Fonseka vs Jayasuriya Retired soldiers behaving badly

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By 2017-09-05

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Q: So, it was not under you?

A: No. I was not the one in charge of security. There was one security guy to look after the whole thing. We looked after the other small establishments. What many say is when torture was allegedly taking place there, I should have heard somebody shouting and screaming through the walls. They think I was staying next door.

Q: So, you're saying you were not responsible for any torture?

A: How can I be responsible if somebody else was doing it? The entire complex was not under my command.

Q: So, basically you did not know what was going on in that part of the camp?

A: No.

Excerpts from the interview former Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya gave to Ceylon Today.

I really must say I am appalled by the verbal spat between the two former army commanders Sarath Fonseka and Jagath Jayasuriya regarding alleged war crimes/human rights abuses during the last phase of the war.

After Jayasuriya has been accused of human rights violations by International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) of Yasmin Sooka, the men have been on each other's throats about 'who was responsible if there were war crimes in the last phase of the war. Jayasuriya, after returning to the country, stated that he was not a fighting commander and that it was Sarath Fonseka who called the shots in the war efforts. Fonseka for his part, called Jayasuriya, a nobody in a roundabout way and stated that he has received a number of complaints that Jayasuriya was involved in war profiteering. Now Jayasuriya has come out and given a number of damaging interviews and the actions of both these men must have felt like manna from heaven, see I am so pissed off that I am using biblical language, for people like Sooka for whom the last few years have not been great.

The decorum

In the last few days, a number of individuals had expressed displeasure at the verbal spat between the two men and unfortunately almost all of these comments were politically motivated. For the most part, they indicated that the trouble here is the individual characteristics of Fonseka or Jayasuriya. The personal animosity between the two men, Jayasuriya replaced Fonseka as the Army Commander in 2009 and Fonseka who never forgets or forgives blames Jayasuriya for the disgraceful manner in which he was arrested after the 2010 presidential election, of course plays a huge role for this fiasco. But I believe that there are a number of other reasons why this happened, among which the lack of military tradition and the inability of the government to keep its officials in line are the most important.

Modern Sri Lanka has no real military tradition and a lot of officers who retire don't really know what to do with themselves. While it is impossible to have laws and regulations dictating military men what they should say about fundamental matters as people have different opinions, officers who come from countries with a military tradition have an innate notion of how to behave once out of the uniform.

And I have no problems with officers engaging in politics after they leave the Army. A lot of successful generals in many countries have transformed their war victories into political victories. Some generals in fact make awesome political leaders, think of Eisenhower, think of Park. Trump has surrounded himself with generals.

But the thing is soldiers from countries with a strong and unbroken military tradition know what not to say. US Generals, even the ones who have turned out somewhat antiwar, always toe the official US line on its war in Iraq and Afghanistan because they know that embarrassing the government is not going to accomplish anything. And also that such a move would ensure that they will be crushed by the might of the Uncle Sam and that there will be no coming back no matter which administration comes into power.

Political power

However, in Sri Lanka people who embarrass their country get second, third or fourth chances as long as they are valuable for a political party. This is not the first time that Fonseka went on record and made compromising statements about the actions of the military, which have been used by people like Sooka. In late 2009, he gave an interview to the Sunday Leader where he hinted that LTTE leaders who have attempted to surrender might have been killed by the military. Fonseka's statement has been used to validate claims by various groups that the Sri Lankan Army massacred the LTTE leadership that attempted to surrender and cost him his bid for presidency.

Although how Fonseka was treated after the 2010 presidential election by the Rajapaksa administration was appalling, i.e. the inhumane manner in which he was detained and jailing him on trumped up charges, he has also shown that he is either unwilling or incapable of learning from his past mistakes. For example, he should have realized the ministerial portfolio given to him by the UNFGG administration is most probably his last chance of revitalizing his political career. However, instead of building up a support base who would vote for him in the coming elections, which is not that hard if you are a minister, he keeps on making embarrassing statements putting the country and the current administration at risk.

Rathindra holds an MSc in Strategic Studies from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore, and can be reached via [email protected]

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