New SLA commander assumes duties
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 16 December 1998, 16:48 GMT]
"We urgently need twenty thousand more troops to fight the Liberation Tigers" said Sri Lanka's new Army commander, Lt. Gen. Sri Lal Weerasooriya, addressing a press conference this morning soon after assuming duties. He added that meeting this need by having recourse to conscription is not practical (in Sri Lanka).
Several attempts by the SLA to recruit youth to the army have failed in recent times. The army is faced with severe manpower shortages caused by desertions and a growing number of permanently wounded and killed.
The army says that fifteen thousand deserters are still at large despite concerted action by the SLA and the Police to arrest deserters and the regular amnesties announced by the government.
|Sri Lanka's new army chief, Lt. General Srilal Weerasooriya (R), inspects an honour guard 16 December as he assumed duties at the army headquarters in the capital Colombo. PA PHOTO AFP PHOTO/STR/aj/fjb
At least seven thousand soldiers have been killed or permanently wounded or are missing in the SLA's eighteen month old operation to open the highway to Jaffna that was called off recently.
Sections of the army and the ruling party have called for national conscription to surmount the SLA's manpower problem.
The new army commander's remark that it is not practical is seen by some analysts in Colombo as significant in this context.
Lt.Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya conceded that the Liberation Tigers still retain the capability to launch major attacks on army positions and have reserve troops to do so.
The SLA commander asserted that the army will not give up any of the land it has recaptured from the Liberation Tigers in the war.
He said that entering into negotiations with the LTTE is a political decision. The army, according to him, is mandated to defeat the Tigers and reduce them to a force that would be incapable of major offensives.
He also emphasised the importance of bringing the highway to Jaffna under the SLA's control.
He said soldiers recruited after 1995 did not have proper training.
Lt.Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya is 54 and takes over as SLA commander from Lt.Gen.Rohan Daluwatta, being the first SLA chief in twenty years who did not graduate from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst (UK).
He is a born again Christian who is a lay preacher with the evangelical group called Assembly of God (which is very active in the Tamil dominated parts of the island).
He is an old boy of St.Thomas's College, Mt.Lavinia. Lt.Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya joined the army in 1963 and did his cadet officer course in Pakistan.
He was commissioned in 1965 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th field artillery regiment of the Ceylon army. He commanded this regiment later in 1986 as a Lt. Colonel before being appointed in 1988 as the commandante of the military academy and Army Training Centre at Diyatalawa in the island's central province.
He was the commander of the 22 brigade in Trincomalee in 1989 during the Indian army's presence in the northeast.
Later he was made director of operations at the SLA headquarters.
Lt.Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya attended the officer course at India's National Defence Academy in New Delhi in 1994.
In December that year he was promoted to Major General and was appointed as the first commander of Task Force One in Jaffna.
The PA government augmented the army's strength in the north during the peace talks with the Liberation Tigers in 1994 by expanding the 21 brigade that was in charge of the peninsula's security at the time into a division (three brigades make a division) named Task Force One.
This SLA division played a key role in Operation Riviresa which brought the peninsula under the Sri Lankan government's control in early 1996.
Lt.Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya was then made the Overall Operations Commander (OOC) of the SLA and in 1997 the deputy chief of staff. He was made OOC again after the removal of Maj.General Asoka Jayawardena from the position.
In February 1998 he was appointed chief of staff of the Sri Lankan Army.