leader in war and peace
Lt. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa
"Brigadier is calling, Brigadier is calling..."
That was all we heard. Being in the Special Forces, we only get a
few minutes' warning. We get ready at once and run to the Brigade
Commander's office. He tells my immediate boss of a rich mill owner
kidnapped by the terrorists for ransom. We, the Special Forces, had
to rescue him.
so many operations together, we knew the Brigade Commander well.
His orders were explicit, and we had no doubts about the way he
conducted operations. He had developed so much confidence in us
that we used to take major risks. If 20 of us were surrounded by
thousands of terrorists, we knew he would take appropriate action.
If they were not his orders, my Commanding Officer would not have
sent us on this high-risk operation.
helicopters we landed in an area northwest of Vavuniya, in a place
dominated by terrorists, and managed to rescue the mill owner, killing
one terrorist and capturing a few T-56 rifles in the process.
This was just
prior to the Vadamarachchi Operation, on a Sunday afternoon at the
Vavuniya army camp. The Brigade Commander was Brigadier Denzil Kobbekaduwa.
have asked why a Tamil mill owner needed rescuing from Tamil terrorists
by Sinhalese soldiers. But this was the lesson he instilled in us
-no discriminaton. What better advice could we have in the present
Ten years ago,
Lt. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, made the supreme sacrifice for his
country on August 8, 1992 at Araly Point in Kayts.
He was born
on July 27, 1940 and brought up in Kandy. He was educated at Trinity
College, joined the Army in 1960 and was commissioned to the Armoured
Corps in 1962. I had the privilege of working under him for a brief
period. He was diplomatic but determined, formidable but friendly,
with a strong sense of public duty. He possessed a rare blend of
qualities that enabled him to guide the Army during difficult times.
August 4, 1991
was Victory Day for the Sri Lanka Army, when the Elephant Pass Army
Camp which had been surrounded by the LTTE and was under siege for
a month, was rescued by us in a do-or-die operation. The second
phase, entrusted to our battalion, was even more difficult. This
required the expansion of the camp southwards and the capture of
a village off Thadduwankody. Since there were no alternatives, we
did this through a frontal assault on well dug-in enemy positions.
With the LTTE resistance being high, we were unable to advance.
Further, as the engineers were not able to repair the culvert on
time, the armour was bogged down in mud. We lost several good men.
August 8, was
the second day of the operation. Our battalion attacked at the crack
of dawn, without armour, artillery or air support. One company streaked
through an open patch and entered the village, killing 17 terrorists
and capturing arms and ammunition. Sadly though, a few of our soldiers
too were killed in action, with several being critically injured.
General Kobbekaduwa, the man behind 'Balawegaya', visited our battalion.
"Well done, congratulations, that was one of the best first
light attacks I have seen," he declared, congratulating my
Commanding Officer and myself. I did not think then that I would
be weeping for this great soldier exactly one year later.
was not in his vocabulary. Trigger-happy soldiers, whether in the
south or the north, were never encouraged or even tolerated by him.
He created apprehension in the minds of his enemies, superiors and
politicians alike. Gen. Kobbekaduwa joined the Army at a time when
many officers were the sons of famous fathers. With times changing,
unemployment took the place of patriotism as a motive for becoming
a soldier. Often it was those who could not find any other satisfactory
source of income who enlisted in the forces. But in such a context
the General had the required common touch. He knew the difficulties
of the poor soldiers. He had the ability to make a patriotic fighting
force of those who had joined the Army purely because they could
not find a job.
He had a wonderful
knack of cheering the men. He always considered human factors such
as meals, leave and welfare, without forgetting that the best welfare
you can provide to a soldier is training. He believed the morale
of the soldier to be the greatest single factor to win the war.
And he believed that to keep morale high, one needed primarily to
look after the soldier's welfare.
When the war
situation worsened in the country, many officers resigned after
their 21-year stint, although they were still comparatively young.
Kobbekaduwa stayed with the Army because he wanted an end to this
senseless war, and did not wish to leave the burden to the next
could be remembered for a series of remarkable military achievements
in high intensity operational areas.
hospitable, loyal and determined, Kobbekaduwa was a devout Buddhist
while respecting all other religions alike.
knew most of his fellow officers by name and, whether in the battlefront
or at Army Headquarters, he addressed them by their first name.
Such was the simplicity of a man born to lead and to fight for his
motherland. He guided, inspired and encouraged the soldiers to fight
for a united Sri Lanka.
to be in the thick of the fighting, boosting the morale of the men
with words of encouragement to march on, rather than by belting
out orders over the radio.
men alike preferred to take part in operations conducted by him,
because he would plan and execute them meticulously.
Had he not
taken over as Division Commander in July 1990 at a crucial time,
Killinochchi and Jaffna Fort would surely have been overrun by the
Tigers. He and General Wimalaratne planned and executed operations
"Gajasinghe" and "Thrividabalaya" with such
precision that they were resounding victories for the Army.
He was an excellent
rugger player in his day, and probably the best referee we have
ever had. Many have witnessed his performances in the rugger field,
but very few have seen him playing soft ball cricket. After the
arrival of the IPKF in July 1987, they took over much of the burden
of military operations, and we had enough time to play cricket in
the small ground in Vavuniya. After the toss, the two Captains would
decide on their teams. The first choice for anyone was the Brigade
Commander, not because he was the Coordinating Officer but because
he was the best cricketer in Vavuniya Camp. Even in his absence,
he would be selected first, with "Brigadier avoth apata",
and then only would the rest of the side would be selected.
A natural leader
in war and peace, he was a man of unostentatious dignity and outstanding
integrity. For the record, I should note that I wrote an appreciation
eight years back without mentioning my name. Now the regime has
changed and so have the leaders. People who were scared by his popularity,
or felt threatened by it, have passed on, and so one can write of
one's experiences with him without fear or diffidence.
