Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Navy recovers new ‘killing’ device after Jaffna Islands leader, deputy commit suicide

The navy has recovered what an authoritative official termed as a suicide device which has not been previously used by the LTTE.

An authoritative navy official speculated that the device may have been developed recently to be used against individual targets. "It is a small device packed with steel balls to carry out an individual assassination."

According to him, naval troops recovered the device following Sunday’s confrontation with a small group of LTTE cadres including Eelamaran, in charge of the Jaffna Islands and his deputy Udayan at Suruvil, Velani in Kayts. Eelamaran and Udayan had committed suicide by exploding two suicide devices after troops surrounded a kovil where they were holed up. Contrary to reports that they were shot dead by troops, they committed suicide, The Island learns.

They were among five LTTE cadres who died in the confrontation. Troops recovered the suicide device from one of the bodies, the official said. Troops also recovered three T 56 weapons, one 9mm pistol, three 9mm pistol magazines one pouch, two cyanide capsules and seven hand grenades.

The SLN had recently arrested Udayan’s wife after troops recovered a sub machine gun, two claymore mines and some ammunition during a search of her premises in Kayts.

The incumbent of the Kovil was also killed in the cross-fire.

The Kayts hit came hot on the heels of the recovery of 1000 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, one kg of TNT explosives, four claymore mines, six electrical detonators, six non-electrical detonators, two kgs of C4 explosives, 150 grams of PAB 3A explosives, eight hand grenades and one meter long detonator cord in the Uddappuwa area.


The Sri Lankan soldier – then and now by Gaston Perera

This is not just another sunshine story. This is not the gushing rhetoric of a jingoist. This is not the adulatory rapture of an armchair strategist. This is not even the self-congratulatory slant of a military communiqué.

No, it is none of these. It is the cold, deliberate, studied, professional assessment of the Sri Lankan soldier made by the world’s foremost military power. This is an extract from a top secret report prepared by the Department of Defense of the United States on the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Armed forces in 2002. The above citation is extracted from excerpts of that report published in The Island of April 26.

This is not, therefore, the passing opinion made at the drop of a hat by an uninformed amateur. This is the balanced and impartial conclusion of a group of specially appointed expert professionals pronounced after a careful evaluation.

And what is that conclusion? The dictionary meaning of ‘impressive’ is ‘capable of impressing by its outstanding quality’ or even ‘awe-inspiring’. That is the conclusion of those officials of the US Department of Defense. They find the Sri Lankan soldier capable of impressing by his outstanding qualities. They have also clearly and unambiguously stated the reasons why they find the Sri Lankan soldier ‘impressive’. He is capable of putting up with ‘tremendous hardship’. Yet at the same time his ‘fighting spirit’ never falters.

No one can fail to be proud that our fighting men should be acclaimed so highly by their peers. But quite apart from the fillip it gives to national pride, there is quite another significance and value in this conclusion. Amazing as it may seem, it only repeats and confirms an identical evaluation of our fighting men made nearly half–a-millennium ago by the most implacable and ruthless enemy of the Sinhala people.

Five hundred years ago, in the early 17th Century, the Portuguese waged a bitter campaign to subjugate the island. The history of their attempts has been recorded by Portuguese chroniclers such as Fernao de Queyroz in his monumental work "The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon." Queyroz, just like the US Department of Defense, is full of admiration for the Kandyan soldier of those times for his capacity to put up with hardship –

"They are wiry, light-footed, run like the deer, and with no baggage other than their arms and a cambolyn for clothing and bed, some apas and rotriz of, as it were, parched wheat or dry avela of rice, they go for days on a campaign, under a scorching sun or drenching rain, marching many leagues in a few hours ---."1 (page 96)

What we have here is not only a tribute to the agility and mobility and survival techniques of the ordinary Kandyan rank and file on the march, but also a graphic description of the actual hardships endured by him.

These are the hardships endured on the march.

Elsewhere the same Queyroz has painted a picture of the harsh and austere rigours of their camp life. –

" --- a sheet wrapped round the waist which at night serves for a coverlet--- the ground serving for a mattress, a stone a piece of wood or else one of their own arms, for a pillow ---." (page 83)

So much for the Kandyan soldier’s capacity to bear with hardship on campaign 500 years ago.

It is also the same Queyroz, as well as other contemporary Portuguese observers - Menezes, Ribeiro, Bocarro - who have commented in glowing terms of the other aspect the US Department of Defense found "impressive" about the Sri Lankan soldier – their "fighting spirit".

This is Queyroz speaking of the Kandyan soldier charging the enemy –

"--- in the fury and dash with which they attack, they do not yield to Europeans --." (page 23)

Or the almost fanatic abandon and ferocity he displayed on the battlefield –" --- put themselves at the mouths of the arquebuses with such hardihood that in the narrowest of passes it happened some threw their bows at the throats of the Portuguese and laid hands on their firelocks."

Elsewhere also he refers to their "warlike nature", or "the spirit of these people against foreign dominion" and "their determination and constancy".

Other Portuguese commentators are equally lavish in their admiration. Ribeiro calls them "a race of people so warlike." Menezes also agrees calling the "Zingalas naturally warlike" and uses epithets which were later echoed by Queyroz –

"--- the impetus and fury they display in the greatest danger is due more to inborn courage than to barbarism...." (page 547)

Bocarro is equally fulsome in his admiration for the Sinhala soldier and says –

"--- the Chingalas fought with notable courage and resolution." (page 30)

These were the views of the Portuguese in the 17th Century. Centuries later in British times too there were observers who echoed the identical sentiments about the "fighting spirit" of the Kandyans. Henry Marshall in his "Ceylon – A General Description" says of them –

"The Kandyans --- display a brave and persevering spirit, particularly in resisting and repulsing invaders." ( page 15)

These assessments and evaluations of the 17th Century Portuguese have a significance that even the report of the US Department of Defense does not have. The latter is from a detached, uninvolved third party’s conclusions made only in response to a specific request. The Portuguese evaluations come from implacable, ruthless enemies of the Sinhala people whose sole aim was to subjugate its peoples and destroy its culture and religion.

In assessing the courage and valour of a people in war, the most convincing evidence of their fighting qualities would be the verdict of those who actually fought them and felt the bite of their steel. That is why this unsolicited and voluntary verdict of the Portuguese, who fought the islanders for more than a century and the Kandyans for nearly half a century, carries such weight and is of special significance.

But then, so what? The Portuguese said it 500 years ago; the US Department of Defense says it today. So what flows from that? Ought we to give ourselves a national pat on the back and say ‘We told you so’?

I think the moral of the story is slightly different. I think the moral of the story is that historically speaking, the Sri Lankan soldier has been inured to hardship in warfare and has been an excellent fighting man. Half-a-millenium of foreign domination could not destroy that fighting spirit. Western colonialism with all its corrosive effect on culture and religion has done nothing to erode that.

Those fighting qualities are still there. It is there on the battlefield. It is equally there, prominently displayed, on the cricket field. There is a grit and tenacity in the Sri Lankan soldier without any flamboyance and bravado.