Lest We Forget: A Letter to the President of Sri Lanka from an Infantry Officer, Gemunu Watch

Hiran Halangode, in a commemorative essay written in June 2015 in memory of the security personnel killed by the LTTE in the East in June 1990

It is 25 years since the series of unfortunate events took place [see Halangode: “Besieged; Confronting the LTTE Assaults in Batticaloa  Province…,”  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/besieged-confronting-the-ltte-assaults-in-mid-1990-in-batticaloa-province-an-infantry-officers-tale/ . As I pen these few lines as a tribute to all those gallant warriors of our country, I pay my humble respects to all those fallen heroes in this terrible conflict. However if we are to benefit from the experience, it is important that the lessons learnt are not forgotten or swept under the carpet. I kindly request the President that action be initiated and a study made of our past, before embarking on the future national security policy which should be based on these and similar experiences.

Firstly. ensure we have a granite stone marker as a grim reminder recording the incident at the locations in Kiran, Wellawadi, Kallady, Kalwanchikudy and Kalmunai to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our motherland and for future generations to know their efforts were not in vain. We must make similar markers at all such locations that history will not be erased by the unpatriotic elements in society for their own convenience and hidden agendas. These pictures of the present locations of Kiran and Wellawadi detachments 25 years on provide ample proof.

DSC08381 Kiran camp in June 2015 pic 1Kiran camp well 2015                   wellawadi beach 2015Wellawadi Beach                     

Soldiers, when committed to a task, can’t compromise. Its unrelenting devotion to the standards of duty and courage, absolute loyalty to others, not letting the task go until it’s been done.John Keegan

When you analyze the reasons for this brutal conflict to take 30 years or more, we must note that a few individuals by lack of knowledge or arrogance of power or both, made serious mistakes that have gone unpunished. Late President Premadasa gave arms, ammunition, equipment and money to the LTTE in the name of peace and to counter the IPKF arming the TNA, and as a result, had to sacrifice his life for his folly. However, the more serious impact was on us and he is not here anymore to take the blame. He was not advised by his two top most military advisors, the Secretary Defence and the GOC Joint Operations Command who happened to be both 4 star Generals.

We also had similar Service Commanders who said we could never defeat the LTTE but who now spend their retirement as 4 star Generals. There were others who made big money from this conflict. Then there were others who sat in Colombo and got promoted for their political affiliations. A few more who betrayed our forces by providing vital information to the LTTE for money and other lucrative perks continue to enjoy the freedom we and many other warriors fought for, by putting our lives on the line.

The next two culprits were the two political Generals, one who professed that terror should be met with terror, resulting in a few officers and men who followed those illegal orders being put behind bars for their illegal deeds in Embilipitiya. Those who stood up to him were sent on compulsory retirement without their pensions. The other used soldiers for his personal security at the election campaign in Udathalawinna. Unfortunately those soldiers who provided protection are still in prison for carrying out illegal orders without being visited by anybody other than their next of kin.

We now have local and international Human Rights activists who talk about the Geneva Convention, the Law of War, Rules of Engagement, and Rules for Behaviour in Action. Why weren’t they applicable to the ruthless terrorist leaders who had entered parliament and held responsible positions in the past cabinet. They continue to roam around with total freedom without being prosecuted. Where is the justice and good governance Mr. President? Justice delayed is justice denied. Those 678 policemen who were asked to surrender by the then government must be turning in their graves since it had taken 25 years up to now without an inquiry, not even a marker at their shallow graves they were forced to dig, before being killed in cold blood. Don’t they have Human Rights?

We also had one of the most disgraceful parliaments in recent history where the opposition ridiculed and belittled the valiant efforts of our soldiers at war. Others had theatrical dramas projecting that war was the reason for the breakdown of peace and all the nation’s ills. Most were timid souls whose hearts quaked at the mention of suicide cadres and agreed to negotiate in fear of the LTTE threats. I wish to remind them and the people of this country that the military suffered the most number of casualties soon after each and every peace talks that were held in 1985, 1987, 1990, 1995 and 2005. At least now, they should respect the dead and remember those valiant men who sacrificed their to-day for our to-morrow. I humbly suggest that you all rise and pay your respects to these valiant war heroes before the day’s proceedings in parliament in future.

The casualty state is horrendous and some of you must take the blame and cry in shame for trying to appease the terrorists and their supporters. From 1981 to the end of the conflict in May 2009 the Army lost 23,403 Killed in Action [KIA] and Missing in Action [MIA] which is 85% of the total 27613 KIA/MIA in the conflict. The Navy lost 1163 or 4.2% of the total KIA/MIA, the Air Force lost 426 which is 1.5% of the total KIA/MIA, and the Police lost 2621 personnel which is 9.5% of the total KIA/MIA. The Police lost 678 alone in BCO in 1990 after surrendering to the ruthless LTTE terrorists which is almost 26% of their total KIA/MIA.

The Infantry comprising the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Sinha Regiment, Gemunu Watch, Gajaba Regiment and the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment had lost a total number of 18,461 KIA or MIA which is 79% of the total Army fatalities.When the total KIA/MIA of the Commandos, Special Forces and Sri Lanka National Guard is included it rises by 10 % to 89% of total Army KIA/MIA. This is the reality of the conflict and of those gallant troops who have suffered the most in this brutal conflict.

It is similar with the permanently disabled, the Wounded In Action [WIA], the many silent warriors suffering with PTSD[Post Trauma Stress Disorder], the many war widows, children without their fathers and mothers who were KIA and the pain of mind of the parents, family members and loved ones. The list is endless. Therefore, it is important that we remember the gallant war heroes who sacrificed their lives for our to-morrow and respect with gratitude all those who have served, are serving and are to serve in the Armed Forces of our country. This is my humble tribute to all these honourable countrymen and women, for your silent but patriotic endeavours in the defence of our beloved motherland. May you be blessed and protected by the gods and the devas to eternity. Words cannot replace or express your greatest sacrifice of protecting our motherland from the scourge of terrorism.

