Posted on June 30th, 2022


Due to the much publicized animosity between the Army commander  Sarath Fonseka and the   head of the Navy,  Wasantha Karannagoda,  relations between navy and army was strained  during Eelam war IV .Officers in the army knew this and were wary and guarded in their actions, said Kamal Gunaratne .

The animosity between the two was well known, not only to the armed forces but also to the public. When Sarath Fonseka’s brother wrote an open letter to the President regarding Sarath, a reader responded that in the matter of rivalry among the Commanders of the armed forces, it is well known that it is Fonseka who spearheaded the rivalry.

Fonseka did not cooperate with the navy during Eelam war IV.  Navy wanted to move its boats to Chalai to help in the Mullaitivu campaign. They planned to beach at Chalai. Fonseka had said that since it was the army that had liberated Chalai, navy has no right to be there. Navy undaunted, said then they would keep the boats bobbing on the sea at Chalai. The sea was under the control of the navy.

 They anchored the boats at sea. Sailors went to and fro wading in water up to their waists. They carried out their duties in wet clothes. Karannagoda was told that the sailors were determined to support the war, regardless of any obstruction.  He provided additional uniforms for them to change into.

Fonseka created a serious issue at Kayts. The islands around Jaffna came under the control of the Navy. LTTE attacked Kayts and the army was sent in to defeat them. Fonseka then tried to take over Kayts from the navy. Fonseka had sent in army tanks and threatened to use them against the navy. Navy blocked the causeway and informed Karannagoda. Karannagoda contacted the Defence secretary who ordered the army to retreat. Within 15 minutes of receiving the order, the army tanks had left.

In 2006, LTTE had set up gun positions at Sampur. Artillery fired from these could cripple the naval base in Trincomalee.  All movements of naval vessels were also under the surveillance of the LTTE. Karannagoda wanted the LTTE camps at Sampur removed immediately.

He brought up the matter at the Joint Operations Headquarters and then at Defence Council. Fonseka had said that he needed a stronger army than he had to do this. He needed at least 2000 soldiers to attack Sampur.   This would weaken the army in the North. He will attend to the matter when the army got stronger.

It was clear that Fonseka was trying to postpone attacking Sampur, said Karannagoda .This did not last long. The government ordered that Sampur be cleared of LTTE and army did so with the help of air force, to the great relief of the navy.

The media had told Karannagoda that Fonseka insisted that the activities of the navy, especially navy victories should be not be given publicity. Therefore Navy got very little publicity for its valuable work in Eelam War IV. Instead foreign media   carried negative news about the navy. For instance, it stated that there were a number of civilian killings in Kayts Island, allegedly by the Sri Lanka Navy in 2006.

Chandraprema observed that Fonseka had his own coterie of journalists, who could only write about what happened on land. The air and sea were out of bounds. Fonseka   had to be the central figure. Keith Noyahr, the defense correspondent of the Nation got his defense stories from the navy. He was given a good beating, said Chandraprema.

Karannagoda stated that there were   5 newspaper men   supporting Fonseka and attacking him, Karannagoda. Upali Tennakoon, editor of Rivira   had contacted Karannagoda regarding a damaging statement made about the navy. Karannagoda had mentioned this at the next Defence Council meeting. Three days later, he heard that   Tennekoon and wife had been assaulted by persons who had come on motor cycles, with faces covered. Tennekoon family had   left the country thereafter.

Karannagoda in his book ‘Adhistanaya’ gave a first person account of his relationship with Fonseka. Karannagoda had been appointed Commander of Navy in 2005. The navy improved greatly under Karannagoda   and became a force to be reckoned with. There was the swarm attacks using Arrow boats, and the destroying of 8 foreign weapon ships using Sri Lanka’s aging ships. Karannagoda   had no political ambitions but Fonseka saw him as a rival.

The first indication of opposition came in 2006, when at the   Conference of heads of services,     Karannagoda found that Sarath Fonseka together with Daya Sandagiri, former navy commander and now chief of Defence staff started to attack the navy strongly. (p 275)The antagonism got worse and the attacks at the meetings increased. Karannagoda  was heavily criticized and ridiculed.  Fonseka behaved as though he was  chairing  the meeting, said Karannagoda .  

Then one day, Karannagoda found that he could not enter the premises with his full convoy of transport when he went to attend JOH meetings. An officer was stationed at the gate to tell him so. The  Head of Air force was allowed n with his full complement of vehicles. Karannagoda did not attend JOH meetings thereafter. Fonseka’s plan was to silence me somehow, Karannagoda decided.

Karannagoda states that after Kayts, Fonseka had tried very hard to get Karannagoda removed from the post of Commander of Navy. The navy was an obstacle to  Fonseka ‘s plan to take  full  control.  Fonseka wanted to say that he won the war alone.

