Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 50

Death of a military hero

by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002

Chapter 1

Chapter 49

When President Ranatunge Premadasa formed his new government in September 1989, it was expected that either Lalith Athulathmudali or Gamini Dissanayake, one of the two United National Party (UNP) stalwarts, would be made the new Prime Minister. But, to everyone’s surprise, Premadasa appointed the little-known D B Wijetunga and appointed Ranjan Wijeratne – a planter by profession – as the Minister of State for Defense, a portfolio earlier held by Athulathmudali.

But, when Ranjan Wijeratne was assassinated, Srisena Coorey was appointed as the General Secretary of the UNP, the ruling party, the post, Ranjan Wijeratne had held. It was alleged that the appointment was made by Premadasa without him consulting anyone.

Athulathmudali was the Colombo district leader of the UNP, but his position was systematically undermined by the introduction of Srisena Coorey, who was entrusted with the selection of the party candidates to the Colombo Municipality Council. Thus, during the administration of Premadasa, the influence of Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake was progressively diminished.

Thereafter, these two senior members of the party were kept away from negotiations the Government had with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The so-called peace talks between Premadasa and his nominees and the LTTE delegation commenced in April 1989 and went on until the Indian army left the country on March 24, 1990.

By 1990, reports began to emerge that the LTTE was taking control of the areas in the North and Eastern provinces. Gradually, the LTTE began to gain more authority and the police had to obtain permission from the LTTE, even to leave their stations. They spent their time in their barracks, playing games and protecting themselves.

It came to the knowledge of Lalith Athulathmudali, when one Lieutenant Wathiyage contacted him around March 1991, that weapons were being transfered to the LTTE by the army in the Welioya jungles, apparently under the supervision of Colonel Bohoran, who was the head of the army camp at there. He said that he himself had delivered weapons to the LTTE. Wathiyage added that he had stayed in the LTTE camp for some time and that they had invited him to join them.

It was later learnt that Wathiyage, while delivering weapons to the LTTE, removed three T56 assault rifles and took them with him to his camp at Ambepussa, in August 1991, when he was transferred from Welioya. Later, an army officer met Wathiyage at Ambepussa, gave the numbers of the three T56 assault rifles and demanded that they be returned forthwith. Wathiyage was left with no choice, but to return them to the superior army officer. The army took no immediate action against Wathiyage, and he subsequently deserted, for fear of being exterminated by the army.

He then contacted Lalith Athulathmudali, who had helped him earlier in regard to a disciplinary action. He told Athulathmudali of the whole episode regarding the government’s transfer of arms to the LTTE.

At this time, Denzil Kobbekaduwa had just returned from the army staff college in England and taken charge in Panagoda. He was popular among the Sinhalese and had been sent to the Royal College of Defense Studies in the United Kingdom, in January 1989, on a one-year course. But after a month he was recalled and sent to Kandy to deal with the Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP), the Sinhalese insurgents. The British College was disturbed by this so the British High Commission in Colombo intervened and Kobbekaduwa was sent back to the UK to continue training. Subsequently he completed his course and returned to Sri Lanka.

On his return, he was attached to 1 Division, Panagoda from January 1990. On June 12, 1990 he was sent to Ampara for Eelam War 2. In July 1990, he was promoted to Major General and took over as commander of the Northern headquarters based in Anuradhapura.

In the meantime, Athulathmudali contacted Kobbekaduwa and he also met Wathiyage in Athulathmudali’s house. Kobbekaduwa made discreet inquiries about the transfer of weapons to the LTTE and Gamini Dissanayake, too, joined them in getting to the bottom of the transfer of weapons. It became evident that, Athulathmudali and Kobbekaduwa were collecting evidence and making plans to expose President Ranatunge Premadasa for arming the enemy, before an international tribunal.

On March 24, 1990, the Indian army had left Sri Lanka and the LTTE managed to destroy the Tamil National Army (TNA), which was the creation of the Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and that of Varatharajah Perumal, the Chief Minister of the North East Provincial Council. The LTTE took control of the Eastern province and after June 11, 1991, it was alleged that the LTTE used weapons given by Premadasa, to kill hundreds of police officers in the Eastern province.

