Short stories, Travel and Health Information
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.