The Sunday Leader

The Militarisation Of Sri Lanka’s Diplomatic And Administrative Services

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Military personnel handed diplomatic and government postings despite their lack of experience in their new posts

The government in post war Sri Lanka is fast militarising the administrative and diplomatic services. The appointment of military heads to key Sri Lankan missions overseas and state institutions has become a talking point among the general public. Since the appointment of military men in civil administration work as well as the diplomatic service, questions have been raised on their roles in such positions.
The difference in military discipline as opposed to the administrative and diplomatic services has caused friction between military personnel, career diplomats and public officials.
Furthermore, the militarisation of the administrative and diplomatic services has had an adverse impact on the careers of civilians who have been graded and promoted to positions according to a set of criteria in their respective line of work.
The country boasts of a rich history in relation to the administrative and diplomatic services.
The Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) is known to be the main administrative service of the government, with civil servants working for both the Central Government and the provincial councils.
It was formed in 1963 as the Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS) after the Ceylon Civil Service, which was abolished on May 1, 1963. The head of the SLAS is the Secretary to the President.
Meanwhile, the country’s foreign service was established on October 1, 1949, following the independence of Ceylon in 1948 as the Ceylon Overseas Service with the recruitment of its first batch of cadets to deal with foreign affairs.
Following Sri Lanka becoming a republic in 1972 the service changed its name to Sri Lanka Overseas Service also known as the Foreign Service.
Be that as it may, the government’s move to militarise two of the country’s key sectors has now resulted in a considerable number of diplomatic missions and other institutions being headed by military personnel.
Due to their inexperience in holding the offices they have been appointed to, some of the military men in key positions have run into various problems.
Major General Udaya Perera, who was the former Director Operations of the Sri Lanka Army, is the first serving Army officer to hold a diplomatic position as High Commissioner.
Perera is Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia. It is learnt that Perera has played a key role in the arrest of former LTTE International Wing leader ‘KP’ and has been stationed in Malaysia in order to crackdown on LTTE activities in the region.
However, he has now been accused by members of the Foreign Service of hampering the country’s diplomatic work in Malaysia.
It is learnt that Perera, unable to grasp the concept of a diplomat, was creating a mess in relation to investment and other business ties with Malaysia.
The appointment of another Major General to a Sri Lankan mission caused an uproar among members of the Tamil Diaspora.
Major General Jagath Dias, who commanded the 57 Division during the fourth Eelam war, was appointed Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador to Germany.
Dias’s appointment was challenged by Tamil Diaspora associations who at the time filed a petition at the European Court of Human Rights against the Federal Republic of Germany for accepting his appointment.
Former Air Force Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera, who is Sri Lanka’s maiden ambassador to Israel was also in the limelight recently over a controversial statement made by him.
In an undiplomatic move, Perera was quoted in an Israeli newspaper last year saying that Sri Lanka was a staunch supporter of Israel’s fight against Palestinian terror.
However, hours after the news was published, Perera issued a statement denying the controversial remarks attributed to him and said that the report was ‘totally erroneous.’
The government also tried to set up a Sri Lankan mission in Eritrea by appointing the former Head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Major General Amal Karunasekera as its charge d’ affairs.
Karunasekera’s mission was to hunt down LTTE assets in the East African country.
However, Karunasekera was later recalled following investigations into the killing of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was assassinated when Karunasekera was heading the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
The government’s move to appoint military men to diplomatic missions have run into problems at an international level too.
Two such incidents were the appointment of General Shavendra Silva as the Deputy Permanent Representative to Sri Lanka’s Mission in the UN in New York and the proposal to appoint former Navy Commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK.
Although Silva’s appointment went ahead despite concerns raised by the international community due to allegations of war crimes leveled against him, Karannagoda was not so lucky.
The government had to shelve the plan of sending Karannagoda as the High Commissioner to the UK following strong objections raised by the Tamil Diaspora there.
Karannagoda is now tipped to be appointed as Ambassador to the Sri Lankan mission in Tokyo, Japan. He also served as Secretary to the Highways Ministry, a post that is usually held by a member of Sri Lanka’s administrative service.
Apart from the diplomatic missions, the government has also appointed military men to state-run institutions as well.
The most recent such appointments are former Army Commander Lieutenant General Rohan Daluwatte as the Chairman, National Gem and Jewellery Corporation, and the three armed forces chiefs to the Board of the Water’s Edge members-only club at Battaramulla.