Meanwhile, Kobbekaduwa was called in and within two weeks he was able reopen police stations in the Eastern province. Thereafter, he took over the command of Trincomalee and virtually took over as the Commander of the Northern forces, with headquarters in Anuradhapura.

Meanwhile, Athulathmudali and Kobbekaduwa were gathering facts and the information about the transfer of weapons and Gamini Dissanayake and G M Premachandra also joined in their endeavor, in March 1991. It was alleged that one Tilak Shantha, a security guard of Lalith Athulathmudali, and army private De Silva, who was supposed to be the confidante of Denzil Kobbekaduwa since 1985, had became the eyes and ears of Premadasa.

The dismissed UNP members – over the failed attempt to impeach the President – organized a new political party, the Democratic United National Front (DUNF), and Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake were made joint Presidents.

Meanwhile, Premadasa began to take steps to check on the growing popularity of Denzil Kobbekaduwa. During the siege of Jaffna Fort by the LTTE, Kobbekaduwa began an operation to relieve the siege. He submitted his plans to the army headquarters for approval. It was said that, the very evening before the proposed operation was to take place, the Observer newspaper, one of the Government-controlled English evening dailies, carried his plans for relieving the Fort. There had been a deliberate leak to ridicule and obstruct Kobbekaduwa.

On July 10, 1991, the LTTE launched a massive attack at Elephant Pass. The army base commanded by Major Sanath Karunaratne defended the camp. The battle for Elephant Pass was the most violent and bloody confrontation that ever took place between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

According to Adele Ann Balasingham, “For the LTTE, the Elephant Pass was a ‘thorn in the neck of the Tamil Eelam’, which had to be removed surgically for the physical well-being of the homeland. Since the war broke out, the LTTE fighters slowly and systematically strengthened the defense sentry positions in the northern and southern sectors of the base to prevent any offensive thrust by the Sri Lankan troops. Several attempts made by the army to break through the siege were successfully thwarted by the LTTE fighters. On the beginning of July 1991, the LTTE moved anti-aircraft guns in close proximity to the base and cut off the helicopter-borne supplies. A full fledged siege was imposed and the entire contingent of troops stationed in the base was trapped. On the 10 July 1991, LTTE assembled a massive force, consisting of several commando units of both male and female fighters and launched a major assault on the camp.” – Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers – page 85.

Elephant Pass occupied a strategic position linking Jaffna Peninsula to the rest of the Northern mainland, the isthmus geographically shapes itself as the neck of the Tamil region.

It should be remembered that, in July 1990, when Denzil Kobbekaduwa took charge as the officer commanding the North, he instituted an operation codenamed “Operation Gajasinghe” to pull out troops from Kilinochchi and strengthen the camp at Elephant Pass. He also established a temporary camp at Paranthan, north of Paranthan junction, for obtaining fresh water for the camp at Elephant Pass.

Subsequently, Elephant Pass camp was expanded and transformed into a massive military complex, with a main base and four mini-camps, within a stretch of land three miles in diameter. At one time, the Elephant Pass base and the satellite camps covered an area about 23 kilometers long and nearly 10 kilometers wide. About 800 troops manned the military installations.

Since the beginning of Eelam War 2, the A-9 Highway – the Jaffna-Kandy road and railway links, had been cut off by the army to curtail the movements of the LTTE and to maintain a rigorous economic embargo on the population of the Jaffna peninsula.

The blockade subjected ordinary civilians to enormous and untold hardship and they were compelled to trek along the narrow and dangerous Kilali waterways of Elephant Pass lagoon.

The LTTE began its first assault on the evening of July 10, 1991, from the south of Elephant Pass. On the very first day, the LTTE captured a few bunkers held by Sri Lankan troops. The LTTE attacked Elephant Pass base by using steel plated earth moving vehicles and tractors. They fired hundreds of motor rounds on the positions of the armed forces.

On the second day, the second in command of the base, Major Lalith Buddhadasa, was killed, along with a few other soldiers, by mortar attack. Attempts by the Sri Lankan air force to land helicopters inside the base proved futile, due to the heavy gunfire of the Tigers. The LTTE by then had surrounded the army base and were closing in from all direction. The main thrust was from the south and there were attempts to penetrate the defenses with earth moving vehicles and artillery fire on the outer defense positions. But, the army, which fought valiantly, foiled all of the LTTE’s attempts. Eventually, the Rest House camp in the southern sector of the base, fell into the hands of the LTTE. Sustaining heavy losses, the Sri Lankan troops fell back to the rear positions.

