I would not have done any different…
Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda
By Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda
Principles of war are the same. It is how you apply
the principles to suit the existing requirement to
fight the enemy and make your military plans
accordingly. I must admit that Gen. Sarath Fonseka
has done extremely well. He has been a good field
commander. I have been asked if I would have done
differently to Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The question
does not arise.
Why it was possible to win the war this time as
against previous times was that, on this occasion
there was no direct pressure from India as on the
previous occasions. Whatever pressure that was
exerted on Sri Lanka was superficial. All what the
Indian government did was to bring pressure on the
Sri Lankan government on humanitarian grounds viz.
internally displaced persons. Even the European
Union made a hue and cry for displaced persons.
and Pakistan gave their fullest support to the Sri
Lankan government by way of weapons etc. The LTTE
having fought for 26 years had lost a large number
of cadres and weapons. Unlike in the past, the
security force commanders were given a free hand to
crush the LTTE.
A severe blow
The defection of Karuna to the government was a
severe blow to the LTTE. Karuna knew exactly the
strategy adopted by Pirapaharan and the security
forces were able to counter attack and thwart the
moves of the LTTE. With the defection of Karuna to
the government side, the LTTE lost its control in
the east, and the STF was able to contain the LTTE
in the east while the army, navy and air force
jointly were able to concentrate on the north.
Although Pirapaharan and his deputies kept shifting
their locations, Karuna knew exactly where
Pirapaharan would move and this helped the army to
locate their hideout and hit targets accurately.
When I assumed duties as Army Commander, the peace
process was in force and it was during the peace
process that the LTTE high command was able to
acquire weapons, air power, communication equipment
etc. The President was able to negate through
diplomatic means pressure exerted on Sri Lanka. He
has a Secretary Defence, who is his brother with a
wealth of experience in the war and had access to
the President at anytime of the day or night. The
Secretary Defence was able to monitor the
developments and he knew exactly what the security
force commanders were doing.
A viable political solution
my view, it would be difficult for the LTTE without
a leader to raise its head with the same charisma as
Pirapaharan. The government however must now move
quickly and come out with a viable political
solution for the Tamils.
The Tamil diaspora is in complete disarray at the
moment. All they could do right now is to harass the
minority Sinhalese in foreign countries and hope for
a backlash in
With the war over, Tamils living abroad will in all
probability be returning to Sri Lanka. With this in
mind the Tamil diaspora will come out with something
new to keep the heat on and justify their existence
maybe true that there is a renewed fear psychosis
among Tamils that they will continue to be targets.
More so in the backdrop of a military victory.
The fear psychosis will continue for sometime. The
security forces will have to nip it in the bud if
there is any form of harassment of the Tamils.
There were criminal elements who exploited the war
situation and were responsible for abductions,
kidnapping etc. for ransom. There were several
ex-security forces personnel who figured in
killings, abductions etc., for their personal gain.
Some were ex-army personnel. Even the recent bank
robbery committed at Wellawatte was by an ex-army
captain. With the war over the government may not
need the entire strength of the army. Hence action
should be taken to employ them gainfully. Private
security companies should be encouraged to recruit
do not think the ‘Special Forces’ — the fighting
strength of the military, should be done away with.
They should be sent to the UN on peace keeping
missions etc. or gainfully employed in South Korea
and in the Middle East countries which will bring in
revenue to the government, so that the government
could utilise the revenue for development projects
and further training of special officers.
There is still fear, particularly amongst sections
of the media, that the Special Forces unit within
the army may be used to stifle dissenting or
critical voices amongst the press. As a former
Commander of the Sri Lanka Army I can state there is
no evidence that the security forces were utilised
to stifle the media. Leaders all over the world who
have tried to stifle the media have learnt it to be
a terrible mistake. History shows this. If there is
evidence of any such move to stifle the media that
should be nipped in the bud.
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a turning
point in this war. With this killing,
stopped pressurising the Sri Lankan government to
give in to the demands of the Tamil Tigers. The then
Sri Lankan government should have exploited this
political situation and gone flat out to crush the
LTTE, which they failed to do.
No clear policy
The former Sri Lankan government never had a clear
policy to crush the LTTE. They were more worried
about the repercussions from abroad and they forgot
the ulterior objectives of the LTTE. This shows how
weak the UNP government was at that time.