Uniforms In Key Positions
Following are some of the military leaders who have been appointed to Sri Lankan missions overseas and to state institutions:
1. Air Chief Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody (former Air Force Chief) – Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Pakistan
2. Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera (former Air Force Chief and Chief of Defence Staff) – Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Israel
3. Major General Nanda Mallawaarachchi (former Chief of Staff of the Army) – Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Indonesia
4. Major General Udaya Perera (Director Operations of the Sri Lanka Army) – Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia
5. Major General Jagath Dias (former General Officer Commanding the 57th Division) – Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador to Germany
6. Major General Shavendra Silva (former General Officer Commanding the 58th Division) – Deputy Permanent Representative for Sri Lanka in the UN
7. Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda (former Navy Commander) – Highways Ministry Secretary and tipped to become Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Japan
8. Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe (former Navy Commander) – Board Member, Water’s Edge Complex and tipped to become Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia
9. Major General Amal Karunasekara (former Head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence) – Charge d’ affaires for the proposed Sri Lankan Mission in Eritrea
10. Major General G.A. Chandrasiri (former Jaffna security forces commander) – Northern Province Governor
11. Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema (former Navy Chief of Staff) – Eastern Province Governor
12. Lieutenant General Rohan Daluwatte (former Army Commander) – Chairman, National Gem and Jewellery Authority
13. Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya (current Army Commander) – Board Member, Water’s Edge Complex
14. Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunathilake (current Air Force Chief) – Board Member, Water’s Edge Complex

47 Comments for “The Militarisation Of Sri Lanka’s Diplomatic And Administrative Services”

  1. Asanga

    Please try and understand the President’s problems! With the war over, these Generals need jobs. They have to be kept happy. One wouldn’t want them consorting with the UNP, planning coups or associating with Fonseka would one? The best thing to do is to send them abroad so they can educate their kids, make some money and not cause any trouble!

    • Priyanka


      What is wrong if he associate with UNP or SF? Are they illegal according kangaroo law?

      • NeutralTamil

        All these military men r educated to run the military, not to maintain a diplomatic relationship which a country. Diplomats r really important. We need much more educated high profile people as diplomats….ex service personal, give them a good house, a good pension n make them settle down.

        But most of us r happy with sending service personals….
        we r a country with 80% fools,
        20% smart crowd cant do anything, majority wins,
        so keep supporting military n one day, we’d be a country under a military dictator

        • gamunu

          Looks like we ought to get the LTTE rump and the Tamil diaspora to appoint all diplomatic posts overseas or at least their consent. appointments of personnel with involvements in wars against terrorists are seen as war criminals. These thugs have been busy coordinating protests to try to force host Goverments to bring charges of crimes against humanty and human rights violations to unsettle them. Isn’t it typical of a hate campaign?

          This has become the trend and with the help of pressure groups such as AI, HRW,TGT.and similar, they are creating an environment of distrust between diplomatic communities and host nations. If countries give into these demands it will not serve the purpose of these appoinments. This doesn’t mean I agree to the current selection process, but it remains the responsibility of GOSL to make these appointments.

        • Genaraala

          Isn.t GL Pereis educated and high profile???? But he has made a mess of the foreign service!!

  2. sun sri

    Well, Ladies & Gentlemen, Citizens of Srilanka,

    Whilst not underestimating the career diplomats & S.L.Ad. Services personnel it is far better to send a certain percentage of Ex Services personnel as diplomats to serve the nation and look after the affairs on behalf of Srilanka. This is a far better option than sending political stooges who has failed miserably in the past and done a lot of damage to this country.. All these political stooges have done is looking after the vested interest of politicians and looked after their own interest with out serving the country as a whole.These ex service personnel who were not under the politicians were a disciplined lot and they put the country before self and are in a position to serve the country better.

