major General retired)
Lion Safari Park for Hambantota
Five hundred acres of State land in Ridiyagama in Hambantota District have been
allocated for an animal park and permission has been granted to include a Lions
Safari Park. MP Sajith Premadasa too has welcomed the decision to establish a
Lions Safari Park assuming that the people of the district will benefit from a
Lions Safari Park. Instead, the land should be used for agricultural and
industrial purposes which would be more beneficial to the people of the district
and to the country as a whole.
With the existence of the Ridiyagama Tank, water for agriculture and industry is
not an issue. Hambantota is a dry area with less rainfall and the lions of the
proposed park will consume most of the water in the tank and that may lead to
lion-human confrontations, similar to the elephant-human confrontations in some
Lions in a park cannot hunt for their own food and they have to be provided with
meat. The State will have to provide adequate supply of meat without creating a
shortage for human consumption. Perhaps even the Dehiwala Zoo may be
experiencing difficulties in obtaining the required amount of meat and other
When attacked, a human has no chance against a lion unlike in an elephant attack
where some chance of survival prevails. Thus instead of a Lions Safari Park an
all animal zoo like Dehiwala would be more beneficial to children and local and
Perhaps with the construction of the new airport and the harbour a Lions Safari
Park could become an attraction for some foreign tourists and a few new hotels
may become another investment. But foreigners would prefer to visit a park in
Nairobi or such other reputed places to watch lions than visiting a small park
in our country.
Thus the new Minister of Tourism should focus his attention to establish a zoo
rather than a Lion Safari Park which will be more useful.
Developing Hambantota District was a long overdue and the present trend of
development is in the best interest of the people of the district. Agricultural
and industrial development should also have to be done together with the
construction of highways, the airport and habour.
Thus, a zoo is an attraction for the entire Southern Province.
Kidnapping of baby elephants
I have been following the above story with a mix of amusement and disgust.
Amused at the behaviour of the government whose silence on the issue is
deafening; disgusted at the brazen and illegal act of a nondescript person
charged with the responsibility of the High Office of the Diyawadana Nilame of
The silence on the part of those in power is obviously due the fact that they
are responsible for permitting this act. In short, they have aided and abetted
the culprits responsible for this unforgivable act.
I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my congratulations to the
National Bikkhu Front for the stand it has taken on this issue.
Was it not the custodians and Prelates of the two Chapters, who objected to an
International Cricket match being played in Kandy on a Poya Day? What prized
double standards! I sincerely hope that sanity prevails and if not, that the
peace- loving Buddhist population of this country show their strength and ensure
that immediate action is forced on the Goverment to return the baby elephants to
Pinnawala or transport the two mother elephants to Kandy to be with their young
Perhaps a reminder from the Dhammapada would help.
‘The cankers only increase for those who are arrogant and heedless, who leave
undone what should be done and do what should not be done.’
R. de Silva
Schools and term tests
Question papers prepared by the Provincial Council Authorities (PCA) have
embarrassed students, teachers as well as schools. The omissions and errors
found in the question papers prepared and printed by PCAs for the recent school
term tests are going to affect the future of children’s education deeply. How
the need arose for the PCAs to take over the responsibility of preparing test
papers from the schools cannot be fathomed and the resulting damage to young
minds also cannot be immediately assessed.
During a bygone era, term tests were conducted by the principals and the
teachers of the respective schools who were aware of subject material they had
taught to the students. Thus the government should revert to the old system and
entrust the responsibility to the principals and teachers of the schools for the
proper conduct of the examinations. Inspectors of schools during their visits
could examine the test papers and if necessary provide guidelines. Photocopy
machines are available in private places close to any school and in the morning
of an examination the question papers could be photocopied. Thus the high cost
of printing by private organisations could be avoided which in turn will benefit
The Minister of Education has said, “The crisis had been caused by the
appointment of unqualified people to top posts in the education sector.” If so
an inquiry should be held for the appointment of unqualified persons and
remedial measures should be taken immediately.