Mahinda Rajapakse who came to power much later
seized this opportunity and built a better rapport
with the Indian government and this helped him to
declare all-out war against the LTTE. The then UNP
government had a blow-hot, blow-cold policy and was
never determined to finish off the LTTE.
All credit should be given to Gotabaya Rajapakse who
insisted that the war could be won with proper
planning and correct political leadership. Mahinda
Rajapakse did not give in to foreign pressure and
did not bend backwards to accommodate the foreign
powers. The President clearly understood the
geo-political needs of Tamil Nadu and exploited this
situation to the maximum. Although Jayalalitha made
a claim that if she were to return to power, she
would declare Eelam, this idle threat only turned
out to be a myth.
Attacked army camps
was during the peace process that the LTTE attacked
the three army camps in the north and instead of
retaliating or defending the camp, the army
decamped. The LTTE then came in and removed all the
weapons. This boosted the moral of the LTTE and won
the confidence of the Tamil people that Eelam was at
They realised their folly only when they attacked
the STF camp at Kanchanakuda in Ampara. The STF
personnel retaliated and killed six LTTE cadres and
injured several others. With this assault, the LTTE
stopped attacking STF camps or the army camps.
Although the magisterial inquiry exonerated the STF
personnel who opened fire at the LTTE cadres on the
grounds that they acted in self-defence as provided
for in the Penal Code, the then UNP government
appointed a commission to go into the actions of the
STF on this attack, which resulted in the transfer
of the OIC, Eric Perera of the Kanchanakuda camp and
six others who opened fire at LTTE.
The government then led by Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe also ordered the immediate transfer
of the then Commander of the STF, DIG Nimal
Gunetilleke, to a special forces branch where he was
forced to go into cold storage. The transfer ruined
Gunetilleke’s chances at any further promotion in
the police force.
During the peace process several STF camps were
withdrawn from the east giving way to the LTTE to
reoccupy the territory they lost. This resulted in
the loss of morale of the entire security forces.
This action on the part of the UNP government
demoralised security forces personnel and thereby
they lost faith in the government.
want to emphasise that the Special Forces should
continue to remain to face any threat internally or
(The writer is a former Commander of the Sri Lanka
War’s end in Sri Lanka: Bloody
President Mahinda Rajapakse saluted members of
parliament on Tuesday after his victory speech
to the nation
By Somini Sengupta
— Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse, on
Tuesday savored a victory that had eluded every Sri
Lankan head of state before him. He declared on
television that after more than 25 years, his troops
had defeated one of the world’s most enduring
guerrilla armies on the battlefield.
Behind that victory speech was a historic and bloody
family triumph, guided by two of the president’s
brothers: Gotabaya, the influential secretary of
defence, and Basil, a so-called special adviser who
devised the political strategy around the war
Together, the Rajapakse brothers defied
international pressure to stanch civilian
casualties, squelched dissent, blocked independent
reporting of the war and achieved what many had
thought all but impossible: they vanquished the
Tamil Tigers, who had waged a pitiless war of terror
and once ruled swaths of Sri Lankan territory as a
de facto state.
Doubled the military
With Gotabaya Rajapakse in charge of the defence
portfolio, the government sharply increased defence
spending; bought new weapons primarily from China
and Pakistan; and nearly doubled the size of the
armed forces, to roughly 160,000.
The political cunning of Basil and Mahinda Rajapakse
was put to use. The President asked
for weapons first. Only when it refused because of
domestic sympathy for the Tamil cause did he turn to
The military strategy paid off, too. Starting in
2006, the government forces staged intense air, sea
and ground assaults against rebels in the east and
the north, sustaining the attacks even though the
two sides were still officially engaged in
cease-fire negotiations. The government also adopted
some guerrilla tactics from the Tamil Tigers, using
small groups of troops to penetrate deep into the
jungle and assassinate rebel leaders.
Upper-caste landed gentry
The brothers, who come from upper-caste landed
gentry, are not part of the English-educated elite
of the capital, Colombo. Snubbing pressure from the
West did not hurt them; it helped them consolidate
their southern Sinhalese nationalist base.