    • jayantha

      100% agreed. Even though there may be a need for them to be given appropriate training about foreign diplomacy, I’m sure they are the people who saved the country from oppression (…. by many of these host countries, unleashing seperatism and terrorism against our country) and will honestly work for the interest of the mother country….

  3. ajith

    Very good move.Appoint more of these personel so that we will have discpline and less waste.It is better than posting political stooges.Sri Lanka needs to be discipleaned and i am sure this will follow with these appointments.

    • NeutralTamil

      plz explain y u think graduates from SLAS dont have discipline?
      and do u think only dicipline is enough to be a diplomatic relationship with a country? wat qualifications do u think these service personal have to be a diplomat?

      • gamunu

        Ask for a job application. That will give you more information. Why don’t you apply?

        • NeutralTamil

          wat nonsense u talking GAMUNU?
          wats ur prob?
          u dont make sence…lol
          another foolish sri lankan
          dont worry, we have alot of u here

  4. Kiri Gamarala

    Sri Lanka was granted Universal Adult Franchise in 1931 well before any other country in the British Empire. After 70-years we are gradually entering into a dictatorship with military backing. Why?
    1. State sector is not efficient at all.
    2. Provincial Councils are white elephants.
    3. PR system has brought criminals into power.
    4. Opposition parties are crumbling and people have lost faith in opposition parties.
    5. Bribery & corruption have started driving the economy.
    6. Rulers and opposers are heavily dependent on underworld to stay in politics and politics have become the most attractive career to unemployed and briefless professionals and also to crooks.

    The whole world knows it. So the leader has no other option but to rely on militarization. The next step will definitely be compulsory military training for all youth and the Minister o Higher Education has already indicated it.

  5. Rohan Perera

    donald perera is not maiden ambassador to israel. there hv been 2 ambassadors before him. Ambassador Tissa Wijeratne, Ambassador W M Seneviratne, both members of the Sri Lanka foreign Service

  6. Ape Rata

    Most of the countries in the world do this ,So why not in SL ?

  7. willows

    These are the very high calibre officers, who have unblemished records in their respective services, no corruption, no malpractice, no neopotism, why not they are the best suited diplomats who could defend Sri Lankan image abroad, emagine political stooges going abroad to look after their personnal gains.??

    • leather ball

      what about that Anuruddha Ratwatte. is he also a very high calibre officer. he should be behind bars for life.

  8. Amara

    Why this hurry to forget the war hero’s in SL. In Isreal 80% politicains are ex-servicemen. Most of our ex military officers are much more exposed to foriegn countries at the expense of our government money (peoples). Why not make use of them to benifit our country.
    This is all trying to bring discredit to the goverment.

  9. Amaraweera

    Who found this attractive phrase”Militarizatio” in Sri LAnka. They used Aiuthorarian & Dictotarial phrases when Singapore was attepting to develop under LI KUWAN. We need a discipline nation so do not try to throw away our own products produced by spending our public resources. Ex-Military officers may not work to please all the people but will never let down our Country at any cost.

    • NeutralTamil

      diplomats r needed to have good relationship with other countries,
      we dont need military discipline but we need professionals. guys who r educated in this field to do this job. will u give a doctors job to an engineer?
      its the same thing

      • Malraj de Silva

        The most powerful country like USA could choose Rtd. Gen Collin Powell as their Secretary of State why not Sri Lanka use these proven disciplined neutral officials from the forces as our good citizens. Do you want Sri Lanka to nominate terrorist like Anton Balsingham. Give us a break.

        • neutraltamil

          1. no one talked about anton balasinham

          u racist, watever minorities try to tell, u bring in the LTTE.
          Rtd. Gen Collin Powell has Master of Business Administration degree from the George Washington University in 1971
          wat does these people have?
          grade 8? graden 9 pass?

      • gamunu

        Bet you wanted SF to be the president of Srilanka, didn’t you? Isn’t his background military? So in the same sense do you call him unsuitable to for presidency?.
        How about president Carter a peanut farmer, Ronald Ragan a hollywood actor who became president to name a few, The list goes on. Wake up neutral tamil. If some one is identified as having qualities to do a job it is up to the authorities.

