A responsibility to restore Sri Lanka Army’s image and credibility


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Restoring the image of the Sri Lanka Army is a daunting task but not one alien to newly appointed Army Commander Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake, a man who spent all his working life in the military and that was precisely what he did as military spokesman at the height of the Eelam War.

Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Daya Ratnayake hails from Kurunegala and was schooled at Maliyadeva College. He joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1980 as an officer cadet and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Light Infantry regiment a year later.

A man of varied interests he has been trained in many centres throughout his long career in the military, including stints in Britain, the United States, China and Bangladesh. At present he is reading for a doctorate at the Kotelawela Defence University.

As a soldier Ratnayake distinguished himself most in his role in the East during the Eelam war. That was as General Officer Commanding of the 23 Infantry Division where he played a stellar role in defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Eastern province.

What was unique about that operation was that it was free of controversy and, despite an intense propaganda campaign by the LTTE, there were no allegations of human rights violations against the Sri Lanka Army and its role in ending the conflict in the East was appreciated in most quarters.

Perhaps it was this aspect which prompted his subsequent appointment as Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, a role in which he was required to oversee the rehabilitation of 12,000 LTTE cadres. The majority of these former terrorists have now successfully integrated into Sri Lankan society.

" What was unique about that operation was that it was free of controversy and, despite an intense propaganda campaign by the LTTE, there were no allegations of human rights violations against the Sri Lanka Army  "
Despite his successes as a soldier in the battlefield, Ratnayake has previously been in the limelight mostly because of his other duties as Commanding Officer of the Sri Lanka Military Academy, then as Media Director of the Sri Lanka Army and as a military spokesman for the Defence Ministry.

It was in the latter role that Ratnayake bore the brunt of the Tiger disinformation campaign as the Eelam war escalated. Ratnayake proved himself to be an effective communicator and was well liked by both the local and international media because of his forthright manner and his unassuming ways.

As the Army underwent a series of changes in the aftermath of the conclusion of the Eelam war in mid-2009, Ratnayake was appointed as Chief of Staff in January 2010. His appointment as its twentieth commander comes three-and-a-half years later and at a critical juncture for the Army.

" As a soldier Ratnayake distinguished himself most in his role in the East during the Eelam war. That was as General Officer Commanding of the 23 Infantry Division where he played a stellar role in defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Eastern province "
It will be recalled that although the war against the LTTE had ended, the past few years have been a period of upheaval in the Sri Lanka Army owing to former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka opting to throw his hat in to the political ring.

Fonseka contested the 2010 presidential elections and lost and was subsequently stripped of his rank, his pension entitlements and sent to jail to serve a prison sentence which he did for two years before being released on a presidential pardon. Many saw this as an act of political vengeance.
These developments also had its fallout in the Army. There was a purge of senior officers believed to be loyal to General Fonseka, who as Army commander had promoted many officers over and above others ignoring traditional criteria.

As General Fonseka was being prosecuted for a plethora of offences, General Jagath Jayasuriya was appointed as Army Commander. This was seen as a move to re-establish political control over the Army which, under Fonseka, had been known to act with an alarming degree of autonomy.
The manner in which General Fonseka was treated in the aftermath of his political adventure had eroded the credibility enjoyed by the Army to a great extent and one of Lieutenant General Ratnayake’s challenges would be to restore that sense of esteem to the military.

In his speech while assuming duties as Army Commander, what Ratnayake had to say of the Army was “sustaining the image and its dignity, gained through unparalleled sacrifice, is therefore the most sacred duty of every serving member”.

" As the Army underwent a series of changes in the aftermath of the conclusion of the Eelam war in mid-2009, Ratnayake was appointed as Chief of Staff in January 2010. His appointment as its twentieth commander comes three-and-a-half years later and at a critical juncture for the Army. It will be recalled that although the war against the LTTE had ended, the past few years have been a period of upheaval in the Sri Lanka Army owing to former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka opting to throw his hat in to the political ring "
Unknown to him, at the same time at Weliveriya, his soldiers were doing just the opposite. Whatever the justification for using the military for what was essentially an exercise in crowd control, eye witness accounts of how troops acted in the incident are not flattering.
One of the first tasks Lieutenant General has had to perform as Army Commander was to appoint a committee to inquire into the Weliveriya incident. Already, Amnesty International has rubbished the idea of the military inquiring into its own actions.

However, with countries such the United States and the United Kingdom expressing serious concern and with a visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay due in a few weeks, such an inquiry is not only necessary but also must be objective in its findings.
It is ironic that Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake, who defended the Sri Lanka Army’s actions during the Eelam war, has now been called to do so again as Army Commander, four years after the war. How well he meets that challenge will define his tenure and the future role of the Army as well.



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