Talk at the Cafe Spectator

PC sees no evil

It looked like a scene out of the movies. Men in a Jeep drove near the United National Front (UNF) office. They poured automatic gunfire at the base of a cut-out, an archway, which bore photographs of UNF leaders and was erected across the road leading to the office.

Within seconds the archway collapsed. The men drove away with ease whilst a lonely armed policeman stood helpless. The PC, of course, was guarding a large cut out of another candidate.

Privileges start coming to SB

S.B. Dissanayake who pole vaulted from the UNP to the UPFA, no doubt, is a victor. He has won security from the Ministerial Security Division (MSD).

That is not all. He has also received a bullet proof car. Naturally his security assessment would have spoken of him being a "moving target."

President facilitates loans for troops

There was good news for military personnel this week. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Finance Minister, has directed state banks to expedite all property loans sought by members of the armed forces.

Months earlier, he had stopped the granting of these loans in view of the financial crisis faced by the Government.

University denies Fonseka’s no-doctorate charge

The University of Colombo wants retired General Sarath Fonseka “to verify the correctness of the facts” before making statements about the institution.

They are angered over his remarks at his inaugural rally in Kandy that he was denied an honorary doctorate from the University of Colombo. He claimed that the University had written to President Rajapaksa, expressing its decision to confer honorary doctorates on the three armed forces commanders. He charged the President had not responded favourably.

The University said that the Council at its meeting on June 2 approved the unanimous recommendation of the Senate for the conferment of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) on President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. This was “in recognition of their yeoman service to the nation in safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country.”

The University added, “No other nomination was considered by the Senate or the Council.” The two had accepted the honour only in September after persuasion by various organisations and well-wishers, the university added.

Gen. (retd.) Fonseka repeated his remarks made in Kandy at other meetings too. However, it is now clear he was not to become a doctor after all.

DIG earns wrath of UPFA

UPFA leaders were furious that DIG Jayantha Gamage (North Central Province), had turned up at Sri Maha Bodhi where Gen. Sarath (retd.) Fonseka was taking part in religious ceremonies. This was ahead of addressing a public rally.

Despite their anger, suggestions to move him out came a cropper. One of those present at a discussion pointed out that Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake had already directed that no Police transfer be effected during the election period.

DIG Gamage, who served a stint at the Police Special Task Force (STF) was earlier invited to serve in the Presidential Security Division (PSD). He was also once offered the post of Commandant of the STF, but he declined both offers.

Police Chief perturbed by polls violence

Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya is worried over the rise in election violence. Last Monday, he summoned a conference of senior DIGs to stress that prompt action was necessary to curb the rising trend. By Friday, there had been more than 81 major incidents.

He told those present to ensure things did not get out of hand. The Police Chief has also cancelled all overseas leave for his officers.

Not fair, lady

In the Foreign Office circles she has been given the unsolicited title of Grand Dame of Geneva.

The lady was in town on holiday and insiders say got involved with the issue relating to UN Rapporteur Philip Alston. This was over reported remarks by Gen. Fonseka that guerrillas who came to surrender were allegedly ordered to be shot.

Now the lady wants to convert her holiday to an official one. She wants her ever obliging boss to pay for her air fare.

General-General camaraderie

Thirty four years ago, Cyril Ranatunga was a Colonel and Sarath Fonseka a Lieutenant. Col. Ranatunga was to chair a Court of Inquiry against Lieutenant Fonseka for “conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline” against Lt. Fonseka. The report on the inquiry dated February 10, 1976 bears Col. Ranatunga’ s signature and the remarks “severely reprimanded.”

However, this week retired General Ranatunga, a former Chief of Defence Staff, Defence Secretary and one time Sri Lankas High Commissioner to Britain, was on the political stage in Mawanella.

He turned up there to support Gen. Fonseka who was on the stage. He extended a warm welcome to the old soldier.

Fonseka secrets coming out

Now that retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, has become the “common candidate” of the main opposition political parties, little known secrets in the defence establishment are coming out one after another.The latest is one about the former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) wanting to move his office to Army Headquarters. Insiders say Gen. Fonseka wanted what is remaining of the Army Hospital inside the headquarters complex also moved to Narahenpita.

