3 March, 2024


Winning The War: Evaluating The Impact Of “Api Wenuwen Api”

By Michael Roberts

Dr. Michael Roberts

Dr. Michael Roberts

Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API

Inspiring Mobilisation for Fighting Service: API WENUWEN API

During the course of my regular visits to Sri Lanka in the 2000s for familial and research purposes I happened to see a television programme that focused on the armed services of Sri Lanka in a captivating manner so as to encourage recruitment. That short burst of pictures and text surprised me. “Api Wenuwen Api” (“We for Us”) was a far cry from the wooden and prosaic campaigns associated with government departments. It was slick, catchy and motivating.

I have since discovered that it was initiated in 2007 and designed by a professional advertising agency located in Colombo: namely, TRIAD ADVERTISING. Their own resume of the programme Api Wenuwen Api is now featured as an independent posting in thuppahi.[1]

Api Wenuwen Api is now known to have contributed to the continuing enlistment of volunteers to the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Air Force in the late 2000s. An official letter of thanks from the Secretary for the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, speaks of its “phenomenal success,” while explicitly refusing to specify statistics.[2] However, figures from elsewhere indicate that the SL Army recruited as many as 36,021 and 33,457 personnel in 2007 and 2008 respectively (De Silva-Ranasinghe, “Good Education,” 2009g: 5). As the phrase highlighted in red indicates, in my conjecture many factors contributed to this tale of mobilisation and it may be erroneous to attribute a revolutionary impact to Api Wenuwen Api.

It is this issue that is addressed in a preliminary manner in this article, one that is designed to provoke debate on the factors promoting and enabling enlistment in the armed services (including the police) over the long haul from 1983 to 2009. A caveat accompanies this effort. I do not have the expertise in economics and political economy, or ready access to the requisite economic data, to address this question in a thorough-going manner. Enlistment is one dimension of economic circumstances and this arena must impinge on the questions I am addressing.

fonseka_mahinda_gotabhaya - colombotelegraphAttention to the apparent success of Api Wenuwen Api in 2007/08 enables one to highlight an interesting fact relating to the four Eelam Wars: in contrast to many states that engaged in major wars and battles for survival in the 20th century, the various Governments of Sri Lanka (GSL) did not resort to conscription.

In partial contrast the LTTE resorted to conscription for a portion of its fighting personnel, though its main core, especially in the early decades, was provided by volunteers, often highly dedicated volunteers.[3] Given the numerical contrasts in the populations supporting the war on both sides, the LTTE’s need to resort to conscription, a policy that was ratcheted up in the course of Eelam War IV,[4] is understandable.

The impact of Api Wenuwen Api in sponsoring recruitment to the armed forces in the late 2000s cannot be understood without reference to (a) the monumental death toll in the Sri Lankan forces during Eelam Wars II and III and (b) the staggering number of desertions during the same period.  One set of figures indicates that the combination of Killed in Action (KIA) and Missing in Action (MIA) during Eelam War III was 12,166.[5] The several instances of disastrous battles suffered by the Sri Lankan Army during Eelam War III in1995-2001 were such that the proportion of MIA to KIA was a staggering 22.9 per cent, contrasting with the figure of 1.7 per cent for EelamWar IV.[6]

To this dimension one must add the enormous number of desertions from the armed services, especially the SL Army.[7] Indeed, Triad’s self-presentation explicitly states that “desertion was rife and recruitment drives were struggling to attract the minimum requirement of personnel” at the stage in 2007 when the Ministry of Defence entrusted them with this brief as challenge.[8]

Desertions may have occurred in the years 2006-09, but they were, I surmise, nowhere on the same scale. Moreover, the new personnel were enlisting in services that had been transformed by new techniques and equipment: for instance, UAVs in the SLAF, home-built rapid boat squadrons within the SL Navy. The new President Mahinda Rajapaksa chose General Fonseka in 2006 to consolidate the restructuring of the SL Army that was already under way. This included an expansion of the concept of small unit infantry operations by soldiers who received further training as “Special Infantry Operations Teams” (SIOT). “The SIOT training programme [involved] a one-month basic commando endurance course, with graduates receiving four and a half months of additional training in jungle warfare, explosives handling, medic training and using signals communications to co-ordinate artillery and air strikes and revolutionary infantry planning operations in the SL Army” (De Silva-Ranasinghe 2009f: 5). By 2008 there were as many as 30,000 troops who were SIOT trained, thereby possessing the capacity to operate independently if necessary.