I firstly pay tribute to the late General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, the most charismatic battle-field commander we had because he always understood the heartbeat of the soldier and put his life on the line to safeguard their interests before his own comfort at all times. Then we had late Maj Gen Vijay Wimalaratne my guru as an officer cadet and OC [Officer Commanding] Bravo company as a subaltern, who in my opinion was the most brilliant field commander we had because he knew the terrain we fought on, his adversary’s modus operandi, and above all knew and understood his men, always leading from the front. His creation, the Gajaba Regiment will always bear testimony to his great qualities of inspired leadership and dedicated service to the Corps, Army and Country. We must also remember with eternal gratitude all those numerous war heroes who sacrificed their lives in the defence of our motherland during the past 67 years of our independence.

Mr. President, may I kindly suggest to you to visit the following places with your Minister of Defence and those civilian souls who run the MOD to see at first hand what our gallant warriors have done for this country. First go by road to the base of Toppigala where there is a heritage park now, which consists of a memorial for all those who sacrificed their precious lives with the Toppigala rock feature in the background. If you are adventurous, do climb the feature and spend the night at one of the many LTTE training camps found at the base of the mountain. Try to take the leader of the Eastern LTTE cadres who might share with you his vast experience of the Toppigala jungles which remained his domain for many years.

It is only then that you can realize the sacrifice and dedicated efforts taken by our valiant heroes who died fighting for their motherland in the past 30 years, because after all, as the famous American General, Douglas MacArthur said, it is the soldier, above all who prays for peace for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

map showing roads leading to Toppigala area Toppigala 1  These photographs depict troops closing in on Toppigala, the LTTE arms and ammo recovered, a few gallant troops of Gemunu Watch with their war memorabilia, the memorial at the Toppigala heritage park and the Toppigala area map

Toppigala Gemunu troops with recoveries ARMS RECOVERED TOPPIGALAToppigala memorial

Then Mr. President, take the slow boat from Trincomalee to KKS where our gallant soldiers used to travel for duty and return on leave from the North. You might meet a few illegal Indian fishermen in our territorial waters on the way. It is nothing compared to what our troops endured for almost 18 years from LTTE suicide boats to severe choppy seas enroute, unsure of their safety until their boots touched the ground. Some without a wink of sleep, drenched to the bone but always alert for danger.

Finally Mr. President, do visit Mannar and accompany our fishermen with the Northern Province Chief Minister to see the reality of the problem of the Indian fishermen who have continued to fish for our marine resources illegally. This practice has continued from time immemorial. The economic loss would run into millions of dollars and we could have paid all our debts to India and the other countries and institutions that offered assistance and built not 50,000 but 500,000 houses for all the victims of the conflict. We would still have had enough money to reconstruct the Northern railway line and the Northern highway without seeking Indian credit and enjoyed a better standard of living whilst wiping out malnutrition in our country for good.

These visits with your team of defence officials will help you to formulate a coherent national security policy based on our national interests for the future. The profession of arms is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and 22 years of selfless sacrifice and duty for a soldier and 20 years for an officer as a minimum to be eligible for a pension.It cannot be understood by civilians who sit behind tables in air-conditioned comfort up to 55 years and decide our fate and recommend to parliament a flawed defence policy. In parliament the parliamentarians enjoy perks that we can only wonder in disbelief, while we are expected to tighten our belts which have always been tight, and face with muted response, since we have no trade union rights to protest in public.

AD BELLUM PACE PARATI – To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. George Washington.

Please remember that all these countries who advise us, formulate national security policy based on their national interests. Why are we an exception, acceding to their requests or demands to maintain cordial relations whilst being deprived of our freedom and way of life? Our international relations have to be shaped and based on these national objectives. Please be vary of the so-called friends who wanted us to negotiate with terrorists whilst they waged a war on terror. Also please tread carefully with our local patriots who wear their patriotism on their sleeves but are unable to comprehend ground reality.

Above everything else, do trust our Armed Forces because they have saved this country from anarchy and dictatorial rule on many an occasion in the past.

May this quote be a constant reminder to you as a decision maker that will ensure our lives will be never compromised and that future generations of Sri Lankans will enjoy their peace and freedom that we protected with all our might.

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto deathSun Tzu

Finally Mr. President all these ills are not your fault but the cumulative misdeeds of those who held office as the Commander in Chief, the military top brass and the civilian bureaucrats. Therefore, kindly correct these mistakes and ensure that the defence establishment learns the many lessons from our past because Sri Lanka has lost many a brave son of the soil.

Let me add this final quote to ensure our SOLDIERS are never forgotten or taken for granted by the many who claim the victory over the ruthless terrorists as their own. I wish you strength of character to put right what has gone wrong for so long and strengthen the Armed Forces who defend our country in the future.

IT IS THE SOLDIER

It is the Soldier, not the minister who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag, And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

                                               By Charles M. Province US Army veteran

To all the fallen war heroes who need to be remembered all day,

Sri Lanka’s finest real heroes they were once yesterday,

Our lasting prayers are with you to-day,

For your heroic deeds keep us safe from harms way and free everyday.

Lastly to my comrades in arms I say, keep your heads down and powder dry till we meet on the high ground.

             11 June 2015                        Brigadier [retd] Hiran N. Halangode, Gemunu Watch]

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Filed under accountability, historical interpretation, human rights, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, truth as casualty of war, war reportage, world events & processes

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