Courageous and bold decisions resulted in eliminating terrorism and through a
similar courageous decision the education of children should be put in the right
There had been a quite lot of articles in the recent papers, both English and
Sinhala, regarding the abduction of the baby tuskers from the mother elephants,
which incidentally reminds me of an incident during the time of Prophet (pbuh),
where he reprimanded his companions for separating the baby birds from its
mother. It is reported in one of the authentic traditions of the Prophet, Abu
Dawood as follows:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Mas’ud: We were with the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) during a
journey. He went to ease himself. We saw a bird with her two young ones and we
captured her young ones. The bird came and began to spread its wings. The
Apostle of Allah (pbuh) came and said: Who grieved this for its young ones?
Return its young ones to it. He also saw an ant village that we had burnt. He
asked: Who has burnt this? We replied: We. He said: It is not proper to punish
with fire except the Lord of fire.
Vehement opposition to changes in Scouting
Never a day passes without reference to the maladministration of the most
important government department – Education, in our country. These days the
howlers in question papers have revealed the poor standard of teachers who are
responsible and the Provincial Council Ministers of Education. Then comes,
strikes by principals of schools, student unrest in universities and schools,
students assaulting teachers; a prestigious girls’ school, a girl commits
suicide for alleged possession of a mobile phone. On the top of these, there is
another major issue, which has not taken the front page in our newspapers. This
is more important than the plunder of baby elephants by the Minister for Sports
and the Diyawadana Nilame to be gifted to the Sacred Temple of the Tooth. The
issue is about Scouting and Girl Guiding in schools, which is an extra school
activity, supported by the government and approved by the Education Ministry.
Recently, it was reported that the Boys Scout Association which was only for
boys has now dropped the word ‘Boys’ and had begun recruiting girls and proposes
to have joint camps. This has been vehemently opposed and objected to by the
Girl Guides Association of Sri Lanka, saying that it is not in keeping with the
high ideals of bringing up girls to be “useful to society, safeguarding our
culture, beliefs, moral values and religion.”
On this objection, it is reported that the Chief Scout Commissioner has said
that he merely carried out the instructions of the parent association. It is a
very irresponsible statement having no sincere feeling for the country, culture,
heritage, our upbringing and our aspirations. It is relevant, I feel, to quote
for the information of the Chief Scout Commissioner and all those political
leaders, what US President Barack Obama had said, as reported in the Telegraph
Group: “The anger, I think, is when the United States or any country thinks that
we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history
and different culture.”
The Minister for Education should immediately look into the matter, consult
principals of schools (both boys and girls), parents and prelates and give a
directive. Else it will not be the case of a girl committing suicide for alleged
possession of a mobile phone but condoms. A news item in The Telegraph reported
by Malcolm Moon says, “Nine out of 10 Scouts and Girl Guides expected to have
sex before marriages and half said that they would be happy to commit adultery.
If this is the trend in the West in promoting scouting, I wonder whether our
authorities will allow this to happen. Over to you Minister Susil Premajayantha
for early action. I would request parents an school principals to respond by
writing to the press to create an awareness.
G. A. D. Sirimal
Time for Ranil to step down
The recent election results should be a clear indication for Ranil that it is
time he lets go of the leadership of the Opposition.
A country needs not only a good governing party but also a strong opposition in
Parliament. The Opposition should be there to keep the governing party in the
correct path, criticising and correcting all the mistakes it makes.
Ranil should by now see the writing on the wall as clear as an elephant that he
cannot lead the age-old party anymore. If the other party leaders feel they
cannot hurt the failed leader at this painful moment, they will be doing a
heinous crime against their own party.
If someone is to find excuses that the government used all the state tricks to
win the election, the reply is, that is what a leader is supposed to foresee and
counteract. If he cannot, and he did not, then he is not worth being a leader.
It is time someone close to Ranil to tell him, its time to leave if he loves the
party. This is no time for soft-pedalling, and it is a fact that a gentleman
like Ranil is not the correct candidate for the Opposition anymore.