Tammita-Delgoda has provided the world with a lucid description of the war theatre in general and the transformations in the Sri Lankan Army which enabled it to meet its challenges. Discarding the top-down British traditions, the SL Army had “devolve[ed] the command process;” and initiated Advanced Infantry Platoon Training (AIPT) which promoted the involvement of both officers and men in decision-making and placed emphasis on the sections. “Fostering a sense of participation at every level, it encouraged initiative and innovation” (2009).

The SL Navy had initiated a Special Boat Squadron in 1993 and eventually began to build its own shallow-draft fast attack craft. Its Rapid Boat Action Squadron was launched in 2008. Again, by 2007 and 2008 its operational commanders had worked out the logistical paths used by the LTTE’s warehouse ships. The SLN destroyers ventured far into the Indian Ocean and sank as many as seven of these flagless contraband vessels.[9]

During the ceasefire period in 2002-06 the SL Air Force and SL Army devoted considerable time towards training in joint operations, something that had not occurred before (Warnes 2009). The careful recce work of the SLAF also identified strategic sites and munitions dumps of the LTTE throughout the 2000s. As illustrative example of the expertise in the SLAF, note that the skills developed by the helicopter pilots engaged in casualty evacuation, flying low at night without night vison gear, were such that an American specialists who came for training exchanges were shocked and one exclaimed “you guys are mad! I can’t teach you anything!” (Warnes 2009).

Despite its considerable advantage in manpower and firepower, the SL Army faced a highly skilled and innovative opponent in the LTTE armed forces throughout the offensives in 2006-09. The LTTE had also stocked up and had reserves in ammunition, artillery and mortars, though facing dwindling stocks.[10] The difficulties faced by the SL Army in the face of its restrained use of shelling power and the ferocious counter-attacks of the LTTE in February and March 2009 have been documented by Serge de Silva-Ranasinghe.[11]

Quite independently, Tammita-Delgoda (2009) has supplemented de Silva-Ranasinghe’s account with a description of the Army’s night offensives and engineering feats as he was embedded with the 55th Division when it advanced southwards from the Jaffna Peninsula towards Chalai and the LTTE”s “Last Redoubt.”[12] “Across this narrow strip of land, from the seashore to the edge of the lagoon, the Tigers [had] constructed a series of embankments guarded by wide ditches and swathes of mines. For the most part, however, it was a killing ground, with little cover and even less shade. The ditches were between 8-10 feet deep, while the bunds were at least 12-15 feet high. Together, they made an effective obstacle” (Tammita-Delgoda 2009).There 14 such bunds as well as several bodies of water in front of the 55th Division led by Prasanna Silva. It meant an “amphibious war” and “a logistic and engineering challenge.”

In Tammita-Delgoda’s estimate the SL Army had the mettle for this task. “Most of the men and nearly all of the officers in the 55th Division were veterans, many of them with long years of service in the Eelam War. A seasoned force, the Sri Lankan Army had gained from their previous experiences. Not only was morale consistently high, the mentality was now very different. Previously hesitant, hidebound and beleaguered, they were now confident, self-reliant and resourceful; this was the new Sri Lankan Army. It had been a remarkable transformation.”

