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Controversy surrounds prolonged vacancies in Army’s No. 02, 03 positions

- island.lk

Dullas urges govt. not to cause further destabilisation

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Controversy surrounds the inordinate delay in appointing the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army against the backdrop of dissident SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma’s revelation in Parliament that over 27,000 soldiers had left the Army since January 2022.

The former minister said so while participating in the third reading debate on Budget 2024 under the Defence Ministry expenditure heads. The Matara District MP urged defence authorities to pay attention to the developing situation or be prepared to face the consequences.

Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. W.A.S.S. Wanasinghe and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. G.R.R.P. Jayawardena retired on Oct. 13 and Dec 01, respectively. At the time of his retirement, Wanasinghe, son of former Army Commander Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe, also served as Colonel Commandant of Artillery whereas Jayawardena was Colonel Commandant of the Sinha Regiment.

The Army’s number two slot had never been kept vacant for so long, sources said, pointing out that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government seemed to have ignored altogether concerns expressed by MP Alahapperuma in Parliament. Sources said that in spite of Wanasinghe widely being tipped to be the next Army chief, he didn’t receive the approval.

The next senior most officer Maj. Gen. Darshana Wijesekara of the Sinha Regiment, currently the Commander of the Volunteer Force, is scheduled to retire on Dec 30, 2023.

The present Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Vikum Liyanage, is on a one-year extension. Ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought in Liyanage in the wake of the May 2022 violence that destabilized his government. Liyanage succeeded Gen. Shavendra Silva. At the time of President Rajapaksa’s ouster and UNP leader Wickremesinghe’s election (by Parliament) as President in July 2022, Lt. Gen. Liyanage served as the Army Commander. The Gajaba Regiment officer received a one-year extension with effect from Dec 31, 2022. Unless he is granted another extension, Liyanage, too, will retire by the end of this month.

MP Alahapperuma yesterday told The Island that of the 27,000 men, the majority deserted while the rest retired. “Of those who retired, some left after completing 12 years in the service,” the former minister said, claiming that State Defence Minister Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon didn’t properly respond to issues raised by him. “Of course I’m speaking on behalf of the genuine Opposition,” the veteran politician said.

Lawmaker Alahappeuma said that the Army was experiencing a situation very much similar to the crisis in the police. “We do not have anything against former IGP C.D. Wickremaratne. But, can anyone justify him being granted four brief extensions before making an Acting appointment to replace him?” MP Alahapperuma asked. If Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon has been appointed Acting IGP for a three-month period with effect from Nov 29, why did he make courtesy calls on various people? the MP asked.

MP Alahapperuma said that President Wickremesinghe, who is also the Commander-in-Chief in addition to being the Defence Minister, should look into this matter. As the President he couldn’t allow further destabilization of a bankrupt country, MP Alahapperuma said. Wickremesinghe comfortably beat Alahapperuma at the election held in late July in Parliament to elect a president to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term. In terms of the constitution the next presidential election has to be conducted by/before Oct 2024 and the new president sworn in by Nov.

MP Alahapperuma said that the SLPP should look into this matter without further delay. The failure on the part of the administration to fill the Chief of Staff’s vacancy for nearly two months couldn’t be justified under any circumstances. The ex-minister said that the all-party Sectoral Committee on National Security should look into this matter. For how long the government intended to delay filling vacancies until the desired person could take over command of the war-winning Army, he asked.

The declaration that the Army would be reduced to 100,000 by 2030 should be examined against the sharp increase in the number of desertions over the past two years, the MP said. The top Opposition MP urged the government to take decisions on solid advice of experts and not to be influenced by various interested parties.

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