Dr Mrs Mareena Thaha Reffai
The Other Side of Midnight
Human history has been laden with an assortment of evil manifestations, taking
the form of apparitions, zombies, vampires, witches and occult beings. A dark
cold night with the subdued glow of a full moon is supposedly the prime venue
for all things not divine! Sri Lanka has its own domain of frightful visitors of
the night or so they say. I had a cousin brother who ran for his life in the
vicinity of a cemetery on being chased by an evil yakka whilst carrying a parcel
of roast pork, only to find that it was indeed a hungry canine. Just a moment,
ponder this, “Don’t make imaginary evils, when you know we have so many real
ones to encounter,” said Oliver Goldsmith. I have seen and been in many
situations where people have indeed shown their darker side (no offence to my
dark complexioned friends). I’m sure you can add onto this list.
Evil is not something that is depicted in a Halloween theme night. I for one
don’t perceive it in that sense. Perhaps you can rewind your lives and
recollect. Did the bus conductor give you your due change? What about that
arrogant and moody bald clerk at the bank? The cholesterol enriched boss at
office who gave a salary raise to your female colleague whilst you did all the
hard work? Remember that coach at school who by passed your prowess at cricket
and selected team-mate fatso, because his father was the CEO of that company
that sponsored the cricket tournament? The biased mother-in-law who is
constantly seeking to control your family? I’m sure there are so many other
episodes where people really go below the status of animals (and we call the
animals as being savage). Perhaps someday these people, who never really
experienced human love, will be inducted into a Hall of Shame (believe me there
would be a race even to get into the top ten).
Come now chums we can make a difference in our daily routines. As a wise sage
hath said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” I am
a soul who ardently believes that one’s speech reflects the inner man or woman.
Yes, there were times I lost my temper too and fired words like an assault
rifle. I found wisdom in the words of St. James who said, “Let every man be
swift to listen, slow to speak and slow to wrath.” If you want to listen to a
person you have to be silent – note how both words have the same exact
alphabets. Even our tone of voice reveals our moods and body language is said to
reveal even more! It’s our refined speech in any language that distinguishes us
from other primates. Scurrilous words create more damage than a salvo from the
Regiment of Artillery.
Another “no cost” action is a simple smile. Cheer up chaps, don’t go around like
a frustrated chimp. How refreshing a smile can be! You can go to the next level
by flavouring your day with some humour, not laughing at others, but creating an
atmosphere where even the others can join and laugh. The most wasted of days is
that on which one has not laughed. Do learn to appreciate your friends. It’s
easy to bond with folks who share your same interests. Please do go the extra
mile or kilometre and get to know others who many have passions that differ.
It’s difference that sustains variety, specially in human relationships. Watch
out for those who simply hang around when the going is smooth. Cautious of those
who always in a bibulous state, insist on going to the happening venues at
night. Might I boldly assume, that few will ever sympathise with you, if in
maudlin tears, you quote from Henry IV by saying “Company, villainous company
hath been the spoil of me.” No excuses mate.
Oscar Wilde prognosticated with deep insight, “Today man knows the price of
everything and the value of nothing.” Is being in vogue your top priority? Why
do people evaluate us by our material acquisitions? After all, folks what have
you brought into this world that you may lose it? What have you created that you
may vainly squander it? It’s a blessing to live comfortably, but do be mindful.
You will find a new dimension of happiness when you begin to share and care for
those humans who need you (specially away from the spotlight of the flashing
cameras). As you move on in life why waste your time trying to avenge and get
even? Don’t be reprobate. They say you must bury the hatchet, I opine that you
may be tempted to retrieve it buddy, and use it again! Break it and throw it
away please. Yes Sir, Justice will find its way no matter how long it takes.
Until then, let the Kalukumarayas and the Mahasonas do their nocturnal rounds,
if they do indeed exist. No harm in carrying your torchlight. Do be mindful of
the black cat and dog, nothing to worry with being bestowed by bad luck, they
might be having rabies, silly! Alas life must go on in positive gear. May I
close by echoing Goldsmith again, “Hope like the taper’s light, adorns and
cheers our way, and still as darker grows the night, emits a brighter ray.”