Thus, in all three fighting services the series of initiatives and the capacities revealed by the corps of officers who had survived the earlier wars and risen to senior positions were of central importance in the eventual victory of the Sri Lankan state in its battle against the insurgent state of Thamilīlam. It is no surprise that a 26-year old lance-corporal told Tammita-Delgoda on one occasion that “now there is a proper leadership, we have confidence.”[13]

By organising training exercises involving the breaching of ditches and bunds set up well to the rear of the battle front, the commanding officers also made meticulous preparations for the final assault on the LTTE’s “Last Redoubt” in late April and May 2009. The “Last Redoubt” in my conceptualization[14] was an area protected by a natural barrier constituted by Nandikadal Lagoon strengthened further by bunds, bunkers, mines & booby-traps lining its western shoreline; while the congestion provided by a body of roughly 200,000 people deliberately amassed by the LTTE as a shield and defensive formation created a complication that seems unprecedented in the history of modern warfare – the more so because many Tiger fighters were not clad in uniform. The civilians were in dire circumstances by LTTE design because the spectre of a humanitarian catastrophe was their main strategy of escape and survival as a political entity from late 2008.

Given these circumstances, the penetration of this arena, the Last Redoubt, on the night of 19/20th April by battalions of the SL Army in an intricate operation involving deep penetration spies, bridges constructed in the dark, loudspeaker announcements, snipers and commando spearheads was an astounding feat. In an amateur evaluation guided by the yardstick of difficulties in circumstance, I hold this particular operation to be the equivalent of the battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam in March-May 1954.[15]

This assessment is based in part on a remarkable result that I had not anticipated: some 103,143 civilians and LTTE personnel who had ditched their weapons streamed out over the three-four days of 20-23rd April.[16] Since I had expected a blood bath[17] within the tiny arena of roughly 30 sq. km held by the LTTE and since the best guesstimate regarding the number of deaths (including civilians killed by the LTTE in shootings and suicide attacks) in the three day period is 1500,[18] the scale of misfortune was nowhere near the horrifying potential associated with the complex circumstances prevailing in that war theatre. A careful study of the graphic maps compiled by the Daily Mirror and International Crisis Group, supplemented by a reading of Citizen Silva’s The Numbers Game, is required before anyone challenges this evaluation.

Thus, in review, the contribution of Api Wenuwen Api to the overall result must be located within a suite of factors and should not be overestimated. Victory in major wars is rarely secured because of one or two factors. A multitude of factors and many contingent events influence the final outcomes. These have to be placed in temporal progression in any final accounting. I have not yet read Moorcraft, Hashim, Chandraprema and Jayatilleka, but speculate that they we are yet to see a book length treatise[19] that analyses the factors that enabled GSL to fashion a victory in the course of the years 2006/09 in a comprehensive and definitive manner.

Api Wenuwen Api must be placed within the assortment of factors as a contributory force. It will not carry the same weight of emphasis as a number of critical factors.[20] However, just as the building of a house requires a multitude of skills and elements, from drainage to masonry to rafters, so too does the outcome of a war. In this sense Api Wenuwen Api was a pipeline that serviced a major work of ‘construction’ in the last years of Eelam War IV.

Background and Overview

In evaluating mobilisation to the armed services of the Sri Lankan government Api Wenuwen Api must be placed within the overall temporal and economic context stretching back in time. The government was able to recruit personnel to its forces and the police services throughout the series of wars, so in 2007 Api Wenuwen Api provided a boost within an existing trend. Arguably, this trend marks the character of Sri Lanka’s education system as well as its weak economy.

For one, the island has been blessed with a high degree of literacy in its vernacular tongues over a long period and these levels were expanded because of the impact of universal franchise from 1931 and the attendant extension of the education system. These paths were consolidated yet further by the promotion of the vernacular languages and the educational initiatives sponsored by the CWW Kannangara reforms from the 1940s. These overlapping processes added up as a revolutionary foundation. The democratisation of opportunity that was stimulated by these events was given yet another boost by the political transformation of 1956, albeit in ways that were skewed in favour of the Sinhala-medium cohorts in the fields of government employment and political clout.

