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Lieut Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa

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28th death anniversary commutation

Twenty Eight years ago, on 8th August 1992 , a bomb that exploded in an Army Land Rover at Araly Point took away a man, an intrepid officer, a gentleman and more importantly, a true friend. Denzil Kobbekaduwa was a distinguished General . As everyone knew , he always led from the front. He was knowledgeable, daring and popular and these were never in doubt. His tours of duty in the Army’s Northern Command would surely have made him aware of what the peace-loving people in the country needed and expected on the one hand; and on the other, what options were available to be pursued by political authority and defence forces if the LTTE ‘s intransigence could not be overcome by dialogue..

Denzil was conscious that the well-being and fundamental rights of the defenceless civilian and the unarmed LTTE cadre in custody , were the responsibility of the State. His sense of fair play, learnt on the rugby fields of Trinity College, simply exuded from him, and would certainly have earned for the Defence Establishment every chance of a speedy and just resolution of a totally unnecessary conflict. But this was not to be after that fateful day in Kayts.

Denzil, especially after reaching Flag Rank emphasized the need to prevent those who have suffered because of the conflict, from being further trodden upon. If not for his untimely demise, we may have perhaps been able to see him pave the way for all Sri Lankans to extend their hand of friendship to one another and more importantly, to convince the leaders of this country and the LTTE that all the money wasted on weapons of destruction, can be used for the welfare of all people alike, in the north, south, east and west

Many hundreds of appreciations, editorials and articles about this very inspiring soldier, exemplary officer, outstanding sportsman, efficient sports administrator, devoted husband, loving father and genuine friend have already been recorded and scripted. In his name, a Trust fund was established for the welfare of soldiers and their families and schools and roads were name after him..

There are another facets of this good, simple, lovable, mild-mannered person, playful man who had a puckish sense of humour who showed genuine concern for the young and the feeble – qualities no doubt inherited from and nurtured by his gracious parents and dutifully sustained after marriage by his wife, Lali.

A fine sportsman and a distinguished product of Trinity College Kandy , Denzil excelled at Rugby . He later played for Kandy SC and the Army and it was through Rugby that we met. In 1972, Denzil was the Hony Secretary of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union. When he was selected by the Army for training in the UK, he suggested to the late Mark Bostock, (President SLRFU -1972) that I succeed him. After Mark phoned me, I sought and obtained the approval of Air Force Commander, Paddy Mendis to accept this post, which I held for two years till 1974 — the year of the 3rd Rugby Asiad, when Sri Lanka entered the final and emerged runners-up to Japan, an achievement made possible , without doubt, by the exemplary leadership and discipline of Summa Navaratnam (President SLRFU -1974), late SB Pilapitiya (Manager/Coach) , assisted by the late inimitable Bertie Dias, Indrajith Coomaraswamy (Captain) and Denzil. Denzil, who had just returned to the Island helped me at the SLRFU Secretariat, along with former Air Force rugby stalwart Sqn Ldr Shantha Mendis.

In the late 1970’s, Denzil was with the Army Training Centre at Diyatalawa. He and his family were always welcome visitors to the Air Force Camp. He relaxed with his wife and children in the well laid out childrens’ park, or dropped in to play basketball, tennis or squash, go boating or visit the Air Force officers on the Station – Chrysantha de Alwis, MYC Perera, Ranjan Manukulasuriya, Mohan de Silva, Doyle Peiris, RP Atapattu and late Ravi Erampamurthy – with whom he and his family were very close. When the Station Officers decided to build a second squash court in the SLAF ( there was already one at Katunayake) out of donations they would obtain from well wishers, and from their own personal funds, a contribution of Rs. 250 (then a princely sum) was made by Major D L Kobbekaduwa,. Denzil is in the group photograph taken on the occasion when the court was declared open and any visitor to the beautifully laid out and picturesque Air Force Station at Diyatalawa today can see Denzil’s name in the Roll of Honour.

On one occasion, the Training Wing at SLAF Diyatalawa had planned a ‘training’ reconnaissance for the purpose of an exercise for Air Force Gunner Instructors. Denzil joined us. We stayed the night at the late Maxie Andrado’s residence in Hambantota. The next morning, Maxie showed us his .45 calibre “Elephant” rifle. Winking at Maxie, I sought permission to take the rifle on the recce. Denzil, being the correct serviceman he was , inquired why this weapon was needed as it was not a service issue, and that in any case we had five 7.62 calibre rifles for protection purposes. I said that maybe we would be lucky to come across and shoot the ‘loner’ rogue elephant that was causing panic among the chena cultivators and their families near the “Jafferjee Farm” at Tanamalwila. Denzil was aghast ! He stammered , ” you are a mad b…… ?” Later it dawned on him that I was only pulling his leg Such a simple, unassuming guy, was Denzil !

An amusing incident took place at ‘Bambara House, the then Sri Lanka Air Force Officers’ holiday bungalow at China bay . I had booked the bungalow and along with Denzil & Lali, Jayanstissa & Manel Ratwatte and their children, Tyronne & Charmaine Howie, Travis & Tammy de Jong, Sunil Keppitipola , my wife Rosemary & I spent a wonderful week’s holiday there. My 10 year old nephew ( now a Commander in the Sri Lanka Navy ) who also accompanied us, was trying to learn to swim by himself. Denzil observing this, tried to demonstrate the correct technique, missed a foothold and slipped and the next thing heard was a ‘plonk’ in the water. Denzil was dazed but not hurt with this ‘belly-landing’. Undeterred, he carried on his coaching lessons and over the next few days, the boy was able to swim one breadth of the pool. Many years later, this lad, as an Officer Cadet at the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, happened to meet Denzil in London – Denzil himself was on an Army Staff Course—and they had a big laugh when the young Cadet recalled the incident, after identifying himself.

Denzil liked to play hockey. On many occasions he was gladly invited to don the Air Force Station’s ‘Blue and Gold’ jersey, in friendly matches that were played on the Rendezvous Parade Ground, which was a stone’s throw from his married quarters.

When the Bishop of Badulla , the late Rt Rev Mgr Leo Nanayakkara was on a pastoral visit to the parish church and convent in Diyatalawa, his car gave trouble. The driver arranged for a “baas” in a garage in town to take a look. In the meantime, we contacted Denzil to borrow his car to take Bishop Leo back to Badulla . But, Denzil ,being Denzil, not only did he say “OK,” but volunteered to drive to Badulla himself. In the meantime he invited the Bishop to his married quarters where a sumptuous afternoon tea was served. Denzil, however, was spared the trip as the repair was fixed soon enough.

Whilst on leave in Colombo, Denzil spent most of his time with his family. It was not unusual to see the Kobbekaduwa family in their station wagon, parked in the shade by a cricket ground witnessing a match, or shopping at the Liberty Plaza on a Saturday morning, or visiting a friend or a relation for a quiet evening chat. He was a family man and this fine quality definitely influenced his way of life in the Army.

All who knew him well, loved and admired him. Those who served with him and under him, respected and trusted him. They would no doubt have specially and fondly remembered him on the 27th of July – his birthday anniversary.

An Army officer, who served under Denzil, wrote, ” General Kobbekaduwa fought bravely and relentlessly to safeguard the integrity of our country for a better tomorrow for all Sri Lankans— he was truly a man of the century .”

Indeed so!

Wg Cdr E H Ohlmus (SLAF Retd.)

(This was first published in 1982 in the Island. It is being republished in view of Gen. Kobbekaduwa’s approaching 28th death anniversary)

 

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Features

Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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Features

A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Features

Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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