        • NeutralTamil

          gammu, u seriously dont make sense.
          a farmer becoming a president shows the might of their country.
          a person like obama from minority becoming president shows how their country is. n i have no prob with Hollywood actor becoming one too. coz they all come under CIVILIAN. i’m talking about unqualified service personal to be appointed for diplomatic jobs. ofcourse the service personal r qualified for any post in military but y send them as diplomats? ofcourse our current SLAS diplomats r nothing great but they should train the SLAS personal better n then send them as diplomats. sri lanka is being described as military state coz military personal occupy top positions. its all not a good sign, military might throw government anytime like in thailand. trying to satisfy the service personal by giving them powerful position not a good idea coz the president brothers r scared they might join SF

      • Malraj de Silva

        Your reply to my comments shows your knowledge of these brave, educated, honorable military commanders. Also your language indicates what caliber you are from. All this distinguished officers do have master’s degree or equal military qualifications. They do go to other countries to graduate including USA.
        The reason for me to bring LTTE into my comment is, we will never forget what those barbarians did to our humble nation, like Bin – Laden attacked us on 9/11. If you are smart enough get it!

  10. Nilamal

    It’s very refreshing to see such positive comments from the readers.
    Glad to see that the readers are well educated and positive minded to see the past where most of our so called career diplomats messed up the foreign relations. The military officers would not stoop so low as to beg for favours from the host countries like most of our diplomats in the past have done. They will also not shoot their mouth unnecessarily as they are diciplined.
    We must get rid of our foreign minister who blabbers all the time as if he was suffering from a severe case of verbal diarrhea.

  11. Sree

    Absolutetly spot on move! These are valiant heroes, tried and tested their mettle in a protracted war- they will have the best interest of the country at heart- thank god it’s not rascals like Mervyn Silva who are being sent for these positions! These war heroes (incuding SF) have earned the the best this country can offer! I wish them well!

  12. Rathnayake

    Dear Mr Abewickrama
    Please comeover to Malaysia and talk to people, especialy to Tamil Diaspora.

  13. saranelis aiyya

    At least these people have served the country at some time or other defending its people. So, they will make good ambassadors unlike those diplomats in the past who brought shame to the country by stealing the landlords pianos and toilet bowls.

  14. Mahen

    Dear, Asanga , Ajith, Neutral Tamil, Priyanka, Sun Sri, Kiri Gamarala, Ape Rata, daya weerasinghe, Willows, Amara, Amaraweera, Nilamal & Sree.

    Though all of you have similar thoughts or outlook being expressed differently, I am one for sure that, Major General Udaya Perera is the right person in the right place at the right moment.

    My association and I have had many meetings/dealings with him on various issues and he handles all of it so professionally it is beyond imagination.

    I cannot comment on his comments about the military personal worldwide, as I do not know them nor not aware of what they performance level is.

    The Diaspora has its spilt, the reasons for the split have to be carefully weighed, as misinformation could lead to natural disasters! beyond repair.

    When the sail is smooth, do not rock the boat! Please.

  15. Dharshi

    They all have no debt to our motherland and do not forget that their countless commitments on yesterdays have brought us our fearless today. They all are our friends and not enemies. It would have been better if we can get them to eradicate the show of these corrupt administrative and political Boothayas here back in our country rather than sending them abroad. But happy to have them on diplomatic service too since it seems most of the LTTE supporters have got agitated mainly because of these appointments. May be true that we Sri Lankans forget our past within two weeks!.
    I am sure they all are with much better capacity than anybody in safeguarding the interests of our country at first.

  16. Hamid CS

    I lived in several countries for 20 yrs & lankan professional diplomats were the narrow minded corrupt officers.As soon as they moved overseas their agenda is not the Country but making money ,doing business and somehow trying to settle down in that country. Many officers left diplomatic service and settled in well to do countries.Also, they never help needy SL citizens.
    Those military leaders saved Sri Lanka and they were ready to die for our country.
    So they are the best officials to have in our diplomatic service as Civil servants in our country are the most corrupt in Asia. Even in Colombo if you need some work you need to give bribe or call from a friend. Many diplomats are good since the present Govt came to rule as President is strict. But those in 80s were useless thats why LTTE managed to discredit Sri Lanka.