The economic opportunities, however, did not keep pace with these developments and the failures of the ham-handed socialist programmes initiated during the third quarter of the twentieth century encouraged youth in the Sinhala-majority areas who were inspired by revolutionary Leftist currents of the Naxalite-Maoist variety to mount insurgencies in 1971 and 1987-89.

Running parallel with these tendencies one saw a steady stream of outmigration from Sri Lanka from the 1950s as families abandoned the ‘unsteady ship’ in search of socio-economic advancement. The first migrant cohorts in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s were mostly English-educated Burghers, Sinhalese, Tamils, Parsees and Colombo Chetties from middle and lower middle class families.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century and the 2000s, however, these streams were augmented and surpassed by flows of migrants from all classes among all the ethnic communities.[21] The outmigration had several distinct components in terms of ethnic and class composition and/or destination. For one, job opportunities in the Middle East drew women from working class or lower-middle class families and this flow has eventually and recently embraced men and women with technical and professional skills drawn from all classes. Secondly, the 1990s saw the flow of Sinhalese men (and a few women) venturing to Italy by trawler or illegal air/land routes or on tourist visas that enabled them to stay on and claim permanent residence (Brown 2012), with a high proportion of these migrants been drawn from the Catholic, Bharatha and Buddhist communities in the Negombo and Chilaw localities. A significant feature of these outflows was the fact that the personnel were drawn from virtually all class-levels and included those with professional qualifications as well as unskilled labour.[22]

Outmigration is pertinent to this survey because it is an indication that the island economy could not absorb the new generational cohorts entering the work force every year. It is one marker of the degree of unemployment. So, these trends in the period 1977-2007 indicate that the Sri Lankan economy remained sluggish even though the liberalisation of the economy from 1977 had provided more opportunities than the previous decades and even though the attractiveness of private sector employment began to outpace the previous leanings towards government sector employment.

I conjecture further that the dysfunctional character of Sri Lanka’s education system compounded such pressures: for the social value system and the educational services churned out white-collar aspirants with vernacular literacy, but limited technical capacities. The result has been the (1) generation of youth attracted to radical socialist thinking of the sort that spawned the JVP (late 1960s-1989) and its successors and, more recently, the Hela Urumaya and similar nativist offshoots; and (2) youth seeking jobs overseas on a wing and a prayer.

A major incentive towards outmigration has been the flow of information, encouraging stories and remittances from kin folk and friends who have established themselves in some foreign country. This has been a cumulative and spiralling process, with money from abroad promoting migration by illegal as well as legal routes. The open economy since the 1980s has encouraged this process by enabling international schools and private emigration agencies to tap the market and open doors.

It is by placing our question against the backdrop of this multi-faceted tapestry that the recruitment of volunteers into the fighting services during the tumultuous war years 1983-2002, and thereafter in the 2000s, must be addressed. However, significant caveats must be entered. Limited employment opportunities in the local economy may not have been the only spur to enlistment. As with migration, family connections probably encouraged and enabled Sinhalese and other young men to join their brothers and cousins in a specific arm of the security forces. Even the deaths of young men in a particular village or locality may not have served as disincentive towards military service. The localised funerals involved military bands farewelling and honouring the departed serviceman. This may have been a sad occasion, but it was also an honour bestowed on kin folk, a proud moment.

The high death toll in the 1990s meant that many a village or locality encountered the harrowing impact in poignant manner as military burials were enacted in their midst. We must allow for the possibility that such moments generated pride and commitment to the societal cause – in this instance for a united Lanka against an insurgent separatist force.

Moreover, simple practices that commemorate departed kin through acts of charitable donation have been commonplace among Sinhala-Buddhist communities for a long time. These practices are often almsgivings and merit-making acts. The charitable outreach could range from donations of public wells to extensions to schools or hospitals or small pansil halls or Buddha statues.[23] When some parents in recent times built bus shelters in their locality in commemoration of their dead sons,[24] and others donated a bed for a cancer hospice,[25] one sees the perpetuation of an age-old practice unrelated to war, acts that were at once an almsgiving that paid homage to loved ones and acts that could have been seen (in some instances) as merits (pin) that would serve the dead in their future lives.

