Sandagiri steps down and steps up

  • Eelam war IV may intensify after breakdown of Oslo talks

At the auspicious hour of 10.04 a.m. on Friday June 9, Admiral Daya Wickrema Kumara Sandagiri created military history. He became Deputy Defence Secretary, a position created for the first time in post independent Sri Lanka.

Defence Secretary, Admiral (retd.) Daya Wickrema Kumara Sandagiri

For a 19-year-old, who joined the Navy as an ordinary sailor Medical Assistant on November 14, 1966, the rise this week to a powerful slot in the nation's defence and security establishment is both phenomenal and unprecedented. He retired as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the topmost position in the security establishment holding sway over the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police. Within hours he was named Deputy Defence Secretary, a position higher than the CDS.

This is despite a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, now completing initial formalities, to probe allegations of bribery and corruption against him. It is during the period between 2001 and 2005 when he was Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy. The one-man Commission comprises Justice Nimal Gamini Ameratunga, a serving Judge of the Supreme Court. The Commission has already received written public representations. Hearings are to begin in camera or in secret. Besides this, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption is also conducting an inquiry into his assets. This is to ascertain whether they were acquired through legitimate means. He has already been called upon to declare his assets.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Holding the first powerful slot in Sri Lanka's defence and security establishment is President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The second is the Deputy Minister of Defence, a portfolio held by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. The third is Defence Secretary, Gothabaya Rajapaksa. And now, the fourth could easily be identified as Admiral Sandagiri.

Defence Secretary, Gothabaya Rajapaksa

Ending a 33-year career in the Navy, Admiral Sandagiri, cast away his customary white uniform. He wore a western suit last Friday when he walked into the Ministry of Defence to occupy a room next to the one used by Defence Secretary Rajapaksa. It had remained vacant after Ms. Malini Peiris, then Additional Secretary, went on retirement. There he signed a document at the auspicious hour of 10.04 am.

Thereafter Admiral (retd.) Sandagiri joined Defence Ministry officials and special invitees to a tea party where the traditional kiribath, kavun and other local sweetmeats were served. Among those present were Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, Commander of the Air Force and CDS designate Air Marshal Donald Perera, Major General Nanda Mallawaratchchi, Chief of Staff of the Army and Major General (retd.) Palitha Fernando, Military Liaison Officer at the MoD.

If Admiral Sandagiri, as exclusively revealed in The SundayTimes (Situation Report) last week, was asked to step down from the post of Chief of Defence Staff, the position he should hold thereafter and what it should entail appears to have been the subject of a long drawn debate at the highest levels of the Government. One of the posts offered to him thereafter, The Sunday Times learnt, was Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom, one that was meant to keep him away from the defence and security establishment. This post felt vacant after its incumbent Anil Obeysekera was appointed chairman of Lake House.

However, a powerful few were not in favour. It was argued that with Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka still recuperating after the suicide bomb attack on April 25, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa would not have the services of an "experienced" officer if Admiral (retd.) Sandagiri left. Even Mr. Rajapaksa was strongly of the same view and wanted him to remain. Hence, it was argued that Admiral Sandagiri's services be retained in the defence sector.

Initial moves were to make him an Advisor to the Ministry of Defence. As revealed last week, this was after formal cabinet approval. So much so, soon after the National Security Council (NSC) meeting ended last Wednesday morning, Admiral Sandagiri shook hands formally with President Rajapaksa. He thanked him for all the support and co-operation received when he was CDS. That appeared a farewell and signaled the end to his future participation at the NSC meetings.

That afternoon President Rajapaksa flew to Mailapitiya in Kandy to take part in the National Ranaviru Remembrance Day. The Ranaviru Seva Authority, as in the past years, had organised a well-attended ceremony to pay the nation's tribute to troops who sacrificed their lives for the country and the people. On Wednesday evening there was no cabinet meeting. Nor did the agenda for that meeting include a proposal to appoint Admiral Sandagiri as an adviser to the MoD.

However, just hours ahead of the re-scheduled cabinet meeting on Thursday evening, Ministers received a supplementary cabinet paper. It was from President Rajapaksa as Minister of Defence and recommended the appointment of Admiral Sandagiri as Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. It was unanimously approved.

Though the day-to-day functions for retired Admiral Sandagiri are yet to be defined, and high ranking Government officials contend he will play only a "limited role," his position in the Ministry of Defence hierarchy is clear. He will be next to Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa. Though it is pointed out that he will not be called upon to act as Defence Secretary, yet he will become eligible to hold that position. Under the administration of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during the absence of the Defence Secretary, Additional Secretary Sunil Sirisena was appointed to act. But on occasions when Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa was away from Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa appointed his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga in that post.

In his earlier capacity as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Sandagiri's role was largely that of a military co-ordinator - to unify counter terrorism tasks of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police and ensure the maximum use of their resources. But as Deputy Secretary, he is expected to have administrative control over a wide area of matters. This is likely to cover intelligence activity, the workings of the armed forces, police and their overall administrative control.