  17. Sinhaya

    Hello everyone, our Military officers are amongst the best in the world. They have been educated in all different disciplines up to Master’s level and the best option available to represent Mother Lanka at any level. People who cannot comprehend the ”value” of these officers will make noises forever. They see only the khaki uniform and fail to see the value of the person inside. These officers are well trained to respond to any threat because ”adaptability” is in their blood. Psychology is something they have mastered well. Please do not come up with this SLAS officer’s argument. We know too well how they have conducted themselves overseas and their performance. Less than impressive I would say. Patriotism and discipline are the most required qualities to become a Diplomat rather than being a SLAS officer (with all due respect to our SLAS officers). Mother Lanka need scores of Military officers to head every institution where there is NO discipline at all. This is the ONLY solution to the current rapid denigration of our society.

  18. There was no problem when Janaka Perera was appointed as the High Commissioner to Australia. Now LTTE Diaspora is lobbying against an army personal being appointed to the same post. Liberal government welcomed Janaka, because they were against LTTE. America can appoint CIA bosses as Ambassadors.

  19. I do not write under any pseudonyms. I express my views openly as long as I can.
    There should not be any question over the appointment of distinguished persons as heads of Sri Lanka missions, whether they are from among service personnel or others provided a proper balance is maintained so that promotion prospects of career personnel will not be affected. There is a total misconception if one thinks that those who performed distinguished services in the battle field; or admittedly, not so distinguished services in armed forces as one is aware, and commented upon by former Army Commander Gery de Silva in academic writing,can fit into high diplomatic posts where a complete different situation exists.
    I recall the very rare case of the Indian government appointing a former Air Vice Marshal who was later the Governor of Bombay as my counterpart Ambassador in France. That was a time when much military hardware was purchased from France and visits of Indian military delegations was a common site. But this needs not be the case always. Perhaps, there were other reasons too. If I recall aright, his wife was a French lady. I was in very close touch with this very amiable gentleman and we discussed the security situation in Sri Lanka often. When I spoke of ‘Search and destroy’ operations he warned me of the dangers but later, I had to point out that the IPKF itself was doing that over which we had a big laugh! I was also very embarrassed when after the signing of the Rajiv-J.R. Agreement in July 1987 he started extending patronage to me, obviously on instructions.
    I have also had the honour and privilege of working with the first Army Commander, Major General Anton Mutucumaru during his second assignment as head of mission in Australia. That too was different case. He was first appointed as High Commissioner in Pakistan. That was understandable but Australia seemed out of place for a former Army Commander. Nonetheless, he brought dignity to the office in Islamabad after scandalous performance by another non-career person who was known to be interested in purchasing cows there for his private farm!
    Mutucumaru was not just an Army officer, he was also a lawyer and one of the finest men I ever met, a human personality to the core. That helped him to fit into the Australian milieu. There was not even a trace of an army bearing in him during his diplomatic assignment. These are rare cases. He was later posted as Ambassador to Egypt, perhaps, a more fitting circumstances to a military officer than Australia, a country not known for military prowess albeit the daring ANZAC DAY landing. His only contribution with any military bearing was the composition of an Ode to ANZAC, as I remember. That too in his role as a musician.
    There were two things he imparted to me. One was the idea that the only thing that Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) could impart to the world was the message of Buddhism. That albeit his being a devoted Roman Catholic. He had the idea of celebrating Wesak Festival in Australia for the first time and was happy when I joined him. He had to leave that in my hand as he had to leave unexpectedly.
    The other was about political reporting. He set about it like conducting a military operation – scouting, planning strategy, attack, (frontal, phalanx), and retreat in case such was needed. The retreat, he told me was if his report was contested by the Foreign Office at home!
    After retirement, he became active with Mervyn de Silva, leading journalist, and formed Foreign Affairs Forum as I remember. I can state things very briefly here. Such men were not after profit or position or looking for rewards but brought respect to the country and had the Sri Lankan flag flying aloft.
    Could one say that the present government is achieving such results from the appointment of a large number of Service personnel as heads of mission and second in command today not because they are suited but as rewards? For example, who could say the appointment of Major General Shavendra Silva as Deputy Perm Rep in New York was not one of the biggest mistakes made by the govt? First, because that post is a vital post where diplomacy at the highest level is needed. It is not just a case of reading out a prepared brief sent from Colombo on a human right issue or on women’s affairs. The post has been held by a galaxy of competent senior career men like H.W. Yogasundaram, Neville Kanakaratna, Ben Fonseka, Nihal Rodrigo, Prasad Kariyawasam and H.M.Palihakkara, just to mention a few who were much sought after at the U.N.. This is not like battling terrorists at Nandi Kadol.