It follows that such acts in memory of a serviceman who had died for his country fighting against the LTTE demonstrate to us the working out of Buddhist ethics in the ‘daily’ cycle of life, a cushioning of grief in ways that could have inspired other commitments for persons living and witnessing. One such extension, logically, is for an able-bodied man to enlist in one of the fighting forces. In this connection, therefore, Daniel Kent’s thesis on “Shelter for You, Nirvana for Our Sons: Buddhist Belief and Practice in the Sri Lankan Army” becomes essential reading.[26]

In sum, therefore, I am highlighting the spur of patriotism as well as well as the circuits of personalised information-cum-incentives that promoted enlistment in the services during the whole period of war and especially in the 2000s – factors that predated, or ran alongside, the impact of Api Wenuwen Api. Major Lalin Fernando has underlined this contention by referring to (a) “the momentum” provided by the people themselves “respond[ing] to the call [arising from] their personal involvement, relationships, belief, commitment, sense of patriotism etc,” and (b) “the propaganda of the soldiers themselves who spread the word in the villages that life in the forces gave them a challenge with good working conditions, much improved /proven leadership and better  than most other available job opportunities.”[27]

Nor should we discount the spark of vengeance in promoting enlistment. Retributive motives have inspired enlistment amidst many nations in many countries. Many thousands of Tamil youth streamed across to India after the pogrom of July 1983 in order to join the several Tamil liberation outfits that had set up training camps in friendly terrain. In their turn some frontier Sinhalese and Muslim localities encountered the tragedy of raids and massacres instigated by LTTE forces in the war years.[28] It is likely that some personnel in these areas were pushed to a determination: they should enlist and fight back against the koti (the Sinhala term for the “Tigers” in the plural with connotations that could conceivably present them as fearsome and evil beings).

These excursions, several conjectural, provide the background against which both the content and the relative success of the Api Wenuwen Api campaign can be assessed as separate and related questions. That task is best undertaken by individuals who have resided in Sri Lanka over the last decade and have deep roots in the rural and rurban[29] localities. Urban bourgeois upbringings and the liberal radical networks of Colombo are an impediment to readings on this complex issue unless such an experiential background is transcended by anthropological capacities that can secure grounded information from Sinhalese people with rural sensibilities.


Api Wenuwen Api 2007 see http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/we-for-us-or-api-wenuwen-api-2007/#more-13459

Brown, Bernardo 2012 “Bernardo Brown’s brief note on migration networks in the Negombo region, 1980s-2012,” http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/bernardo-browns-brief-note-on-migration-networks-in-the-negombo-region-1980s-2012/.

Chandradasa, Malaka n.d. “Learning from our enemies: Sri Lankan naval special warfare against sea Tigers,” https://globalecco.org/learning-from-our-enemies-sri-lankan-naval-special-warfare-against-the-sea-tigers.

Chandra prema, C. A. 2012 Gota’s War, The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism, Colombo.

Citizen Silva 2013 see IDAG.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009f “Maritime Counter-Terrorism and the Sri Lanka Navy,” Asia-Pacific Db harathaefence Reporter, November 2009, 35: 32-33.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009g “Good Education: Sri Lankan Infantry learns Insurgency Lessons,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, December 2009, pp. 3-7.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009g “Lessons in Maritime Counter-Insurgency,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, January 2010, 36: 50-53.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010a “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010, 30/4: 35-37, http://wwwasiapacificdefencereporter. com/articles/40/Sri-Lanka.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Downfall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” 6 June 2010, http://www.defstrat.com/exec/frmArticleDetails.aspx?DID=243\.

Hashim, Ahmed S. 2013 When Counterinsurgency wins.  Sri Lanka’s Defeat of the Tamil Tigers, ??

IDAG 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.margasrilanka.org/ OR http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice.