“Prabhakaran openly declared that, he had waged the ‘Mother of all Battles’. He was very confident of victory. Troops were running short of ammunition, food and medicine. Many airdrops were carried out. Fortunately, about 60 percent of the airdrops fell within the camp premises. Troops managed with at least one cooked meal a day. This meal, prepared in different locations, included rice, dhal and either Soya meat or dried sprats.” – A Soldier’s Version by Major General Sarath Munasinghe – page 115.

Fierce fighting continued for four days and the LTTE forces, both male and female cadres, continued their relentless onslaught on the southern and northern sectors of Elephant Pass despite mounting causalities. The entrapped Sri Lankan soldiers fought for their lives and were completely surrounded. It was reported that they sent SOS signals for reinforcements.

“The Sri Lankan Government realized the impending danger. The fall of Elephant Pass would be disastrous, both militarily and politically. The loss of such a strategically important base would entail the loss of territorial sovereignty of the northern region. It would mean a severe blow to the Government’s cherished military strategy of taking control of Tamil areas from the Tigers. It would also be a political disaster to Premadasa’s regime, since the Sinhala chauvinistic forces could not stomach such a humiliating defeat. Apart from these politico-military consequences, the most urgent and immediate task, the Government thought was to rescue the besieged troops, eight hundred in number, who had been putting up a deadly struggle for survival and pleading for immediate assistance.” – Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers by Adele Ann Balasingham – pages 86-89

Meanwhile, the commander of the Northern forces, General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, was busy mapping out modalities to rescue the men trapped in the Elephant Pass camp. Along with Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, General Kobbekaduwa launched “Operation Balavegaya”. The Government drew up this massive operation plan with a huge force of 10,000 soldiers, which consisted of several battle-hardened and experienced regiments. They were mobilized with modern weapons, including tanks and armored vehicles.

They hit upon on an amphibious landing at Vettilaikerni. The coastal village of Vettilaikerni, located at the southern end of Point Pedro East, was to the east of Elephant Pass. This sea-borne combined operation, with the assistance of the navy and air force, was worked out in haste.

On July 14, 1991, around 5pm in the evening, the massive rescue operation was launched by General Denzil Kobbekaduwa. With Brigadier Wimalaratne’s personal effort, troops landed at Vettilaikerni, located 12 kilometers east of Elephant Pass. There was so much opposition from the Tiger fighters that the first wave of naval craft failed to land. There were causalities, but men ferried by naval craft from Pulmoddai were determined and the air force provided effective air support throughout the operation.

Subsequently, thousands of Sri Lankan troops landed on the beaches of Vettilaikerni, breaching the stiff opposition provided by the Tigers. With their superior fire power and manpower, the armed forces were able to secure the beach-head and opened up a new fighting arena, and it was from here that they fought their way to relieve Elephant Pass, which had remained under LTTE siege for nearly a week. The terrain comprised of sand dunes, dotted with thorny scrub and Palmyra palms, an area that did not provide any natural cover against aerial, naval and artillery bombardment. Therefore, the confrontation assumed the character of a conventional warfare, with the combatants facing each other in open battle.

“Elsewhere Gen Kobbekaduwa was busy mapping out Operation Balavegaya to rescue the men at EPS [Elephant Pass]. Brig Vijaya Wimalaratne assisted the Gen. It was Wimalaratne’s personal effort that enabled the troops to force land at Vettilaikerny to the east EPS. There was so much of opposition the first wave of naval-craft failed to land. Wimalaratne insisted, and the second wave landed amidst heavy resistance. There were casualities but the men ferried by naval craft from Pulmuddai were determined. The air force provided very effective close air support throughout this operation. Initially, troops of 3 SLLI, 3 GR, 1SLSR and 4 GR assisted by armor and artillery captured the beachhead and expanded thereafter.

