Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Remembering Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijaya Wimalaratne

Today, Wednesday August 8th 2012, I remember with sadness that it was on this very day, exactly twenty years ago,  that Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijaya Wimalaratne lost their lives.

Traveling together in the same vehicle, Denzil and Vijaya, who  were two of Sr Lanka’s country’s finest military leaders were killed in one fell blast  on that fateful day – along with the Commander Northern Naval Area, Rear Admiral  Mohan Jayamaha and six others.

It was only last month on my visit to Jaffna that I stopped to  spend a few moments at their poignant memorial at Araly Point, a starkly  whitewashed monument in an isolated spot surrounded by the arid landscape of  Kayts.

Writing about the two Generals a couple of years ago, their  former colleague Major General Lalin Fernando described them as officers and  gentlemen beyond compare who ‘deserve a place in the history of this land as the  greatest Generals we have produced to date’. It could truly be said that the  impact of their deaths in 1992 devastated and demoralized us all. The operation  they were planning with the objective of liberating Jaffna from the LTTE, codenamed ‘Operation Final  Countdown’, was put on hold for many years – and it took the army a long time to  regain the level of competency and confidence that it used to have when Kobbs  and Wimale were commanding the men.

Two more different personalities as Vijaya Wimalaratne and  Denzil Kobbekaduwa would have been hard to find, yet the two of them  complemented each other – and the men under their command were confident that  (to quote Lalin Fernando again) ‘Victory was always assured when the old firm of  Kobbs and Wimale teamed up’.

Vijaya the rough and tough former Stubbs Shield boxer from Royal  College was expansive and extroverted whereas Denzil the Trinity College rugby captain  and scrum half was calm, quiet and dignified – but what they had in common was courage,  fearlessness in the face of adversity and a genuine concern for their soldiers.  They set an example to younger officers by always seeing to it that their  soldiers were fed before they themselves sat to eat – and readily shared their  rations with their men. They were believers not in Micromanagement but in  Mission Command – training, empowering and trusting their subordinates, leading  from the front and staying with their troops when the going got tough.  Consequently they were commanders who earned the genuine love and unstinting  loyalty of their soldiers.

And now that the war is over, it is worth remembering Denzil’s  work, not just in planning and achieving military victories, but also in winning  the hearts and minds battle among the civilian population. During his time not  only as GOC Northern Sector but also in the eastern province in the late  eighties, he emphasized the need to ensure that ‘the root causes of the conflict  must be given due emphasis and a satisfactory political solution found that  would address the aspirations of the minorities to be able to live in peace and  harmony, with justice and dignity’. I have heard him described as the best Army  Commander that Sri Lanka never had.

To honour his innate concern for others, the Lt. Gen. Denzil  Kobbekaduwe Trust has been in operation for several years, providing assistance  to disabled servicemen and women, to the families of dead service personnel and  to related village folk.

It was pleasing to see Denzil’s approach well established in the  military today, with the platoon and company commanders who served with him and  Vijaya now holding General Officer rank. Under the command of Majors General  like Mahinda Hathurusinghe and Leonard Mark, both of whom I had the pleasure of  meeting last month, it was good to see how men of the Army, since the end of the  war, have in addition to their military duties been building houses for  vulnerable groups of displaced civilians and refurbishing schools and Hindu  temples in their areas of responsibility.

When Denzil and Vijaya died, it would be true to say that Sri Lanka wept as it had never done before.

Today, 20 years later, those of us who served with them remember  them with respect, gratitude and affection.

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This entry was posted on August 12, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .
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