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Letters


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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 2009.

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)

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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 areas.
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 foods.

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 foreign visitors.
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.
Arnot Patriae

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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 Kandy.
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 ones.
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
Dehiwala

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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 students.

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 track.
Amor Patriae

****

Jumbo abduction

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.
Mohamed Zahran
Colombo 3

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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
Boralesgamuwa

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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
Dehiwala

****

The Other Side of Midnight

By D.S.Joseph
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.”

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