“Many terrorist were killed and large stocks of arms and ammunition captured from the terrorists. There was an intense fighting near the Mulliyan Kovil, northwest of Vettilaikerni. The reason was that the terrorists were determined to recover a stock of gold hidden near the Kovil [Temple]. In fact, the terrorists managed to evict the troops from Kovil area for a short while by counter attacking. They managed to take the gold away.” – A Soldier’s Version by Major General Sarath Munasinghe – pages 115-116.

In the meantime, the Sri Lankan armed forces that landed at Vettilaikerni and who opened up the beach front found it extremely difficult to cross the 12 kilometers to relieve the siege of Elephant Pass base. It took nearly 18 days for them to fight their way on the 12 kilometer stretch to reach the Elephant Pass base.

According to Adele Ann Balasingham, “It took exactly 18 days for the several battalions of Sri Lankan army troops, who landed along the Vadamaradchy eastern coast in a massive rescue operation, to reach the besieged Elephant Pass base. To advance for a short distance of 12 kilometers, the Sinhala regiments, backed by heavy amour and air cover, had to engage in fierce clashes with the LTTE and fight for every inch of the land. With the heavy losses in men and material, the troops finally reached the Elephant Pass base, on the evening of 3rd August 1991. The fighting continued that area until the 9th August, when finally the LTTE made a tactical withdrawal. Apart from the battle of the Fort, it was the longest single battle ever fought between the combatants, which lasted for nearly 31 days.

“Though the LTTE suffered heavy causalities [573 Tamil Tigers were killed] in the battle, it became very obvious to the world that, the organization had built up and developed a full-fledged liberation army with highly determined and motivated fighters of both men and women, who could face up to a conventional mode of confrontation. Deprived of conventional weapon systems, adequate air defence and caught up in unfavorable terrain, the Tigers fought with sheer will power as their armor and impressed upon the enemy that, any aggressive adventure on the Tamils homeland, had to be paid for heavily with blood. Over four hundred Sri Lankan soldiers were killed and over one thousand injured in the battle of Elephant Pass.” –Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers – page 95.

Furthermore, Adele Balasingham, writing in her The Will to Freedom, noted that, 573 Tigers were killed, including 123 women fighters. Hundreds were injured. Though it was a major military debacle, the LTTE learned through this experience the necessity and importance of developing its forces into a conventional formation. But, the most significant aspect of the battle was the unity between the LTTE and the people in preparation for and during the offensive. A major Sri Lankan military installation at the throat of Jaffna was an obvious source of resentment amongst the people. The prospect that it would be overrun and the people could move freely from the peninsula to the Vanni, exited and enthused the population.” – pages 271-272.

But according to government official figures, only 202 army personnel were killed in the battle to retain Elephant Pass base. There were no official figures of the injuries sustained by the armed forces. According to Major General Sarath Munasinghe, who was at that time the Sri Lankan army spokesman, who wrote A Soldier’s Version after his retirement, writes, “On 4 August 1991, I was lucky to personally witness the link up with the ESP camp. It was the biggest ever victory over the LTTE at that time. There was joy and smiles all over. Prabhakaran’s much publicized, ‘Mother of all Battles,’ was defeated. 202 valiant men including some prominent officers had laid their lives. Over thousand terrorists were killed at EPS and during the operation to link up. Many citizens voluntarily sent in, sweets, chutney, cigarettes and many other food items to the soldiers in the battlefield. There were banners and posters praising the soldiers in many parts of the country.” – pages 116-117.

The Sri Lankan army and the LTTE gave official figures of their respective causalities – the army 202 and the LTTE 573, but no one gave the figures of the civilian causalities. It was unfortunate that, in every battle that took place, the civilians were on the receiving end and they became prey and cannon fodder by being caught up in the middle of the military campaign. Many hundreds died without any requiem masses and they simply disappeared without being taken into account of their deaths.

After the battle at Elephant Pass, the theater of war opened up along the jungle terrain of Vanni. On August 28, 1991, the Sri Lankan army under the command of Denzil Kobbekaduwa, launched “Operation Lightning” at Weli-oya – in Tamil – Manal Aru (sand river) – (Oya in Sinhala and Aru in Tamil mean one and the same thing – river). Many thousands of war-weary Sri Lankan troops with the support of the air force were drawn into this massive military campaign, ostensibly launched with the view to wipe out the LTTE bases in the Vanni jungle area.

