Upul Joseph Fernando
It was reported that the Commanding Officer in Jaffna, Major General Chagi Gallage, was transferred to Army Headquarters in Colombo last week, following a heated argument with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
The Major General was transferred to Colombo following the Foreign Minister’s refusal to include two military officers in the committee proposed by the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The minister’s refusal led to a heated argument between the duo, reports stated.
Gallage is an officer who earlier served in the Security Division of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Having won the 2010 presidential election, Mahinda arrested then Gen. Sarath Fonseka and elevated Gallage within the Army. Gallage who headed the Presidential Security Division was also appointed Military Intelligence Chief by Mahinda.
Hence, there’s no doubt that the pro-Mahinda loyalists within the Army are trying to stifle the success of the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe Government which is ready to win the challenge from Geneva.
That had been the scenario since Maithri won the presidential election. The Maithri-Ranil Government may have also felt the fear of a military coup by the pro-Mahinda group within the Army.
Trincomalee Naval Base
In 2002, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government faced a similar situation with challenges surfacing from the military. The glaring example was the then Commanding Officer-in- Charge of the Trincomalee Naval Base, Wasantha Karannagoda, giving information to then Opposition Leader Mahinda that the base was in an insecure state.
Finally, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga decided to topple Ranil’s Government using the information provided by Karannagoda to Mahinda Rajapaksa which stated that the Trincomalee Naval Base was under threat. Chandrika who gave wide publicity to such information in the media, took control of the Defence and two other ministries which came under Ranil’s Government. Former Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, in his book titled, My Belly is White describes that scenario in the following manner:
“The political interest did not end with the LTTE as explained above. In the South the Opposition wanted to fish in troubled waters. I remember that Mahinda Rajapaksa the then Leader of the Opposition spoke to Ranil Wickremesinghe and showed keen interest to visit Trincomalee to get first hand information. To be frank, I suspected the motives behind his request, because he was an efficient political manipulator with his nose to the ground. However, Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted me to provide him with a helicopter on 20 September 2003. Ranil Wickremesinghe was a good hearted, extremely intelligent soul, but judged somewhat awkwardly at this juncture. He would have had his reasons. When I explained my suspicion, having agreed to carry out the PM’s order, Ranil Wickremesinghe did not see any reason to believe that this visit was meant to pour fuel on fire or to be a spoiler. I did not try to dissuade him, but in my heart of hearts I was dissenting from his judgment of this event. I proposed to the PM that I should visit Trincomalee when Mahinda Rajapaksa was there. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not object to it. I surmised that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit was not really to pacify the public but most likely to find criticisms on the steps we have taken. What else could one expect from a Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka? When I received the approval to visit Trincomalee, as a matter of courtesy,
I informed of my intention to Mahinda Rajapaksa over the telephone. He was not happy and went to the extent of asking why I should ‘bother’ to be there. I was diplomatic and told him it was to assist him in explaining any matter where my ministry’s actions come up for discussion. The MOD had done so much to get the camp removed, which was not well known even to the military (i.e. the Navy) and my reasoning why I should be there with Mahinda Rajapaksa was justified. Nevertheless, he did not show any liking to my proposal, but I left for Trincomalee in another helicopter. He would have suspected my presence as a means to know his discussion in situation and even to indirectly apply psychological pressure on Navy officials, by being there.
The first assumption was correct, and not the second if he thought so. We had a discussion with Wasantha Karannagoda, the Navy Chief in Trincomalee, an efficient and committed officer. He gave the danger interpretation of Manirasakulam. Maps showing the location of Manirasakulam along with the details that appeared in The Sunday Times, maps showing how endangered was the Trincomalee Harbour and security installations were at hand to brief Mahinda Rajapaksa. For a moment I did not want to say that there were no security threats. The problem was that even these threats as shown in the maps were not comprehensively made known to us in the MOD”.
Armed Forces officials
Chandrika in her bid to topple Ranil’s Government in 2002 used Armed Forces officials who were close to her. It became easier as those officers opposed the peace efforts initiated by Ranil. In reality, the war had been jumbled by the top ranks in the Armed Forces in command at that time. The Armed Forces had lost many camps to the LTTE and were in a weak position, while the LTTE was in a strong position.
It was Chandrika who appealed to Norway to come forward as a mediator. What Ranil’s Government did was to get Norway’s assistance to initiate the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in order to bide time to strengthen the Armed Forces which were in a weak condition. That was why Velupillai Prabhakaran in his Matyrs Day speech in 2003 claimed that the CFA only helped the government’s troops to strengthen themselves. On the contrary Chandrika incited military officials close to her in the bid to topple Ranil’s Government.
When the Maithri-Ranil Government assumed office in 2015, the Armed Forces stood in a state of shame in the face of international charges like war crimes. The Armed Forces were called upon to pay the price for the anti-West stance of Mahinda’s Government. The government was not in a position even to post a retired military officer as diplomat overseas. Several countries even banned military training for our officers overseas.
While the Maithri-Ranil Government is trying to protect the good name of the Armed Forces, to acquit the troops of all charges levelled against them by the international community, the Rajapaksas appear to incite military officers close to them to upset the process. If the Maithri-Ranil Government does not focus attention on these sensitive developments, it could face a fate similar to that faced by Ranil’s Government in 2004.