“There was no vacillation as there has been with
previous governments,” said Nilan Fernando, the
country director for an American nonprofit, the Asia
Foundation. “Previous governments were always
playing for a draw. This time, they were playing for
a win.” They won.
The victory, like
smothering of Chechnya’s separatist rebellion, comes
at a high cost. The United Nations says 7,000
civilians have been killed since January alone, and
more than 265,000 ethnic Tamils who fled the war
zone are now interned in overcrowded camps. Some
civilians are missing, including three
government-employed doctors who worked in the
rebel-held area and regularly spoke out about the
shelling of hospitals there. Human Rights Watch has
repeatedly said the government shelled civilian
areas, even as the rebels held tens of thousands of
ethnic Tamils as civilian shields.
International commission of inquiry
Now, some of
erstwhile allies, including those that had banned
the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation, are
calling for an international commission of inquiry
into possible war crimes. Sri Lanka desperately
needs foreign aid for post-war reconstruction.
prosecuting the war, President Rajapakse, a lawyer
and member of parliament who was elected, narrowly,
in 2005, cultivated tacit backing from India. Though
India did not supply offensive weapons, it became
less active in seeking to stop the fighting. Sri
Lanka’s success in intercepting supply ships in the
Indian Ocean is frequently attributed to Indian
The Chairperson of India’s governing Congress Party
is Sonia Gandhi, whose husband, Rajiv, a former
prime minister, was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger
The Sri Lankan President dresses in the traditional
white tunic and sarong of the Sinhalese. In the
1980s, when anti-government ethnic Sinhalese
activists were being abducted and killed, he was one
of their most vocal champions, appealing to the
United Nations for support.
Treated dissent as support for the enemy
After his election, however, he put defeating the
rebellion ahead of protecting civil liberties. The
Rajapakses’ treated dissent as support for the
enemy. Some journalists were jailed under an
antiterrorism law; some were mysteriously killed,
including one newspaper editor, Lasantha
Wickrematunge, who in a chilling essay, foretold his
death and blamed Rajapakse for it.
Gotabaya Rajapakse, the defence secretary and a
former computer systems administrator in Los Angeles, accused international aid agencies working in Tiger-held territory of
helping the insurgents. Last fall, he ejected nearly
all of them from the area.
June 2007, the Defence Secretary was instrumental in
ordering the expulsion of nearly 400 Tamils living
in low-cost hotels and boarding houses in Colombo,
on suspicion that they were helping ethnic
separatist rebels plot bombings in the city. Sri
Lanka’s highest court later overturned the
Spoke in generalities
Tuesday, in his speech to the nation, the President
said a new political solution for minority Tamil
rights could not be dictated from abroad. “We do not
have the time to be experimenting with the solutions
suggested by other countries,” he said.
spoke in generalities about forging a peace
settlement, but he gave few details beyond saying it
had to be acceptable to everyone in Sri Lanka.
That is, of course, the Rajapakses’ next challenge:
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the
nonpartisan Centre for Policy Alternatives here,
said the President had “struck the right notes by
making the distinction between the Tamil people and
the Tamil Tigers.”
“What was missing was more details about the
post-conflict phase,” Saravanamuttu said. “I would
have liked to have seen him make a real commitment
to a political settlement and human rights by
addressing some of the serious allegations that have
been made against the military.”
Helped elect Rajapakse
The Tamil Tigers’ missteps contributed to their
downfall. They helped elect Rajapakse by enforcing a
boycott of elections in November 2005 in
Tamil-majority areas. Almost immediately after he
took office, they provoked his government with
deadly strikes on his forces.
Their suicide bombers tried to kill Gotabaya
Rajapakse and his Army Chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
Friends say the attempted assassinations
strengthened the Rajapakses’ resolve.
Tuesday, Sri Lankan television flashed an image the
government had pursued for three decades: the corpse
of a man the military identified as the ethnic
separatist chief Velupillai Pirapaharan, dressed in
battle fatigues, his eyes wide open, his mouth
agape, as though he, too, were in shock. There were
no Tamils left in the homeland he had fought so
fiercely to create, only plumes of smoke, and
reporter for The New York Times contributed from
Colombo, Sri Lanka. This article was published in
The NYT on May 19.)