However, the real reason was to occupy the jungle terrain to physically dismember the northern province from the eastern province. This Weli-Oya region is strategically located along the northern coastal region, linking Mullaithievu and Trincomalee districts.

The Weli-Oya was a Tamil area, but the Sri Lankan Government over the years was involved in setting up Sinhala colorization schemes in the traditional Tamil territory, with the aim of changing the demographic structure of the region and also to break the continuity of the Tamil region from the Northern province. Therefore, the operation constituted all these hidden aspects and was launched with such a grand design.

More than 4,000 Sri Lankan troops, backed by heavy armor and with air cover from bombers and helicopter gunship, were in the operation. The army units advanced from Gajapura headquarters and launched a three frontal attack on Nithikaikulam, an LTTE controlled area. The LTTE forces, which were already positioned along the river embankment at Nithikaikulam, resisted the advancing troops and blocked the advance. The Manal Aru battle dragged on for 28 days.

After four fays of intense fighting, the LTTE fighters, it was reported, tactically withdrew from the Nithikaikulam area to the adjoining jungles and established a new defense perimeter.

After four weeks of fighting, according to the LTTE version, the Sri Lankan army was able to occupy a few abandoned LTTE bases in the periphery area, and then it claimed victory. Subsequently, the Sri Lankan forces suddenly withdrew.

Major-General Sarath Munasinghe, wrote in his Soldier’s Version,“Operation Ashaka Sena was launched simultaneously with Operation Balavegaya with dual aims. One was to divert the attention of the LTTE from the EPS. The other was to destroy whatever facilities at 14 base complex of the LTTE. This operation launched from Welioya, was not all that successful, but it achieved the primary aim of diversion to an extent.

“A few weeks later, operation Akuna Pahara was launched from Welioya, as a continuation of the operation Ashaka Sena. Troops had to operate in thick jungles south of Mullaithievu for over a month. Sathees, Michael, Suganthan, Kamal, and other LTTE training camps and bases were destroyed during this operation. Although we lost 150 men, over 800 terrorists including the 14th base leader Anbu were killed. Besides, this was the first offensive operation since 1990, in which troops were not advancing to protect our own camp.” – page 120.

But according to LTTE reports, more than 300 Sri Lankan troops were killed and hundreds more were injured and maimed. The LTTE also lost over 200 cadres, out which 56 were women fighters.

The last major confrontation of 1991 with the LTTE was on October 16, 1991, when hundreds of Sri Lankan infantrymen from the Kokkilai army camp in the Mullaithievu region, moved along the coastal route that lies between the sea and the coconut palms and walked into a Tiger trap. The advancing columns of soldiers, unaware of the LTTE presence, walked into a hailstorm of bullets and they withdrew in total disarray. Thirty soldiers were killed, including three officers, and 70 were injured. The LTTE lost 14 fighters, three of them women.

By November 15, 1991, army commander Lt-General Wanasinghe was promoted as a full three-star general and appointed as general officer commanding of the Joint Operation Command (JOC). Meanwhile, President Premadasa appointed Lt-Gen Waidyaratne as the new commander of the army.

“Lt-Gen Waidyaratne on assuming command addressed the senior officers at army HQ conference hall. I still remember him saying during his speech, ‘Think LTTE, breath LTTE, drink LTTE, eat LTTE, sleep LTTE’ etc.” A Soldier’s Version by Major General Sarath Munasinghe – page 122

In April 1992 the army high command decided to reduce Denzil Kobbekaduwa’s area of command and confine him only to Mannar, Puttalam, Anuradhapura. No reasons were given for this sudden action, but it was rumored that it was done consequent to his growing popularity in the country.

Subsequently, Kobbekaduwa met the army commander and protested and told him that he wanted to submit his retirement papers. The commander refused to let him leave the army and restored his Northern Command, which included Mullaithievu, Pulmodai, Palaly and the Jaffna islands, Mannar, Anuradhapura, Welioya etc. Kobbekaduwa was upset, but he continued with his duties.

