By Shamindra Ferdinando
“Gajaba was engraved in golden letters of the annals of the history of the Sri Lanka Army, if not in the history of Sri Lanka … and I’m certain it will never to be reversed by any.
“So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal.”
In a few lines, Major General Chagie Gallage (retired) delivered a devastating attack on all those who had shirked their responsibility for countering lies propagated by interested parties until sections of the Army were categorised criminal. Gallage’s was a case in point. The Gajaba veteran retired on Aug 31, 2018.
A week after retirement, Gallage delivered his farewell speech at Gajaba home in Saliyapura, Anuradhapura. Gallage dealt with a range of issues on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Gajaba Regiment. There had never been a previous instance of an officer having the courage to declare at a farewell banquet, him being categorized as a war criminal. It would be pertinent to examine why Gallage declared: “So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal.’
The writer revealed Gallage’s predicament in March 23, 2017 edition in a front-page lead story headlined Chagie denied Australian visa over ‘war crimes’ allegations with strap line Unsubstantiated UN claim cited as reason.
Australia found fault with Gallage commanding the 59 Division from May 7, 2009 to July 20, 2009.
The Australian High Commission responded to The Island revelation.
The following is the second The Island report on the Gallage issue:
Chagie’s visa application under consideration-AHC
Application submitted in Sept. 2016
The Australian High Commission yesterday (March 23, 2017) said that no final decision had been taken in respect of Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage’s visa application. Veteran Gajaba Regiment officer is Director General of Infantry.
The Australian High Commission was responding to The Island query whether any other Sri Lankan military officer had been denied visa over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.
A spokesperson for the HC said that Maj. Gen. Gallage’s application ‘remains under assessment.’
Asked whether current Australian stance on alleged war crimes/accountability issues remained until the outcome of the proposed UN supervised investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity, the spokesperson said that the HC wouldn’t comment further on this or any other visa matter relating to Sri Lankan military officers.
Commenting on the latest Geneva Resolution on Sri Lanka, the spokesperson said: “The Australian Government is pleased to have joined the Sri Lankan Government and others this week in co-sponsoring UN Human Rights Commission resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. Australia recognizes the progress made so far by Sri Lanka in these areas, but recognizes also the need for more work to implement Sri Lanka’s commitments on transitional justice.”
However, well informed sources told The Island that Maj. Gen. Gallage’s applied for the visa last September to visit his brother from Dec. 2016 to January 2017. Sources said that Gallage’s brother, an Australian citizen of Sri Lankan origin, had visited Colombo especially to make representations to the Australian HC. Following that meeting the Australian department of Immigration and Border Protection issued a report titled ‘Potential Controversial Visitor’ citing war crimes and crimes against humanity as reason for denying Gallage a visa.
Australians found fault with the Maj. Gen. for commanding the 59 Division on the Vanni east front.
An ungrateful nation
Australia never allowed Gallage to visit his brother. In spite of him retiring from the Army, the Australian ban would remain. An ungrateful Sri Lanka never bothered to make representations on behalf of an officer who risked his life for his motherland on countless occasions as a frontline infantry officer. Gallage earned the appreciation of officers and men alike and for Australia to condemn an officer of his caliber merely on the basis of him having commanded a division after the conclusion of the war is nothing but an affront.
War time Special Forces Commander Major General Nirmal Dharmaratne in a superb piece on Gallage, published in The Island, called the brother officer a ‘meticulous man’. For Australia, Gallage was nothing but a potential controversial visitor. The Foreign Ministry turned a blind eye to Gallage’s plight. The Gallage issue was largely ignored by the media. Australian insult never received the coverage it deserved. Our parliamentarians were too busy to take up the issue. Parliament shirked its responsibility. The failure on the part of parliament to address accountability issues finally led to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government co-sponsoring damning Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015 directed at the previous political leadership and the military. Gallage is among those denied visas and humiliated by a section of the international community on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. War-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka, too, was denied US visa on more than one occasion. Although, President Maithripala Sirisena in September last year assured the military that his government would take up this issue, the Commander-in-Chief’s promise never materialized. The assurance was given at a meeting with the Army at the Military Hospital, Narahenpita.
In his address, President Sirisena referred to some Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. President Sirisena emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the situation. The Commander-in-Chief called for tangible measures to change Western governments’ decision.
President Sirisena’s message was transmitted live to Security Forces Headquarters, Divisions and other formations where approximately 30,000 officers and men received it. It would be pertinent to ask weather Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake who had been present at the time the assurance was given followed up on the matter.
Obviously, President Sirisena was reacting to recent reports pertaining to Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers. Although President Sirisena refrained from mentioning names, war-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka, is among those who had been affected.
Field Marshal Fonseka, last September, alleged that he had been denied a visa to attend the UNGA 2017 because of unresolved war crime allegations against the Army. Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Commander, who is now Minister of Regional Development, said he was due to travel to New York but he was the only one in the Sri Lankan delegation not issued a visa by the US. Fonseka said he could not accompany President Sirisena to the UNGA.