Jane’s Naval Intelligence 2009 “Sri Lanka learns to counter Sea Tigers’ Swarm Tactics,” March 2009, pp. 20-26.

Jayatilleka, Dayan 2013 Long War, Cold Peace. Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications,

Marga 2011 Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka, http://www.margasrilanka.org/Truth-Accountability.pdf.

Moorcroft,  Paul 2013 Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers.The Rare Victory of Sri Lanka’s Long War, London: Angus & Robertson.

Noble, Kath  2013 “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The Full Monty,” 03 July 2013, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/this-is-no-game/

Jane’s Naval Intelligence 2009 “Sri Lanka learns to counter Sea Tigers’ Swarm Tactics,” March 2009, pp. 20-26.

Nathaniel, Camelia 2012 “Tigers used Heavy Weapons,” 5 November 2012, http://www.ceylontoday.lk/16150-print.html

Roberts, Michael 2005a “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and T.amil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

Roberts, Michael 2005b “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

Roberts, Michael 2006a “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite Of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

Roberts, Michael 2006b “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association, No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

Roberts, Michael 2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 30 (10): October 2007, pp. 857-88.

Roberts, Michael 2007 “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics available at http://hpsacp.uni-

Roberts, Michael 2009a Confrontations in Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, LTTE and Others¸ Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2009b “Realities of War,” Frontline, 26/10, 9-22 May 2009.

Roberts, Michael 2010a Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2010b “Hitler, Nationalism, Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond…Towards the Tamil Tigers,” http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/03/hitler-nationalism-sacrifice.html.

Roberts, Michael 2010d “Self Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 161-201.

Roberts, Michael 2011b “Death and Eternal Life: Contrasting Sensibilities in the Face of Corpses,” 29 June 2011, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/death-and-eternal-life-contrasting-sensibilities-in-the-face-of-corpses/

Roberts, Michael 2011e “The Tamil Death Toll in early 2009: Challenging Rohan Gunaratna,” 1 December 2011, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the -tamil-death-toll-in-early-2009-challenging-rohan-gunaratna/ and http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/6285

Roberts, Michael 2012a “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking,” Colombo Telegraph, 12 February 2012, http://thuppahi. wordpress.com/2012/11/26/velupillai-pirapaharan-veera-maranam/… rep. in TPS: Essays, 2014: 69-89.

Roberts, Michael 2012a “Velupillai Pirapaharan: Veera Maranam,” 26 November 2012, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/velupillai-pirapaharan-veera-maranam/

Roberts, Michael 2013 “Towards Citizenship in Thāmilīlam: The Tamil People Of The North, 1983-2010,” South Asia Research, 33: 57-75.

Roberts, Michael 2013g “Congestion in the “Vanni Pocket” January-May 2009: Appendix IV for “BBC Blind,” http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/congestion-in-the-vanni-pocket-january-may-2009-appendix-iv-for-bbc-blind/

Roberts, Michael 2013h “Pictorial Illustrations of the Mass Exodus from the Last Redoubt, 20-22 April and mid-May 2009,” Appendix V for “BBC Blind”, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/ exodus-from-thelast-redoubt-late-april-mid-may-2009-appendix-v-for-bbc-blind/

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Encompassing Empowerment in Ritual, War & Assassination: Tantric Principles in Tamil Tiger Instrumentalities,” in Social Analysis, sp. issue on War Magic ed. by D. S. Farrer, in press.

SATP 2013 “Sri Lanka Terror Assessment, 2013 — Analysis” 13 January 2013, http://www.eurasiareview. com/29012013-sri-lanka-terror-assessment-2013-analysis/

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 Sri Lanka. The Last Phase in Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Pudumattalan, Manekshaw Paper No. 13. Also reprinted in http://www.island.lk/ index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=10164..

Tekwani, Shyam 2009 ‘The Man who destroyed Eelam,” http://www.tehelka.com/home  /20090523/default.asp.

Vidura 2009 “The Great Escapes,” Sunday Leader, 17 May 2009.

