Controversial Revelation By Maj. Gen. Gunaratne: "Army Given Warnings On Possible US Air Strike"

September 14, 2016

Major General Kamal Gunaratne led the 53rd Division in the last stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War and it was responsible for the final battles which saw the end of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and a number of other leaders of the terror outfit. His book, "Road to Nandikadal" has created considerable discussion due to its revelations on the last days of the war.

In a recent interview with a national newspaper, Gunaratne described the latter part of the war, including an hitherto unpublished story of the likelihood of an American airstrike against Sri Lanka.

A translation of the interview is given below:

Q: What happened in the last four days of the war?

A: By May 16, 2009, we cornered the terrorists to an area of 800 square metres. The first counter attack came on May 17. The 53rd Division was to the north of Nandikadal Lagoon, the 58th Division was to the east. The lagoon was to the west. At early hours on May 17, the LTTE counter attacked. Six suicide boats approached so fast that they skidded over the land and collided with our front. But we did not let them break the front. This was their last attempt to save Prabhakaran. They planned to take him to the Mankulam jungle and fight on. Had they made the escape, the war would have gone on for six more months. We got to know that they had hidden food and weapons in the jungle and marked the locations with satellite imaging.

Q: From where did the LTTE launch this attack?

A: From the mangroves. That sector was the responsibility of Brigadier Shavendra silva. I told him "finish that area today or they will go over my head." He promised to do it but could not finish due to heavy resistance.

Q: How did the rumor start that Prabhakaran was killed inside an ambulance?

A: The LTTE cadres tried to sneak into our areas with civilians. I had told my officers not to accept anyone at night. On that night, there was some commotion. An officer shot to the air to control the situation. The LTTE members who were among the civilans got excited and shot at us. They managed to breach out line and advance 300 meters before we regrouped and held them back. Charles Anthony, Prabhakaran's son, died in this attack. We recovered his body.

We transported a soldier who was injured in an ambulance. The terrorists ambushed it. Our men later killed the three terrorists who captured the ambulance. By that time it was already burning. This was the story which was distorted and even reached international media. Even the army commander asked me and I said it was a false story.

Q: What happened to Prabhakaran after this attack?

A: We did not have any news. We had equipment to tap phones. But we never heard his voice.

Q: How did you know Prabhakaran was in the mangroves? Did you tap his phone?

A: No. If someone says we tapped his phone that is a lie. We never knew he was there.

Q: How did you capture the mangroves?

A: We had an operations meeting on May 18 in my operations room. 57th Division Commander Major General Jagath Dias, 58th Commander Brigadier Shavendra Silva, Brigadier Chagi Gallage, Artillery commander Priyantha Napagoda, Special Forces Commander Colonel Athula Kodippili, Commandos Commanding Officer Colonel Ralph Nugera took part. We decided to attack the mangroves. The battle raged till 11.00 a.m. I was informed that 150 terrorists were killed. Then I was informed that Sea Tiger leader Soosai was there. Soosayi was a good fighter. I ordered my men to attack the area where he was. During this battle LTTE armed forces wing leader Bhanu also died. We identified all bodies. At 6.45 p.m. I called the army commander and said "Sir, we have liberated every inch of the motherland."

He asked where Prabhakaran was. I did not have an answer. He said the war is not over without Prabhakaran. Somehow he eluded us that day.

Q: So what happened to him?

A: Our intelligence units could not confirm if he was in the country or had fled. I told the army commander that we had already surrounded the mangroves. Since it is extremely dark in the mangroves at night, I told the army commander that we will search in the morning.

Q: What happened on the morning of the 19th?

A: The country was jubilant at the end of the war. The President was in Parliament to address the chamber. The army commander was also there. Our troops had also prepared milk rice. I had a piece of it and sat down to listen to the President's address. However, soon Colonel Ravipriya called me and said "Sir, there is some issue at the mangroves. Please hurry." I rushed there as soon as possible and ordered the 4th Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment to enter the mangroves.

Forty five minutes passed. I called Commanding Officer of the 4th Vijayabahu Major Rohitha Aluvihare and ordered him to send in two Groups of Eight. Lieutenant GMD Nalaka commanded the assault and the two groups were led by Sergeants T.M. Muthubanda and M.G. Wijesinghe. At the end of the assault we got the best news we heard in our lives.

Q: Who gave you the news?

A: Colonel Ravipriya told me "Sir, we killed Prabhakaran in the last assault". It was unbelievable. I asked Lalantha Gamage to confirm it. He went in and ten minutes later caled me to confirm.

Q: There are rumors on Prabhakaran's death. Some say he was brought to Colombo and that the President slapped him. Even the army commander hit him, they say. Which of these stories are true?

A: All those stories are rubbish. Prabhakaran died on May 19, 2009, at around 9.30 in the morning. He was not killed by the commandos or snipers. He died during the operation by two Groups of Eight of the 4th Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment. He was not captured alive. We did not know he was hiding in the mangroves. We shot the terrorists in the mangroves. We found his body afterwards. That is it.

Q: You have made a controversial claim that there was a warning of an air strike by the US against Sri Lanka during the latter days of the war. What was this all about?

A: In the final days of the war, there was immense pressure from the US and some other countries to let Prabhakaran surrender to a third party. But the Defence Secretary insisted that Prabhakaran will surrender, if at all, only to the Sri Lankan Army. He never changed this stance despite immense pressure. He warned us that the US might resort to an air strike. Even the army commander told us the same.

Q: How did you prepare for such an eventuality?

A: We took precautions to save lives of our soldiers. Of course this was not informed to the rank and file. Only the officials at the top knew of this danger.

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