"The way I see my career in the Army is like a cricketer who was sent to bat in the morning to save the side. I batted from morning till the end of the day's play, and now I have come to the pavilion at the end of my innings, with applause. The rule book says I can not bat after 6 p.m. However, during play many fielders tried several times to stump me, but my leg was inside the batting crease. When I was making runs they cried out for LBW, but I kept the wickets open while batting. When ever they attempted to make me run-out, my bat was always inside the crease. Now, after having scored a brilliant century, I am a jolly good spectator in the pavilion. Mind you, cheering the batsmen who want to score for the side and hooting those who cannot bat - Major General Algama.
Former Chief of Staff in the Army, Major General Lucky Algama was in London at the time ' Operation Sunray' was launched to re-capture Jaffna by the Government forces. At a private social evening, I expressed my wish to know his views on Sri Lanka, particularly about his army career. Major Algama kindly obliged. Following are the excerpts of that interview which never found space in a single Sri Lankan newspaper at the time.
Q. We hear encouraging news about the Sri Lankan forces' upward thrust to re-capture Jaffna peninsula to eradicate terrorism and help the Tamil civilians to live peacefully in the area. With your experience in Sri Lanka's civil war, do you think the Tigers are in the final exit lounge ?
A. From the time the Peace Formula was violated abruptly, the LTTE terrorists have been harassing the military, the Sri Lanka Government & above all civilians . Unfortunately, up to now, we have not reciprocated in the same level or the force the terrorists have done to us. I believe the offensive that is going on now will convey the message to them that their arms struggle will not be tolerated, and in the future , they will have to come to terms with the government and allow the Tamil community in the North and East to lead a peaceful life.
Q . Even if the forces were to eliminate the LTTE leadership & re-capture Jaffna tomorrow, do you think the Government could eradicate the LTTE and their demands completely, and what guarantee do you think there is to stop another Prabhakaran emerging from somewhere in the North or the East later ? Or for that matter from exile !
A. Crushing of the LTTE is a military task and the Army should be able to make Prabhakaran come to political discussions from a position of weakness. The bringing of the LTTE to the negotiating table and granting necessary relief to Tamil people is a political matter. The military should not be concerned with how or why the government is offering an Olive Branch to the Tamils. The biggest obstacles are Prabhakaran and the LTTE ,therefore, the military must crush the LTTE first to pave the path for a necessary political process. Remember, The LTTE does not represent Tamils. They are a group of heartless terrorists, and therefore, the LTTE cannot be accepted as spokesmen for Tamil people.
Q. During the period of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in the North and the East of Sri Lanka, the strength of their columns were reported to be in the region of 85,000 cadres, yet they could not capture Prabhakaran! What was the Sri Lanka Army's role during that period ?
A. The strategy of the IPKF was to saturate the captured areas with their troops. They could do that because their manpower was enormous. If they wanted to capture Prabhakaran, definitely there were ample opportunities to do so. However, they did not capture him because their arrival on Sri Lanka soil was for a completely different purpose - due to the wrong foreign policy adopted by the Sri Lanka Government at the time. Our foreign policy appeared to be detrimental to India at the time, therefore, the IPKF came only to safeguard India's interests and certainly not to solve Sri Lanka's problems.
Q. As the Commanding Officer- in- charge of the East, you have gone on record as doing an excellent job in capturing quite a lot of land in the Eastern Province and , so to speak, taming the Tigers. But very recently these areas you captured were abandoned by the Army and as a consequent the LTTE took charge of those pockets. Can you understand the military strategy behind such a move and also don't you agree that it may have contributed to the execution of 90 odd Sinhalese villagers and children a few days ago by the LTTE ?
A. When I took over the East, it was from the present Army Commander who was my predecessor. At that time, East was in turmoil and the soldiers were getting killed and a civil war situation similar to the one in the North today prevailed. It took me one and a half years to clean up terrorism in the East. I motivated my soldiers, gave them the necessary leadership and restored law and order in the province and finally prepared the East for general elections. I believe , it was a big mistake to have surrendered what we had already fought and captured simply because in the Eelam concept they are not aiming merely to kill people, but it is based on the land in the North and East with Trincomalee as their dreamed Capital. To have conceded the East in the context of Eelam was a terrific military blunder.