10 years ago,
the guns boomed and the bugles sounded the mournful melody of the
Last Post. A sea of humanity gathered in and around the cemetery,
while millions of Sri Lankans who were glued to their TVs bowed
their heads in intense grief. The nation was bidding farewell to
Lanka's bravest soldier.
Lt Col (Rtd)
Rohan Wijesinha ,W W V, R S P
Law College, Colombo.
refreshingly different person
Lt. Col. Upul De Lanerolle
Three years ago on the fateful day of July 31, destiny
snapped my beloved malli away from the world. Days have painfully
and gradually dragged along but the acute pain we experienced three
years ago has not yet diminished.
This may be
due to the reason that he was such a rare human being, a refreshingly
different person, full of vibrancy and enthusiasm, impulsive, brave,
courageous and so very lovable.
He did have
a quick temper and lacked patience but his loving heart was one
of gold. What was outstandingly different in his character was that
he believed in helping anyone whom he cared for by not mere words
but with instantdeeds and actions. He offered unconditional assistance
without a trace of hesitation or reluctance.
was present, the place shone and rang with merriment and I know
his loss can never be filled.
When my husband
Rohan visited Hatton National Bank, Jaffna recently, malli's friends
gathered around him showing him warm hospitality with open arms,
warm care and concern. This was ample testimony as to the way they
loved malli. It was their way of paying tribute to this wonderful
man, whom they had all loved. His sterling qualities were an asset
to anyone whose lives he had touched.
To our family,
his loss is too heavy to endure... the sparkle of our lives has
been quenched and all we are left with are fragments of golden memories,
which we fondly cherish as long as we live.
- Manisha Namal Seneviratne
brought sunshine into our lives
Uncle Kolitha breezed into my life in the gentle manner
that characterized him. In the same way, he suddenly breezed out,
like a whiff of wind on July 1.
with Kolitha Ratnayaka was purely accidental. I had met him briefly,
whenever I visited his Flower Road residence to meet his children,
but never shared much conversation. When I started compiling an
article on the Sinharaja rain forest, his son suggested that I speak
to his father. Uncle Kolitha turned out to be a source of inspiration
and a repository of knowledge with a keen insight into issues environmental
And soon, my
reasons for visiting his house changed, and I began spending more
time with this charming, gentle being. At the end of each visit,
I felt rewarded and enriched by his quiet wisdom and liberal viewpoints.
he would give me a critical account on my week's work, and suggest
various topics I could write on. During the short period that we
knew each other, we managed to do some salient work, edit a few
books on various aspects of gardening - and I was awed by his knowledge
on aspects of farming - a subject close to his heart.
A born naturalist
fine-tuned to nature, he was the kind of person who enjoyed identifying
bird calls, looking into a nest or appreciating the hues of a flower.
Politics, environment, gardening were topics that appealed to him.
But what brought happiness to this pious gentleman mostly, was serving
the cause of the Dhamma and, at the village level, helping the poor.
A strong advocator
of serving one's country, he often reminded me that it was selfish
to criticize the system from the outside, whereas the brave would
get involved, and attempt to introduce reforms, for the betterment
of all. When his second son entered politics, it was the same theory
he applied - to attempt to reform something than being a critical
certainly enjoyed his retirement. He often said it gave him time
for indulgences - such as reading books, spending time in quiet
prayer or visiting temples.
much sunlight into the lives of others, nurtured others with his
warm and caring ways. Without hyperbole, he was the epitome of human
he telephoned, I would mistake his son's voice for his - and this
entertained him tremendously. He would chuckle for long, before
he corrected me. Sometimes we would discuss books, and suddenly
he would spring from his chair to listen to a birdcall intently,
and would be delighted if he could identify the sound without difficulty.
He was much
disturbed by the contents of the Indian External Affairs Minister
Jaswant Singh's book titled "Defending India". Perturbed,
he invited me to help write a book in reply - "Defending Sri
Lanka". Sadly, we never got around to doing it.
When the Somawathi
Chaitya was restored to its former glory to coincide with the Poson
Poya, his entire family was to visit Polonnaruwa. It was he who
had the rare merit and privilege of offering the chuda manikya to
the historical temple. When I asked him why he opted not to visit
the place, strangely, he said that single day tours were not for
him anymore. "I have grown old though nobody notices,"
was a virtuous Buddhist, silently serving his motherland. He simply
lived by the Buddha's word. When politically motivated thugs during
the last general election, attacked his son's supporters, he sagely
added that such behaviour was always short-lived.
weeks prior to his demise, he released a book titled "Fruit
Farming". Having requested a review, he said that he would
prefer if I helped him to compile some articles on places of Buddhist
worship. "With the passage of time, many things are forgotten.
So let's record whatever possible," he said.
The last time
he called me, he suggested that I go on one of my 'regular jaunts'
and visit the gem pit from where he got his first 'chuda manikya'.
I made an appointment to visit the owner of the gem pit the following
week. "It would make a wonderful human interest story,"
uncle said. But the day before my visit, he silently departed from
me to think that this is one story I would write, but one he would
never read. He would never read my review of his book. Half the
joy of many things we planned has fled with his demise. The last
of his tangible gifts was a book on world religions. That was just
a fortnight before he died. When I met him for the last time, I
was rushing back to work. How I regret the loss of an opportunity
to have one last chat!
enriched the lives of so many, and certainly did mine. The Chinese
often say that a little bit of fragrance clings to the hand that
gives you the roses. Similarly, wherever he went, I am certain that
his fragrance pervaded, and now that he is gone, would continue
May he attain Nibbana!