During the first half of 1992, the Tigers massacred hundreds of Sinhala and Muslims civilians, mainly in Ampara and Polonnaruwa districts. On April 10, 1992, a civilian bus was blasted at the Ampara bus stand, killing 28 and injuring 36 civilians. On April 29, over 50 civilians were killed when the LTTE attacked Alinchipotana village. On the same day, 58 Muslim civilians were hacked to death at Karapola. On July 15, at Kirankulam, Batticaloa the LTTE attacked a passenger bus and 19 Muslims were killed.

Meanwhile, General Kobbekaduwa and his team, including Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, were busy planning a major operation to be launched in Jaffna. It was told that, the aim was to liberate the entire top half of the Jaffna peninsula. Kobbekaduwa was in Colombo in the third week of July to attend his father’s funeral.

It was later reported that, Kobbekaduwa was in Colombo again on August 2, 1992, to finalize the proposed operation with President Premadasa. Reports further suggest that the President had approved the operation and given the green signal. Kobbekaduwa returned to Plalay and had a meeting with his subordinate officers, on August 3, 1992.

In the proposed operation to wrest part of the Jaffna peninsula, the navy had a role to play, to ferry troops from Kayts island to Araly, on the western side of the peninsula.

Subsequently, on August 7, General Kobbekaduwa and his party left for Karainagar naval base by helicopter and spent the night there. Kobbekaduwa, together with Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne and Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha had conferred far into the night of August 7. Since the navy officer had some doubts, it was decided to proceed to Kayts the following day. The final decision was delayed until they could reconnoiter a particular area to finalize troop movements, which required a visit to Araly point the next day.

On August 8, 1992, at about 8.00 am, Denzil Kobbekaduwa and his party, including Brigadier Wimalaratne, Palipana, Major Rupasinghe, Induruwa, Corporal Upali, Private Samarasinghe and naval officers Jayamaha, Wijepura, Lankatilaka, Ambepitya and Sam Perera, set out from Karainagar to go to Kayts island. Kobbekaduwa, Jayamaha, Wimalaratne and a few others boarded a new naval boat and went towards the mainland before returning to Kayts pier.

At Kayts, three Land Rovers awaited the party. The naval party used the car bearing No: 5959, driven by a navy driver. Kobbekaduwa invited Brigadier Wimalaratne to get into the driver’s seat and drive the vehicle in which he was traveling, Land Rover No: UHA 8752. The rest of the army personnel traveled in Land Rover No: UHA 8785.

While proceeding towards Araly Point, about one-and-a-half kilometers from Araly Point, General Kobbekaduwa stopped all three vehicles. About 100 meters ahead was a wide open area, grassland without trees, where the explosion that occurred on the return trip happened. Kobbekaduwa suggested that they should proceed in one vehicle, otherwise the LTTE could observe them from the mainland, which was just half a kilometer away, separated by the sea. The general reported to have said that the LTTE had the firepower – mortars etc, which could be used to good effect from that distance. When they reached Araly Point, they had a discussion. But, it was while they were returning to be taken back to the base by helicopter, that the tragedy occurred. An explosion was heard by two majors who were watching the jeep in which the military leaders were traveling. Major Rupasinghe and Induruwa were 400 yards away from the jeep. When they came running up, they found that except for two persons, whose bodies were mutilated, had died instantaneously. It was reported that, when the two majors reached General Kobbekaduwa he said, “I am OK. What about others? Go and take care of them.”

Kobbekaduwa and Jayamaha were loaded onto the waiting helicopter, which took off immediately for Palaly, where the Rear Admiral was found to be dead. Though he was mortally wounded, Kobbekaduwa said, “I’m all right, see what can be done to the others.” As the doctors were unable to do more for him at Palaly, Kobbekaduwa was taken to Colombo, where a team of leading specialists battled to save his life, but they were unsuccessful.

The death of Denzil Kobbekaduwa and nine others, including senior army and navy officers, sent shock waves all over the country. It was reported in the Sinhalese language newspaper ‘Sulamina’ and in the ‘Observer,’ the English language evening daily, dated August 9, 1992, that President Ranatunge Premadasa, at a meeting held in Moratuwa on August 8, had said that the vehicle drove over an LTTE mine.

