Posted on July 31st, 2014

Dr.Tilak Fernando

I met with the late Major General Lucky Algama in London at a social gathering in 1997 when the ‘Operation Sunray’ was in progress to re-capture Jaffna by the Sri Lankan Security Forces. General Algama had been the Commanding officer for the East and the Chief of Staff subsequently.

He was on record for capturing quite a lot of land in the Eastern Province after chasing the LTTE terrorists out of the East. After a battle of one and a half years he had succeeded by motivating his soldiers and giving them the necessary leadership while restoring Law and Order in the province to the extent that he cleared the path to hold general elections in the East.

Terrific blunder

Subsequently, the security forces abandoned those captured areas which helped the LTTE to infiltrate into those pockets and butcher ninety odd Sinhala villagers and their children. It was considered as a shame more than a defeat in terms of war to have allowed such a disaster to take place after going hammer and tongs to free the area during Major Algama’s command and to have conceded in the context of Eelam war as a terrific military blunder because of the fact that the Eelam concept was not merely to kill people indiscriminately but to acquire land in the North and East with Trincomalee as their dreamed Capital!

Subsequently there emerged some encouraging news about the Security Forces’ upward thrust to recapture Jaffna peninsula to eradicate terrorism in order to pave the way by helping the Tamil civilians to live peacefully, and the General happened to be in London. When I met with him at a dinner party in London, I ventured to find out General Algama’s personal experience during his army career and the role he had to play especially with the LTTE terrorist war. With that in view I asked him whether the LTTE terrorists were in the final exit lounge at that time to which he responded thus:

“From the time the Peace Formula was violated abruptly, the LTTE terrorists began harassing the military, the Sri Lanka government and above all the civilians. Regrettably, we did not reciprocate in the same level or with the identical force the terrorists used on us. The offensive that is going on now (at the time of the discussion) will convey the message to them that the LTTE arms struggle will not be tolerated, and in the future, they will have to come to terms with the government and allow the Tamil civil community in the North and East to lead a peaceful life”.

Even if the Security Forces could manage to eliminate the LTTE leadership and re-capture Jaffna, did he think Sri Lanka could eradicate the LTTE and their demands completely in the future? If so, what guarantees were there to stop ‘another Prabhakaran’ emerging from somewhere in the North or the East later, or for that matter from exile? (I queried in 1997).

Major General Lucky Algama

“Crushing of the LTTE is a military task, and the Army should be able to make Prabhakaran come to political discussions from a position of weakness. The bringing of the LTTE to the negotiating table and granting necessary relief to Tamil people is a political issue. The military should not be concerned with, how or why the government is offering an Olive Branch to the Tamils! The biggest obstacle we are faced with today is Prabhakaran and the LTTE’s ruthless terrorism. Therefore, the military must crush the LTTE first to pave the path for a necessary political process. One thing that needs remembering is that the LTTE does not represent Tamils. They are a group of heartless and hardcore ruthless terrorists; therefore, the LTTE cannot be accepted as The Spokesman for all Tamil people”, he continued.

IPKF role

He also pointed out the fact that despite the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) having deployed approx. 95,000 Indian cadres, yet they could not capture Prabhakaran. I was keen to find out from the Major General as to what the Sri Lanka Army’s role was during that period.

In his judgement, “the strategy of the IPKF was to saturate the captured areas with their troops. They could do that because their manpower was enormous. If they wanted to capture Prabhakaran, definitely there were ample opportunities to do so! However, they did not capture him because their arrival on Sri Lankan soil was for a completely different purpose – due to the wrong foreign policy adopted by the Sri Lanka government at the time which appeared to be detrimental to India, the IPKF came only to safeguard India’s interests and certainly not to solve Sri Lanka’s problems”.

Touching on the Joint Operation Command in Sri Lanka at the time, I probed him further for specific answers.

“Sri Lanka had a Joint Operation Command in the past which was ineffective. Therefore, the whole Organisation was destroyed lock, stock and barrel; yet an improper military organisation, that could not deliver the goods led the Organisation to the grave yard”! He answered.

His view as an experienced retired Army General was that ‘the Officer Commander in-charge of the JOC (Joint Operation Command) at the time should have been of supreme calibre that should have been competent enough to be responsible to the President in all military matters. Therefore, his main function should have been to co-ordinate with all other Service Commanders in planning the military strategy, as such, this role, could not have been performed by a Secretary of Defence or any Cabinet Minister at the time.

After the P.A. Government came into power 35 retired Major Generals were recalled and promoted to top ranks. Didn’t that bring about discontent within the Army? I hastened to grab the opportunity to ask him.

“It was a political exercise which led to a certain amount of discontentment”! Beyond that he was not prepared to comment on that. Yet, having answered so, he said: ‘As for me, I feel that I performed my duty to the full by the country. Unfortunately certain high ranking elements in the Army decided to exhibit pseudo loyalties to the new administration and discredit others. In the process certain officers were identified with certain political parties and I was branded as a political stooge of the UNP due to professional jealousy. Not only that, they involved me in a coup d’état as well”.

Was there any truth in such an allegation, I became curious to find out?

“Absolutely none”, he quipped.

“The coup story had been primarily hatched by the Military Intelligence. It was only when investigations commenced that I realised it was something which had emerged from within the Army. In fact, I have made an appeal to President Chandrika Kumaratunga to expedite an inquiry and take disciplinary action against me if I had done any wrong. I am one person who genuinely helped to save democracy in the country once, surely I cannot be at the same time be a traitor and be accused of destroying the same democracy I established. It’s a crazy idea”! He sounded rather sad.

True soldier

Major General Algama gave his services to his motherland as a soldier for 31 long years. He was decorated with ‘Vishista Vibushana medal, the highest recommendation a soldier could aim for, the uppermost military degree from the National Defence College in Pakistan, an excellent grading which recommended him for Command Operations and Research Assignments in the Army. With all those and after undergoing military training in India and in the USA and being the only non-cadet officer who joined the army as an under-graduate and rose to the rank of Chief of Staff, what prevented the organisation not to extend his term of office when the Army was getting ready for a major onslaught to crush the LTTE? Did he have to fight a different battle within the army for his dues? I put it straight to him.

Twice he had been by-passed when it came to the post of Chief of Staff in the Army, he said, but it did not bother him because he was more proud of his mission at the time to save the East more than the position or the rank! Had he been offended and also anxious to occupy the hot seat, he had the requisite grievances in the Army Act by lodging a ROG ( Redress of Grievances) which he did not pursue because he thought he had time ahead of him and his work would be recognised and at the opportune moment he would be rewarded.

So, after nearly half of your life spent as a soldier in the Army, would you like to tell me NOW whether you retired as a happy, proud and a contended soldier or walked out of the Army as a disgruntled and frustrated General? I bluntly put to him.

“To tell you the truth Tilak, I compare my army career with that of a cricketer. I was sent to open batting which I did so well, from morning till the end of the day’s play. When I was making runs they cried out for LBWs, but I kept the wickets open while batting. They attempted to stump me, yet my bat was always inside the crease. So, after scoring a brilliant century, I have returned to the pavilion because according to the cricket rule book no one can bat officially after 6 pm. Therefore, I watch the game as a spectator right now from the pavilion and cheer the batsmen who score for the side and hoot those who cannot “.

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