The operative date for Admiral (retd.) Sandagiri's appointment as Deputy Defence Secretary, according to Thursday's cabinet decision, is tomorrow, Monday (June 12). On this date Donald Perera, to be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal, will take over as Chief of Defence Staff. He also creates history by becoming the first serving air chief to rise to this high rank.

Taking over tomorrow as Commander of the Air Force will be Roshan Goonetileke, who has been promoted as Air Marshal. He is an accomplished pilot who has excelled in operational roles and won medals for bravery. Succeeding him as Chief of Staff in the Air Force will be Air Vice Marshal P.B. Premachandra, also a well experienced Fixed and Rotary Wing aircraft pilot. See box stories on this page for their bio data.

The elevation of Admiral (retd.) Sandagiri to the post of Deputy Defence Secretary has set a poser for several serving Navy officers who want to testify before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. Earlier, as revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report - April 2) some serving officers conversant with procurement and other related matters wanted to make representations to the Commission but sought assurances that there would be no reprisals on them. Then it was on the grounds that some of the serious allegations they level are centered on an officer who held the highest post, the Chief of Defence Staff. And now, he is Deputy Defence Secretary.

President Rajapaksa's decision to appoint a Supreme Court judge to probe Navy procurements during Admiral (retd.) Sandagiri's tenure followed the exclusive revelation in The Sunday Times (Situation Report) of January 1, this year. It revealed how the Government cancelled over a billion rupee deal where former Commander of the Navy and then Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Daya Sandagiri ordered 20 year old guns for the Navy's fast attack craft fleet on the grounds they were "brand new" and made an advance payment running into millions for the weapons that were not in production. The move followed a full report the Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda sent Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa.

Vice Admiral Karannagoda declared in his report that the "deal appears to have been done deliberately in order to give time for the contractor to find the guns since they were not in production." He added "Possibility exists that this was done to buy time until the Royal Navy (United Kingdom) started removing their 20-year-old guns from their vessels. He warned that "if the deal went through, Sri Lanka Navy craft would have been fighting with weapons of outdated technology against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This would have had a serious bearing on national security."

Vice Admiral Sandagiri takes over as Deputy Defence Secretary at a very critical moment in the country's history where fears are rapidly mounting over an all out war. An area of great concern is the enforcement of the Ceasefire Agreement after the collapse of the Norwegian-sponsored Oslo talks this week. The LTTE assertion that three European Union member countries - Sweden, Finland and Denmark - have no "moral right" to serve in the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has set a serious poser. Members from these countries account for 37 among the 57 strong SLMM.

Norwegian peace facilitators have made clear they will not bring in any more nationals from their own country to serve in the SLMM. That in effect means that the LTTE, which is one party to the Ceasefire Agreement, now recognises only 20 SLMM members. With a low intensity Eelam War IV intensifying, observing the CFA with such a handful of monitors would be a daunting task for the SLMM. On the other hand, the Government has made clear nationals from Sweden, Denmark and Finland, although from EU Members States, should be recruited as members of the SLMM in their individual capacities.

Thus new issues over ceasefire monitors await to be resolved. This is in the backdrop of SLMM members not boarding Navy vessels deployed on various operational tasks. In this context, the five questions Norwegian peace facilitators have posed both to the Government and the LTTE are relevant.

In letters he wrote to President Rajapaksa and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, Norway's Minister for International Development, Erik Solheim wants to know:

1. Will the parties stand committed to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of February 22 2002?

2. Do the parties want the continued existence and operation of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission as a Mission coordinated, facilitated and led by the Royal Norwegian Government with diplomatic immunity to ensure its impartial operation?

3. Are the parties able to provide full security guarantees for all monitors, employees and physical assets of the SLMM in all situations, in accordance with CFA Article 3.9?

Note: Article 3.9 of the CFA states: "The Parties shall be responsible for the appropriate protection of and security arrangements for all SLMM members."

4. Will the parties accept amendments to CFA Article 3.5 in order to enable the continued functioning of the SLMM at its current operational levels and with the necessary security guarantees?

Note: Article 3.5 of the CFA states: "The SLMM shall be composed of representatives from Nordic countries.

5. In the event that amendments to Article 3.5 are made, will the parties provide full security guarantees for current SLMM personnel and assets during a six-month transition phase until an amended solution has been identified, decided and fully implemented?

The answer from the Government, no doubt, would be a firm "yes" to all the questions. What of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)?

There are serious doubts whether they will say "yes" to all of them. After the failed Oslo talks, the LTTE issued a six-page document titled "LTTE's Oslo Communique." Formatted on the lines of a legal document, the preamble states: "The de-facto state of Tamil Eelam excercising jurisdiction over 70 per cent of the Tamil Homeland, with control over the seas appurtenant there, with its own laws, independent judiciary, police force and full administrative apparatus. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), being the authentic representative of the Tamil nation and its sole interlocutor in the current peace process facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government. The LTTE acting as the sole defender and protector of the Tamil Nation, its People and the State institutions with its modern defence forces."