Again, on August 18, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Leader of the House, made a statement in parliament. He said that the media had reported that the deaths took place as a result of the vehicle going over a pressure mine. He also stated that the site of the explosion had already been videoed and the army had taken necessary steps to secure the evidence. The wreckage of the vehicle was still at the site. He also stated that there was an attempt by certain sections of the opposition to create doubts as to the manner of the death. Though provided with an opportunity, they had ot made any representation to a tribunal established to report on the explosion.

Already three inquiry commissions regarding the death of Kobbekaduwa and nine others have been held, but still the truth has not come out. The first inquiry was by a one-man committee, consisting of a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Ismail, appointed by General S C Ranatunga, Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, by letter dated August 11, 1992.

The second inquiry was held by a Commission of Inquiry appointed by President D B Wijetunga, by warrant in terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act, Chapter 8 of the Legislative Enactment, held by three foreign (sitting) judges selected by the government.

The third Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the assassination of Lieutenant-General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and nine others and causing serious injury to another at Araly, Keats on August 8, 1992 was appointed on December 7, 1994, by President Chandrika Kumaratunge. She appointed Justice George Randolph Tissa Dias Bandaranayake (chairman), Justice Dasanayake Padmasiri Swaarnajith Gunasekera and Rajasuriya Appuhamilage Nimal Gamini Amaratunge as commissioners.

At this juncture, it is worthwhile to refer to an excerpt of the third commission: 23. Medical attention for General Kobbekaduwa
At Palay General Kobbekaduwa was treated by Dr John Samarasinghe, anesthetist and Dr Roy Gunawardene, surgeon. General Dr Thurairajah says that Dr R Gunawardene said that the patient could be moved to Colombo. A neuro-surgeon and a thoracic surgeon were needed to attend on him – hence the transfer. Dr Samarasinghe accompanied Kobbekaduwa in an Avro (airplane) with nurses, oxygen, blood and equipment to Colombo. Samarasinghe wanted to transfer to Sri Jayawardenapura (hospital). On reaching Ratmalana, however, at midday, the general was taken out and put on a stretcher first and then placed on the tarmac in the burning sun, although the helicopter was ready waiting to take him to hospital.

Atapattu, (a major) of the Defense Ministry, rushed to the tarmac. Attapattu said that there were people in civilian clothes. One person examined Kobbekaduwa’s eyes, one person gave an injection close to his heart. He assumed that they were army surgeons. Dr Samarasinghe said that, when the plane landed, Kobbekaduwa was alive. There was talk as to which hospital the patient was to be taken to. Both Samarasinghe and Atapattu did not know why Kobbekaduwa was not rushed to the General Hospital, without being kept on tarmac for 15 minutes. He was finally taken to the Air Force grounds by helicopter and by ambulance to the accident service.

The cause of death was given by the hospital doctors as death due to blast injuries. No post mortem examination was held. The coroner was not even informed of his death. As Kobbekaduwa was admitted to the General Hospital, we must assume that he was alive. The Criminal Procedure Code requires an inquest to be held in cases of sudden death. It would appear that the emergency regulations have been misused in this case and ante-mortem injuries taken into account to give cause of death. Gen Kobbekaduwa was cremated without an inquest. According to Dr Samarasinghe, there was no smooth evacuation process of Kobbekaduwa from Palaly to Colombo and treatment was delayed. There was much confusion regarding which hospital he was to be taken to. No one explained about the injection given at the tarmac. Who gave this injection? General Thurairajah says no injection was given as far as he knows. He did not go to Ratmalana. This conduct is consistent with a continuing conspiracy to secure Kobbekaduwa’s death. We accept Major Atapattu’s evidence that an injection was given to Kobbekaduw’as heart. Notes of the treatment given to Kobbekaduwa have not been made available.

There was unnecessary delay in evacuating him by helicopter to hospital. Kobbekaduwa had remarked once that he wanted to die in his boots. Perhaps he had a premonition about the manner of his death. With him the hopes of a nation seemed to die. Since then the war has continued for six long years. Yet, his legacy lives on. The men who were trained by him now follow in his footsteps and slowly but surely are taking the trail he blazed.

Next: Chapter 51

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