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Shell-Shocked Generals

by Sachi Sri Kantha, January 30, 2008

Subordinates 1, 2 and 3: (submissively) ‘Sir, this won’t look good for our PR. Day after day, you are delivering ultimatum on LTTE, and hollering that Prabha is on the run. What will our people and world-at-large think, when we turn our back and run - scared of shells. 

If you have missed it, first you should read the news report entitled ‘LTTE shells Palaly’ which appeared in the Colombo Daily Mirror of Jan. 29th, under the by-line of Sunil Jayasiri. By any bit of imagination, one cannot assign this reporter as sympathetic to the LTTE. Provided below is the unabridged transcript. I also take the liberty of reproducing the graphic which accompanied this newsreport. Then, I provide a skeleton of essential discussion (which could have taken place in that aircraft) that has been omitted by reporter Jayasiri. 

“An aircraft carrying a top level defence delegation led by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was forced to return to Colombo yesterday after the LTTE launched a barrage of attacks on the Palaly military base minutes before the aircraft was due to land, a defence official said.

He said the others in the delegation including Chief of Defence Staff Donald Perera and Army Chief Sarath Fonseka were scheduled to attend a ceremonial opening at Palaly of the latest military unit --- the Mechanized Infantry Division (MID).

“Minutes before the Russian built AN-32 air craft carrying VIPs was to land, the LTTE began firing on the northern military base and its surroundings from the Tiger’s Kalmunai Point forcing the aircraft to abandon its mission and return to the Katunayake Airport,” the senior official said.

He said shells had fallen in the Milady and Ariyalai areas – just outside the Palaly runway, but no damage or casualties have been reported.

“Some of the artillery shells did not explode and the military had defused them,” the official said.

He said this latest development on the war front had led to the temporary suspension of flights to the Palaly air force base with the military retaliating with heavy artillery fire at LTTE positions in the Pooneryn area.

Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara confirmed shelling by the LTTE and said action had been taken to neutralize its gun positions.

He said air force jets bombed LTTE gun position at Kalmunai Point – north of Pooneryn from where the terrorists fired artillery rounds towards the troops.

“Jets pounded LTTE-artillery launching pad, two and half hours after rebels directed artillery fire towards Palaly,” Brigadier Nanayakkara said.

He denied that an aircraft carrying a top-level delegation was prevented from land due to the bombing.

In February last year the LTTE shelled the 53rd division headquarters while a discussion was underway on the formation of the Mechanized Infantry Division.

The Mechanized Infantry Division (MID) was subsequently launched under the patronage of the Jaffna Security Force Commander G.A. Chandrasiri.” 

The Discussion that could have led to aborting the Palaly landing

Inspired by humorist Art Buchwald, I allowed that little bird to whisper to me on the prevailing confusion which engulfed the top dogs of the Sri Lankan military command who were in that aircraft which aborted its Palaly landing. The following discussion could have transpired between the Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka and his subordinates just before the aircraft was about to land in Palaly, last Monday. This is unverified, and not-so fictional. 

Chief Fonseka: ‘I say! Will you read that ceremonial speech which I have to make here, after launching the Mechanized Infantry Division (MID)?’ 

Subordinate 1: ‘Sir, here it is. LTTE is on the run. By the end of this year, when I retire from my post, there won’t be any LTTE to talk about…’ 

Subordinate 2: (in a hush tone) ‘Sir, just now we got an SOS that Tigers are firing shells towards Palaly tarmac. 

Chief Fonseka: ‘God damn it!’ 

Subordinate 3: ‘Sir, the pilot is confident that he can land our craft, despite LTTE shelling.’ 

Chief Fonseka: ‘Is he crazy? Tell him to turn the plane.’ 

Subordinate 2: ‘Where to Sir?’ 

Chief Fonseka: ‘Back to Colombo, of course.’ 

Subordinate 1: ‘Sir, this won’t look good for our army’s public image. Running scared of LTTE’s shells.’ 

Chief Fonseka: ‘To hell with public image. First, I have to protect my life.’ 

Subordinate 3: ‘In that case, who will deliver the ceremonial MID launch address? 

Chief Fonseka: ‘ Hey guys! Look, I’m not a fool to take a second chance in less than two years. Why, let Chandrasiri take care of that business.’ 

Secretary Gotabhaya: ‘Me too. I’m for returning to Colombo. Why risk our lives unnecessarily? Tell the pilot to abort landing in Palaly. We have to check and pummel those Tiger artillery positions immediately.’ 

Subordinates 1, 2 and 3: (submissively) ‘Sir, this won’t look good for our PR. Day after day, you are delivering ultimatum on LTTE, and hollering that Prabha is on the run. What will our people and world-at-large think, when we turn our back and run - scared of shells. 

Secretary Gotabhaya: ‘You fools. That’s politics. This is life and death. Don’t you know the difference? We haven’t even secured the Palaly tarmac properly.’ 

Chief Fonseka: ‘Ask our spokesman Udaya to tell the press that, those shells fired by the LTTE are dud and we have defused them promptly.’ 

Subordinate 4: (somewhat sarcastically) ‘This don’t make sense at all. If those LTTE shells are dud, why we have to abort the landing in Palaly?’ 

Chief Fonseka: ‘Hey, don’t second guess me. If you open your mouth, your bonus is in jeopardy.’