[1] My circuit of friendship from Peradeniya days enabled me to access this material. I am not free to name the key personnel behind the design.

[2] See letter published in Api Wenuwen Api. As a friend noted such letter must be regarded with a cynical eye: the Minister for Defence need to justify the expenses and to sustain the cooperation between government and selected high-profile businesses as a aspect of pragmatic politics.

[3] See Roberts 2005a, 2005b, 2006a and 2007.

[4] Though conscription aroused disquiet in some quarters of the Tamil population in the state of Thamililam, it is my conjecture that it was acquiesced in by the majority as a necessary evil and that patriotic loyalty to the Tamil cause under LTTE aegis was as widespread as deep from the late 1990s to the year 2008. Even the multiple displacements enforced on the populace as the war turned sour were accepted by many. Opinions expressed separately by Muralidhar Reddy and a Tamil activist who was among those corralled in the Vanni Pocket till May 2009 assert that it was from January 2009 that resentment and disobedience began to increase – in part because conscription was being extended. Note, too, that I met a young conscript who had deserted in January and stayed hidden till the end of the fighting.

[6] MIA = “missing in action”; while KIA = “killed inaction.”

[7] I have misplaced the news item which gave a substantial figure. Note that desertions were usually recorded as such when soldiers failed to return from leave.

[8] See Api Wenuwen Api in http://thuppahi.wordpress.com. Note this comment: “The problem of a high rate of desertion was compounded by the wide publicity given to incidences of deserters committing crimes.”

[9] See Jane’s Naval Intelligence 2009; Chandradasa 2009 and De Silva-Ranasinghe “Good Education,” 2009f. Also see the pictorial illustrations in Roberts, Tamil Person and State: Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, in process for 2014.

[10] On the cusp of defeat, on the 1/15th May 2009, the LTTE resorted to standard army action: they blew up their remaining munitions and equipment within their Last Redoubt (the so-called “No Fire Zone” – a misnomer of considerable political consequence). They had also buried several heavy artillery pieces prior to this act – weapons that were only discovered on 31 October 2012 when a local cyclone brought them to light (Nathaniel 2012).

[11] De Silva-Ranasinghe “Good Education,” 2009c.

[12] The “Last Redoubt” is the label I attribute to the narrow 12 by 2.5 strip of coast east of the Nandikadal Lagoon where the LTTE marshalled roughly 300,000 people from mid-February 2009 as a defensive formation that would prevent any amphibious operation that would box their forces into an irretrievable position. It is often referred to as a “No Fire Zone” (a concept that I regard as absurd—see fn. 15).

[13] This conversation occurred on 30 march 2009 when they were travelling in an armoured car in the lance-corporal’s charge.

[14] The “Last Redoubt” covered roughly 30 sq kilometres (12 km long by varously2 or 2.5 or 3km breadth). It should be read as my revision of the term “No Fire Zone” or “Safe Zone” which have been widely used by both GSL and international spokesmen. The mechanical adoption of the latter concepts is an analytical and legal error. It is inconceivable that an area that housed the Sea Tigers and, eventually, LTTE fighters, artillery and mortars as well as the command centre could be viewed as an arena that should not be subject to shelling.  This is as much a criticism of GSL as a shaft aimed at the “international community” marshalled by Ambassador Robert Blake and his US superiors.

[15] On this famous occasion the Vietnamese forces marshalled by General Nguyen Giap outmanoeuvred a large French garrison and enforced their capitulation in a battle that secured the northern segment of Vietnam for the anti-colonial forces led by Ho Chi Minh. Civilians were not part of the French defence, but, of course, were central to the Viet Minh campaign of resistance (as indeed they were to the Sri Lankan Tamil resistance from the 1970s to 2009.

[16] I had reached Colombo on 16th April in time for my sister’s impending 80th birthday so I saw the extensive TV footage depicting the scenes at the rear of the frontline. While, patently, the reportage was from pro-government channels and would not have shown scenes detrimental to the government’s image, there was no question that one was witnessing high drama involving mass of Tamil people. Some of this footage has since been incorporated in the Government’s propaganda film The Last Phase.