Fonseka wanted to show that this war could not proceed without him and that he was under greater threat.  Fonseka went by helicopter with his chief aid and   4 soldiers.  We went with just one soldier.” Karannagoda also observed that Fonseka did not visit the battle zone. He went in battle proof trucks from the helicopter straight to the conference room and back home.

More than winning the war, what was important for Fonseka was to attack those he disliked. He  did not care if it benefited LTTE  or not. We won the war in a setting like this, stated Karannagoda in his memoir.

The clash between Fonseka and Wasantha Karannagoda, Commander of the navy was seen as a personal one, starting from school days. That was the explanation provided by the media.This is unlikely.  It was probably connected to his link to USA. It may have been a part of his briefing from USA. Fonseka clearly showed a confidence which went way beyond his position as Commander of the army, both during and after Eelam War IV.

Fonseka’s appointment as  Army commander was not a popular one. Media reported that Chief justice Sarath Silva,   had called Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and told him not to grant an extension to Fonseka as Army commander, since his actions had led to many injustices in the army ,causing a lot of dissent.

There was also Fonseka’s dictatorial tendency. Many others, including government and opposition politicians and retired and senior serving military officers had the same sentiments, Silva said. But Gotabaya Rajapaksa thought that changing the Army commander in the middle of a military campaign was not advisable.

Fonseka discriminated against some of his officers while favoring others whom he liked. Fonseka refused to let Jagath Jayasuriya  go up to the frontlines. He was kept in charge of administration and logistics and not allowed any battlefront duties. Jayasuriya was made Commander of the Wanni region.

In 2017as he was finishing his term as Ambassador for Brazil, Gen Jagath Jayasuriya, was charged for war crimes by International Truth and Justice Project. The executive director of ITJP was Yasmin Sooka.

 On 28 August 2017, ITJP filed complaints in Brazil, Colombia, and Chile and at the Embassy of Suriname against Jagath Jayasuriya, for his alleged involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war.

By the time the action got going, Jayasuriya’s period in Brazil had come to an end and he was back in Sri Lanka.There was a spate of media interviews where Jayasuriya denied all allegations against him. He said that he had been Commander in the Wanni from August 2007 till the war ended, in charge of logistics. He had not been involved in actual combat during the final phases of the war. Therefore he could not be accused of war crimes.

The divisions in the battle field were not brought under Jayasuriya. He was the Vanni Security Forces Commander overseeing the front line bunker line in Vavuniya. He was only entrusted with providing logistics facilities to Army personnel in the battle field and evacuating of casualties, reported the media.

Jayasuriya then said that if indeed war crimes had occurred they were likely to have happened in the frontlines. If so, the person responsible was the  Army Commander. The implication was that it was Fonseka as the Army Commander, who had to bear responsibility.

If Jayasuriya was allowed to continue in this manner without being challenged, it would only have been a matter of time before blame would have been attached to Fonseka. So Fonseka had to intervene.

 The ITJP had also charged that  human rights violation and war crimes has been committed in  Joseph Camp” in Vavuniya. Jayasuriya had been based in this camp which came under the Wanni command. Fonseka picked this up.

 Fonseka conducted a press conference in which he accused Jagath Jayasuriya of having committed war crimes. The Field Marshall claimed that he had proof and would be ready to testify against Jayasuriya if an investigation was held.

He said, that Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya had committed crimes during his tenure as the senior officer based in Vavuniya. Fonseka  said that he had information about some atrocious incidents happening to those detained at the Vavuniya headquarters camp.

Fonseka alleged that Jayasuriya had subjected those who were arrested by troops, under his command, to ‘criminal activity’. He had received many complaints that Jayasuriya had allegedly committed various offences. I was determined to take action against him after the war was over.” In an extensive interview given to  the media Jagath Jayasuriya denied charges that he had sanctioned or supervised the torture of detenues at the camp.

The heated exchanges between Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka and Lieutenant-General Jagath Jayasuriya   showed long standing, deep seated animosity, observed DBS Jeyaraj. One irritant was that Jayasuriya was a distant relative of the Rajapaksas and had access to both Mahinda and Gotabaya , said DBS .

The on-going  arguments between the Field Marshall and Lieutenant -General provided much entertainment to the casual observer but it  portrayed the armed forces in very poor light. The public spat between Fonseka and Jayasuriya may have continued further but Lt. Gen Mahesh Senanayake intervened and stopped it.

Senanayake expressed displeasure over Fonseka’s outburst. Senanayake pointed out that only an allegation, nothing else ,had been made in a foreign country against Jagath Jayasuriya. Senanayake said personal rivalries should not be allowed to sully the Sri Lankan Army’s reputation. He said that even if a single officer was criticized openly it affected the entire Army’s morale, concluded DBS Jeyaraj. 

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