Fonseka however in response to a query by the writer at a media briefing admitted that the cabinet never discussed ways and means to counter war crimes allegations. Fonseka cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for not taking up the matter as he was the Commander of the victorious army.
President Sirisena declaration at a meeting with editors and senior print and electronic media representatives last Friday (Sept 14) that he would explore ways and means of lessening the impact of Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution on the military underscored the failure on the part of his administration to properly counter war crimes accusations. The treacherous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government refrained from exploiting disclosed wartime British High Commission dispatches to counter such lies. President Sirisena’s decision to take up the issue at the UNGA next week should be examined against the backdrop of his government shocking refusal to act on British dispatches revealed in Oct last year.
Chagie’s Saliyapura talk
Battlefield inspiration, Gallage began his farewell speech by recalling the spearheading role played by the late Maj. Gen. Wijaya Wimalaratne in the shaping of the celebrated Gajaba Regiment in the ‘80s. Gallage declared Wimalaratne as the greatest infantryman in the Army. Then Gallage commented on Maj Gen Shavendra Silva, Colonel of the Gajaba regiment and the Adjutant General of the Army for organizing the event. Gallage said: “I’m certainly fortunate that, by desire or intent, my dear friend Shavendra, has turned this day to be celebrated alongside the week or month, that I shed my boots and beret… and graduate into the University of Civil Corp.”
Had Gallage not been forced to leave the battlefield in late Aug 2007 due to medical emergency, he could have earned the commendation for giving leadership to the Task Force 1/subsequently upgraded to 58 Division. Gallage returned in early Oct same year. Shavendra Silva commanded the celebrated formation that killed the most number of terrorists, recovered the most number of weapons and brought the large parts of western and eastern Vanni under government control.
Gallage then went on to thank officers and men of the Gajaba Regiment calling battalion commanders and their men the most treasured.
“Dear Ladies & gentlemen,… Here, I’m closing my three decades of uniformed service for the country and the nation; happily and gracefully having my head and spine vertically without hanging onto the shoulders of any Tom Dick and Harry.”
Having referred to the second JVP insurrection (1987-1990) and LTTE terrorism (1976-2009) and him joining the army as a second lieutenant, Gallage acknowledged the sufferings and challenges experienced by the institution until the war was brought to a successful conclusion.
Commenting on former Army Commanders, Gallage did not mince his words when he declared “…I have witnessed, the determined Commanders of this dignified force transformed what was described as “Exhausted and a Losing Army” into a ‘Wining and a Victorious Army’. Though, quite a few survived in a ‘NATO’ or no action, talk only techno.”
“Nevertheless, our officers; Commanders at different level worked together, to develop the overwhelming capability of our Army,…Especially during the final phase of the conflict, that demonstrated such versatility and braveness all round.
Referring to the gigantic role played by the Gajaba Regiment and the Army as a whole, Gallage said: “However, it is best to leave aside one’s or individual’s own fairy tales.”
Having referred to his contribution to the transformation of the army, Gallage named those who made that impossible task possible. “Men like… (Late) Maj Gen Vijaya Wimalarathne, (Late) Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa, (Late) Maj Gen Janaka Perera, Col (rtd) Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maj Gen Sathis Jayasundara, (Late) Maj Gen Gamini Gunasekara, Col (rtd) Nimal Rathnayake, Maj Gen (rtd) G.V. Chandrasiri, Maj Gen (rtd) Gamini Hettiarchchi, Brig (rtd) Nimal Jayasuriya, Lt Gen (rtd) Jagath Jayasuriya, Gen (rtd) Seewali Wanigasekara, Lt Gen (rtd) Mendaka Samarasinge, Maj Gen (rtd) Jagath Ramubukpotha, Lt Gen (rtd) Jagath Dias, Brig (rtd) Hiran Halangoda, Col (rtd) Jayavi Fernando, Maj Gen (rtd) Srinath Rajapakse, Brig (rtd) Bahar Morsath, Maj Gen (rtd) Lalith Daulagala, Brig (rtd) Roshan Silva, Late Col Shantha Wijesinghe, Maj Gen (rtd) Kamal Gunarathne, Maj Gen (rtd) Amal Karunasekara and,…Maj Gen (rtd) Udaya Perea (Who was my deputy Snr Subaltern; on whose foot prints he constantly trailed on)
Then,…Maj Gen (rtd) Jagath Alwis (Who inspired me to join the Army when he was gallivanting after schooling and just recruited to Marines; not in USA; but at CBO Dockyards to scrap rusted metal as a special apprentice)
And last, but not the least, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka (Who led our forces as the Commander of the Army, to end the menace of merciless and brutal battle against terror) are to name a few; if I’m to recall. Add to the list, that countless other great officers and experts’ embarked on the task of making a Healthy Army Healthy Nation….
(Consultant Dr) Maj Gen Sanjewa Munsinghe, (who was my mentor in medics, made me fit and furious all times with endless counseling);
Together with (Consultant Dr) Brig Maurine Wijegunawardaene,
(Consultant Dr) Brig Nimalka Ariryarathne
(Consultant Dr) Col Roshan Monaragala…….And all those who guided my services may not be here today; But indeed, all of them provided me vision, direction, energy and agility to drive; by means of genuine guidance and supervision; made me rise up in ranks and appointments “for me to be what I was;….and what I’m” until this day.