    The other aspect is the signal we give to the world. Now every body speaks of militarization of the country. It is difficult to defend when service personnel are seen as heads of mission in most important places. We have become like some of the militarized regimes like in former Pakistan, Bangladesh and Suharto’s Indonesia in our parts of the world, when military officers were seen dominating the diplomatic field. We do not need others to tarnish the country’s image when we ourselves are kicking tour own goal! One has to expect such reports as UK Guardian published like “Sri Lanka military extending its influence over civilian affairs, things are not looking good for democratic accountability. …..Despite the end of the war, the country’s administrative and diplomatic services are being militarised. A number of serving or former military commanders have received appointments in diverse state institutions and diplomatic missions, including as ambassadors. The governors of the war-torn northern and eastern provinces are, unsurprisingly, men of military pedigree – perhaps emulating India’s strategy of appointing former generals as governors of disobedient provinces like Kashmir or Assam…..”.

  20. indika

    I agreed with President MR these appointments and without corruptions (95%), can MR control everything. Very Good…….

  21. chulan

    Govt wants to keep miltary happy specialy the top level. govt’s future is survival is in milratry hand since what is happening in Arab nation, like Egypt could be happened to the govt in years to come.

  22. Nirmal

    Well, Mr. mahen, You pls dont try to be selfish just because your dealings with M.Gen udaya perrera went through beyond imagination , there are thousands of people struggling in malaysia for the way he solve problems. When ever he solve a problem another problem will occur in the meantime. that because his lack of experience with civilians, we all prefer him back to serve the Amy.

  23. sidneyperera

    Good move these men are very competent .
    If you are a officer you get very good training from the age of 19

  24. The late Maj Gen Janaka Perera was the best HC to Australia.

  25. Vision8

    War heroes are suitable for any job that require intelligence and wit, such as in the diplomatic circles. ( This is not so for Sarath Fonseka, though).

  26. Ranil

    They will do a better job than the present goons who are the heads of are missions . Who cares about the Tamil Diaspora. If they did not fund the LTTE then the problem we had in Lanka could have been sorted out years ago.

  27. Pradeep

    Im a patriot and i eager to write a comment. But my wife against me to sit in front of computer and put my hand to national requirements. Reason is as the vegetable prices are high, she asked me to cultivate some veg in home garden. After i solve my family need i will definitely come to national level discussion. Till that bye!!

  28. HUD

    For some people, a military person is suitable for the president, but not for the administration. Also If it happens in the USA, they don’t think it is a militarization.

  29. N. Fernando

    President appointed these guys as diplomats just to reward them. This is one chance they have to go abroad and experience a different culture. Seriously, what does people expect them to do but hang out and have a good time? They have no proper skills suitable to work in a diplomatic environment, but then again even the career diplomats are equally terrible. I visited the Berlin embassy when I was a student there, and I must say I saw a few shady characters whom I have come to know from the SL community hanging out with the deputy ambassador. Hanging out meaning having a good time. I think it’s true for most people when I say the SL embassy is a place you go only if you really really have to.

  30. Sunanda Yosef

    I think its a good idea for GOSL to put military officers as diplomats in key LTTE area countries under the cover of diplomacy, it will make more efficient the process of catching LTTE remnants

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