My Dear General Daya, I thought I must write to you when I heard that you had just assumed office. I suppose congratulations are in order but I’m afraid that you haven’t had an auspicious start to your stint at the top because of everything that happened at Weliveriya last week. I know that it [...]

5th Column

The Army we love


My Dear General Daya,

I thought I must write to you when I heard that you had just assumed office. I suppose congratulations are in order but I’m afraid that you haven’t had an auspicious start to your stint at the top because of everything that happened at Weliveriya last week.

I know that it may be unfair to blame you for the shootings at Weliveriya because the ink had hardly dried on the papers you signed assuming office as the new Commander. However, you must also know that as the man now at the top of the Army, the buck stops with you.

The big question everyone is asking, Daya, is who sent the Army to Weliveriya? Why did someone think it was right to send the Army — with live bullets and orders to shoot — to control a protest of people who were only asking for clean drinking water?

And of course, we all would like to know who that someone is! We know it was probably not you, Daya, but for all the noise that is being made about Weliveriya, no one from either the military or the powers that be, has had the courage to stand up and take responsibility for that decision.

As you know only too well, the Army — and the other Armed Forces — were hailed as heroes just over four years ago when they were able to defeat the Tigers and everyone in uniform was called a ‘rana viruva’ — and they deserved that accolade, too, for ending a 30-year war that blighted our nation.

Since then, however, the reputation of the Army has taken somewhat of a tumble, don’t you think? And it all began when those in authority decided to prosecute the General who was once called the ‘best Army Commander in the world’.

The man who led the war victory against the Tigers was tried on frivolous charges, sent to prison like a common criminal, stripped of his rank and deprived of his pension. That was hardly the way to treat any old solider, leave alone a man who risked his life for his country.

To his credit, the General did not give in and fought everything that was thrown at him with the same courage that he displayed when he was fighting the Tigers. I am not saying that his decision to enter politics was correct, but what happened to him certainly didn’t help the reputation of the Army!

Then several countries and organisations tried to blame the Army, accusing it of killing civilians towards the end of the war with the Tigers. Most of those charges are baseless and is a propaganda exercise for the Tiger support groups, but that is no reason to be complacent.

When organisations such as the UN are pushing for these accusations to be investigated and countries such as America are keen on punishing Sri Lanka for winning the war against the Tigers, surely the last thing we want is the Army going on a rampage and killing civilians?

But is that exactly what happened, Daya? There may have been a protest and that may have even turned into a riot but how can you ever justify killing unarmed persons, two of whom were innocent teenage schoolboys? Were they also part of an ‘international conspiracy’?

There are reports that some soldiers chased people and assaulted them, saying ‘we defeated the Tigers, so you are no match for us’. Does that mean that they now perceive the general public as their enemy, Daya?

There are also eyewitness accounts of soldiers pursuing people along by-roads, assaulting them and threatening clergymen in churches at gunpoint, accusing them of giving refuge to troublemakers. There was a time when we were proud of our soldiers, Daya, but now we are ashamed of them.

I am sure you realise that the Eelamists must be having the last laugh. During the past four years they were trying to convince the rest of the world that the Sri Lankan Army was a monstrous outfit that went about killing civilians as if they were flies — and we were saying that simply wasn’t true.

Now what do we have? The Army doing just that, not in the North but in the South in an area which is a hotbed of support for the ruling party! I am not blaming you Daya, for all this but only telling you that something is seriously wrong here.

Predictably countries like the US and Britain — where the Eelamist lobbies are strongest — are already expressing concerns and asking for ‘independent inquiries’. It looks like we have scored an ‘own goal’ in our battle with the Eelamists, doesn’t it?

Even your political masters are not speaking in one voice. Some are blaming the Rathu Sahodarayas; Dullas is suggesting a conspiracy against the Government; Nimal is saying that the Army was acting in self defence and others like Basil and Mervyn are saying that what happened was wrong!

The Greens are as usual calling for an ‘international’ investigation which I think will only make matters worse and the Reds are denying they had any hand in what happened but then, you can hardly blame the opposition when they make a fuss about this because that is what they are supposed to do!

It is indeed unfortunate, Daya, that you had to start off on such a sour note. If you indeed want to salvage the reputation of the force that you now command and restore some public confidence in your men, we will need to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Weliveriya.

Yours truly,
Punchi Putha

PS: By the way, we have yet to hear anyone apologising for the incident, Daya. I know you have appointed a team to inquire into the incident but, even though you have a reputation of being an officer and a gentleman, you can’t really expect us to have much faith in such investigations after the court martial inquiries that were conducted against your predecessor’s predecessor, can you?

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