Using the word "noting" in every paragraph the LTTE "Oslo Communiqué" traces the history of the ethnic conflict, lists the failures of successive governments also accuses paramilitary groups and armed forces of alleged killings. It says that "the SLMM monitor's safety and the LTTE concerns could be met without amending the CFA coupled with the proper protocol of the level of the negotiating teams, the LTTE's proposed bilateral negotiations in Oslo."

Two other paragraphs in the document spell out the LTTE position vis-à-vis the peace talks. One says " Noting that the talks agreed in Oslo is not to be Geneva talks II which requires prior meeting of the central committee of the LTTE and compliance of Geneva I agreements. These prerequisites have not been satisfied due to the continued intransigence of the GOSL."

The other is "Noting that the international community's insistence that the solution should be found within a united Sri Lanka coupled with the military threat against the LTTE will not only disrupt the power equilibrium but also remove the incentive for the GOSL to seek a negotiated settlement."

Amidst the EU ban, with clear strains in their relationship with Norway after the failed Oslo talks, and with the SLMM over their safety being endangered, is the LTTE setting the stage for a dramatic shift? The question looms large as an inevitable turn of events is escalating Eelam War IV to the highest level.

Seasoned flyer takes over Air Force
Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke

Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke takes over as Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force tomorrow.

Succeeding him as Chief of Staff will be Air Vice Marshal P.B. Premachandra.

Here are their brief biographies:

Air Marshal W.D.R.M. J (Roshan) Goonetileke was born on February 28, 1956. He completed his education at St. Peter's College, Bambalapitiya where he excelled both in studies and in sports. He is the elder son of the 5th Commander of the Air Force Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonetileke.

Air Marshal Goonetileke joined the Sri Lanka Air Force as an Officer Cadet in the General Duties Pilot Branch on January13, 1978. On successful completion of flying training he was commissioned in the rank of Pilot Officer on August 24, 1979. During his illustrious career of 28 years, he has held a number of command, operational and administrative appointments.

Having logged many flying ours both in fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft when serving in the capacity of an operational pilot he served as the Commanding Officer of No 03 Maritime Squadron and the Commanding Officer of No 04 Helicopter Wing. He took up senior operational command appointments as the Zonal Commander Northern Zone, Zonal Commander Eastern Zone.

He has also commanded Air Force Bases in Katunayake, Anuradhapura and China Bay. He served a very successful tenure as the Director of Operations/Deputy Chief of Staff Operations of the Air Force before being appointed as the Chief of Staff.

Air Marshal Goonetileke graduated from the Air Command and Staff College, Air University, Alabama, USA in 1994 and had also attended the prestigious National Defence College in Pakistan in 2001.

In recognition of his distinguished service career he has been awarded the Uttama Seva Padakkama. For the bravery displayed in conducting operations he has been awarded the Gallantry Meddle 'Rana Wikrama Padakkama' twice.

Air Marshal Goonetileke, is married to Nelun. They are blessed with son Rehan and daughter Ronali.

AVM Prema new Chief of Staff
Vice Marshal P.B. Premachandra

Assuming office tomorrow as the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Air Force will be Air Vice Marshal P.B. Premachandra.

He was born on May1, 1957 and completed his education at S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia where he excelled both in studies and in sports.

Air Vice Marshal Premachandra joined the Sri Lanka Air Force as an Officer Cadet in the General Duties Pilot Branch, May 25, 1979. On successful completion of Flying Training he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on July 9 1981. During his career he has held the appointments of Officer Commanding- Flying at Flying Training Wing, Air Force Base Anuradhapura, Commanding Officer No 2 Wing, Air Force Base Ratmalana, Commanding Officer No 08 Squadron and Commanding Officer No 2 Squadron at Air Force Base Ratmalana, Zonal Commander Northern Zone, Base Commander Air Force Base Anuradhapura, Air Operations Commander North, Base Commander Air Force Base Ratmalana, Base Commander Air Force Base Katunayake, Director Training and Director Operations at Air Force Head Quarters. He is now Deputy Chief of Staff at Air Force Head Quarters.

Air Vice Marshal Premachandra graduated from the Air Command and Staff College, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, USA in 1996. In 2004 he attended National Defence College, New Delhi, India. During his career in the service he has undergone a number of Overseas training Courses including Flight Safety Officers Course and Junior Command and Staff Course, Pakistan, Strategic & Security Studies at both NESA Centre- National Defense University, Washington and Asia Pacific Centre, Hawaii.

Having logged over 5000 flying hours, both in Fixed and Rotary Wing Aircraft, Air Vice Marshal Premachandra has also instructed and commanded many types of Aircraft in the Sri Lanka Air Force. Since 1982, he has actively participated in Air Operations in the North and East.

In recognition of his distinguished career in the service he has been awarded the Gallantry Medals of Rana Wickrama Padakkama and Rana Sura Padakkama, for his individual acts of bravery. He is also decorated with Utthama Seva Padakkama and the Sri Lanka Armed Services- Long Service Medal.

Air Vice Marshal is married to Vasuki and is blessed with one son and two daughters.


Back To Top Back to Top   Back To Columns Back to Columns

Copyright © 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.