Thereafter, he had wanted the office of the Commander of the Army be shifted to the renovated Army Hospital building. His move, they said, did not meet with favour of the higher ups.

Sorry, no choppers on rent

Promoters of Gen. Fonseka’s polls campaign made a request this week to the Government for use of Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopters to attend meetings in some parts of the country.

The initial response, insiders say, was not encouraging. SLAF officials had explained that there were no spare choppers to rent. However, the requests are being repeated.

One-liners one too many

A lawyer and two others have been assigned by the main opposition parties to handle an SMS campaign for their candidate, Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka.

They were discussing one-liners planned by the UPFA side. One had spoken of Fonseka’s swan song after January 27, just the day after the Presidential Elections. That was to suggest he would be defeated.
The counter came from another. “We can say they chew the betel leaf, (Mahinda Rajapaksa’s symbol) and then spit it out,” he said. Many other one liners were under consideration.

Return of Admiral Karannagoda: It’s not so admirable

Navy Chief Vice Admiral Tissera Samarasinghe hosted a gala party at the Navy’s main base in Colombo, the SLNS Rangala. It was a befitting event, for the Navy was celebrating its 59th anniversary. Top ranking Navy officers, defence and security officials were among the distinguished gathering.

As the party continued to the strains of soft music played by the Navy band, in walked an Admiral in his ceremonial uniform and all the regalia that went with it. Within seconds, he became the cynosure of all eyes.

One senior security official asked a high-ranking Navy officer, “Is this the new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).” The latter was bemused. “I don’t think so. The acting CDS is there,” he replied pointing to the Commander of the Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunathilake.

The Admiral, the highest-ranking officer to be present at the party, was none other than the Secretary to the Ministry of Highways, Wasantha Karannagoda. Soon, the subject of conversation at the party was the former Navy Commander, who had, by wearing his uniform, displayed he was higher in rank than his own host. They talked in whispers.

I had to do some exhaustive research to find out how a Secretary to the Ministry of Highways turned up in the uniform of an Admiral. He has sought permission from the Ministry of Defence to mobilise himself in the Regular Naval Reserve (RNR). The MoD had directed the Navy Headquarters to send out a signal to make the move official. (See montage of the signal on this page.) One source said Admiral Karannagoda told a top official though he was promoted to the rank of Admiral some six months ago, he had not had the opportunity of functioning as one. He had been asked to retire not long after his promotion.

The two signals sent out by Navy Headquarters. On top is the signal mobilising Admiral Karannagoda to the Regular Naval Reserve (RNR). Below is the signal attaching him to SLNS Parakrama for “special duties.”

According to the NHQ (Navy Headquarters) signal, Admiral Karannagoda has been mobilised in the RNR indefinitely backdated from July 14 (his date of retirement) and assigned to Navy’s SLNS Parakrama for what is termed “special duties”. A technical question that has arisen is how the Commander of the Navy, a Vice Admiral, would give orders to an officer one rank above.

Well and good. However, Admiral Karannagoda continued to be the talking point even after the party.
On December 22 (the night after the party), he was on state-run Independent Television Network (ITN) talking about the “astonishing” military defeat of Tiger guerrillas. Naturally, he gave no credit to his armed forces commander colleague then and now “common candidate” of the opposition parties, retired General Sarath Fonseka. The fact that they hated each other is no secret.

That perhaps makes him on even keel with Gen. (retd.) Fonseka. Within weeks after the victory, then Lt. Gen. Fonseka, in a report to the Commander-in-Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, made no mention about the role of the Navy in the military success. Yet, it was not Highways Secretary Karannagoda who was speaking on ITN at election time. It was the mobilised Admiral.

The move has also bolstered Admiral Karannagoda’s right to maintain a large security contingent. In his fundamental rights application to the Supreme Court, Gen. Fonseka complained, “recently retired Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral W.K.J. Karannagoda, has been provided 120 security personnel, 11 escort vehicles and one bullet proof vehicle, for his personal security.”

Now, in addition to being Secretary to the Ministry of Highways, he will also be a mobilised (or serving) Admiral. This is a new precedent. This will enable other retired officers in the military, to get themselves mobilised and wear uniform like their counterparts in the regular service. This is whilst serving in any post in either the public or the private sector.

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