Q. Would you like to comment on the Joint Operation Command we had in Sri Lanka?
A. In the past we had a Joint Operation Command but, unfortunately it was ineffective. Therefore, the whole Organisation was destroyed lock stock and barrel. As far as I could see, improper military organisation, which could not deliver the goods, led to the Organisation's destruction. The Officer Commander in-charge of the JOC should be of supreme calibre & who is capable enough to be responsible to the President in all military matters. His main function should be to co-ordinate with all other Service Commanders in planning the military strategy, as such, this role, cannot be performed by a Secretary of Defence or any Cabinet Minister.
Q. After the P.A. Government came into power 35 retired Major Generals were recalled and promoted to top ranks. Didn't that bring about discontent within the Army ?
A. It was a political exercise which lead to a certain amount of discontentment. Beyond that I won't be able to comment on that. As for me, I feel that I performed my duty to the full by the Country. Unfortunately certain high ranking elements in the Army decided to exhibit pseudo loyalties to the new administration and discredit others. In the process certain officers were identified with certain political parties & I was branded as a political stooge of the UNP due to professional jealousy. Not only that, they involved me in a coup case also !
Q. Is there any truth in the Coup case ?
A. Absolutely none. The coup story has been primarily hatched by the Military Intelligence. It was only when investigations commenced that I realised it was something which had emerged from within the Army. In fact, I have made an appeal to President Kumaratunge to expedite the inquiry and take disciplinary action against me if I have done any wrong. I am one person who has helped to save democracy in the Country once, surely I cannot be at the same time be accused of destroying the same democracy I established. Its a crazy idea !
Q. You were a decorated officer in the Sri Lanka Army, yet when the Army was getting ready for a major onslaught to crush the LTTE why do you think your term was not extended ?
A. I gave my services to my country as a soldier for 31 years. I was decorated with ' Vishista Vibushana medal , the highest recommendation a soldier can aim for. I received the highest military degree from the National Defence College in Pakistan. I received very high grading and I was recommended for Command Operations and Research Assignments in the Army. I also underwent military training in India and in the USA. I was the only non-cadet officer who joined the army as an under-graduate and rose to the rank of Chief of Staff. I am quite proud of my contribution to the Army as a custodian of democracy.
Q. Would you say it was plain sailing during those 31 years in terms of promotions etc., or did you have to fight a separate battle within the Army for your dues?
A. I was by-passed twice for the post of Chief of Staff, but it did not bother me because I was more proud of my mission at the time, to save the East more than the position or the rank. Had I been offended and also anxious to occupy the hot seat, I had the requisite grievances in the Army Act to lodge a ROG ( Redress of Grievances) which I did not because I had time ahead of me and I thought my work would be recognised and at the opportune moment I would be rewarded.
Q. So after nearly half of your life spent as a soldier, how would you like to describe your 'exit' from the Army . Would you say you retired as a happy, proud and a contended soldier or did you walk out disgruntled ? Or if I may put it very harshly and quite bluntly, did you quit as a frustrated General ?
A. It's a very good question. You see, the way I see my career in
the Army is like a cricketer who was sent to bat in the morning to save
the side. I batted from morning till the end of the day's play - from my
Second Lieutenant days - and now I have come to the pavilion at the
end of my innings, with applause. The rule book says I can not bat
after 6 p.m. However, during play many fielders tried several times to
stump me, but my leg was inside the batting crease. When I was making
runs they cried out for LBW, but I kept the wickets open while batting.
Whenever they attempted to make me run-out, my bat was always inside
the crease. Now, after having scored a brilliant century, I am a jolly
good spectator in the pavilion. Mind you, cheering the batsmen who want
to score for the side and hooting those who cannot bat.