Though not here in this dome; I’m so pleased to express my gratefulness to Maj Gen Ralph Nugera, Maj Gen Aruna Wanniarcichi, Maj Gen Athula Kodippily and Col Mahendra Fernando and their magnificent ladies; they were my esteemed assets, as my deputies, facilitators and shadows; And at times, referees; in trendy and challenging tenures in combat and otherwise. I honestly return salute to every one of them; and you officers; and not forgetting our comrades in sister services; Air Force and Navy for risking their lives, in support of our determinations to crack the nation from ‘War to Peace’. And my highest regards to Special Task Force led by DIG (rtd) Chandrsiri Ranawana and DIG Ruwaiz Lathiff; for their unstinted support and assistance beyond the call of duty.”
Gallage said: My experiences over the last many years taught me great many things.
* In that for my flabbergast,…I happened to be the hook, the line, and the sinker, for most Commanders, in different capacities in different encounters, and fierce battles. These Commanders were frequently holding the fishing rod or shafts………
* Yet, I was at times in bottomless water looking for sharks or piranhas out at turbulent weathers
* I did my utmost in the guise of various designations’ to ensure no Commander let lose the rod or falling nose-down into the flood or to hell bends
* Given the fact; I never sought to be a cowboy with a top hat!.. I remained as a rancher in a nomad; uniting all arms and services in brotherhood, until we eradicated terrorism to the dust.
* Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the victorious battle few successive Commanders (may be one or two to my considerate) attempted to use me as a bait or a maggot for the hook, from side to side with their own ‘Manoeuvrist Approaches’ (For better understanding of audience; Manoeuvrist Approach is to apply strength against identified vulnerabilities, including predominantly indirect ways and means of targeting the intellectuals’ and moral component of opponents’ power or strength)
* May be for absolute panic of their merry making or for their eagerness to hold vital grounds and continue in Command,
* It is therefore, one may have experimented to practice ‘Mission Command with ABANS or any other similar janitorial service with their lunatic academic maestros and few Cosmetic Scavengers who accumulated better flying hours than being in mud boots.
* Possibly these stool pigeon squad at that time, would have been busy drafting ‘Most Modern Asymmetric Throat Slitting Doctrine’ obviously titled ‘The Dog eats Dog!
* The finest and the fittest element of National Power in contrast to Nations security, Special Operation Forces, Air Mobile Forces, Special Infantry Operatives …
* These Elite Strategic Tools of the Commander of the Army in particular were rest to the level of ‘set of rats in mouse holes in dirt’. They were used for playlets’ and dramas’ in the name of mammoth FTX’s… and for guarding beloved bureaucrat’s spouses and their kith and kin with Armies Assets for petty gains.
* What matters were excitements and colour filled stage performances and entertainments or leisure, or to showcase participants from friendly foreign nations and sister services utilizing our elite men…
* Dear Comrades, The most important thing in the world is trust; it can take years to earn, and matter of seconds to lose. Mark my words, these Gentle lambs twisted the laws of Army Acts’ and Regulations’; case by case, at one’s own Whims and Fancies, not in simple, but in capital.
* Once, one shed the boots and hangs the coat.. He or she should not be a burden to barracks…
* Those in retreat should not be allowed to poke into ‘the Standing Army of our motherland’ whether it is regular or volunteer!
* Those in the midst of no words or deeds; and acclaimed of Unwinnable War; until we were victorious, to stay aside! Give them the best respect… but none should demand or command the Army of today or tomorrow!
* Do not let anyone overpower your capability and capacity! We have come a long way; wounded, injured many times, we crawled and rolled over the carcasses of our own men… and those without eyes, ears or limbs. We carried them; they carried us, until several bled to death. We bury most in their adolescence underneath this soil. Respect those sons of the soil first; and then the rest.
Having discussed qualities of leadership and stewardship before naming the late Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa and the late Maj Gen Wijaya Wimalarathne as men who demonstrated stewardship, Gallage extended his heartfelt gratitude to Army Chief Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayke and Madam Chandrika Senanayaka for being part of the team during difficult and complex times in combat.
* My Commander was once a Planner, once Spy, once a Detective; He never let any of our gun or barrel go empty, for us to contest in combat … Furthermore, his continued guidance and advice to me as the Commander Security Forces, Jaffna, was an immense vigor to me as an individual…. And lastly for being so concerned of my wellbeing; ever since he assumed the office as the 22nd Comander of the SL Army.
* And, for the officers’ abide by the ‘Unity is Strength’ or the officers of ‘Keterian family’; not to forget fact, that you were the ‘Flag Bearers’ of Infantry, in combat; and you should remain to be the ‘Flag Bearers’ during hard earned peace, by providing fullest strength to the vision of the Col of the Regt; Maj Gen Shvendra Silva; it is a Whole New Ball Game!. Whatever it may be, implementation is in your hands.
(To be continued on Sept 26)