[17] When I chatted with Kumari Jayawardena upon reaching Colombo I indicated to her that a huge blood bath was probable. Indeed, I had already published essays indicating that the LTTE encourage their people to commit mass suicide. This possibility, thankfully, did not eventuate but there are several testimonies that indicate that some LTTE fighters shot civilians as they tried to flee and that they were ready to have ‘their people” die with them.

[18] Email from Citizen Silva, 28 Jan.2013 and IDAG 2013. Citizen Silva reckons that another 17,000 civilians struggled out between 23rd and 31st April.

[19] There are many essays (some invaluable) on the topic and several are listed in my bibliography.

[20] Space considerations do not encourage me to even list those factors that I, from an amateur armchair position, consider central. Besides, a mere listing of such factors can mislead.

[21] Here my focus will be narrowed down to the western, central ,eastern and southern areas of the island where the majority of Sinhalese and Muslims reside, because the large Tamil-outmigration promoted by the pogroms of 1977 and 1983 and the onset of war has no bearing on recruitment to the GSL’s fighting forces.

[22] Note from Bernardo Brown: “I think you had 2 different groups of people leaving in the 90s: the younger, with less financial resources and more adventurous who came to Italy by boats and arrived in very precarious situations. But you also have a very large number of people who came by other (safer) means. These were a bit older and more educated people. I don’t think they necessarily spent more money to come, but that they had the resources and contacts to fly through Croatia and walk across the border. Also many arrived here legally on tourist visas and just overstayed (often with relatives) until they could regularize their migratory status. A lot of these people had normal tourist visas, so you can see that the Italian consulate considered they did not have a bad economic/educational position in SL.

[23] My contentions here have benefited from email answers to a question I circulated – about the bus shelter donation depicted in a photograph taken by Mango (fn. 17) – from Professor KNO Dharmadasa, Renton de Alwis, Mahinda Gunasekera, Dr Hemantha Herath, Nandasiri Jasentuliyanage, Mevan Pieris and Myrna Setunga.

[24] I thank Mango for providing a set of images of one such public charity and for pointing me towards Kent’s unpublished thesis.

[25] My thanks to Myrna Setunga for mentioning this practice to me (email, August 2014).

[26] Kent, Shelter For You, Nirvana For Our Sons: Buddhist Belief and Practice in the Sri Lankan Army, 2009, Dissertation, University of Virginia(?).  I note that I have not read it yet.

[27] Email dated 27 august 2014 in response to my first draft of this article. In question form he also noted the mythology surrounding General Sarath Fonseka in circles associated with the SL Army: viz., his invincibility. This, he added, marked a confidence in his leadership across the ranks. Note that I, too, have picked up gossip about Fonseka’s disciplinary toughness and the respect accorded to “Fhonie” as soldiers referred to him.

[28] See SATP 2013 and SPUR ….

[29] “Rurban” denotes residential countryside localities in proximity to urban towns and those with good transport links to towns where many residents were employed.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Api venuven thopi OR thopi venuven api!

    • 1

      Dear Dr Roberts

      Can we please have a few more references and footnotes?

      They demonstrate the writer’s erudity, we suppose, and leave the reader confused. But don’t care.

      Happy writing.

      • 4

        Winning The War: Evaluating The Impact Of “Api Wenuwen Api”

        It is not the “Api Wenuwen Api” stupid, but the all out support of all the super powers in all aspects of war, and also by committing genocide of Tamils from 2007 to 2009 by indiscriminate bombing and shelling in the East and the north, that made the Sinhala army win the war.

        The war was won illegitimately violating all international human rights laws with impunity and without external independent witnesses.

        Don’t gloat about it Mr Michael Roberts, you are just another Sinhala supremacist.

        • 3


          Don’t forget, above all VP won the war for MR.

          Without his tireless effort MR would not have won it.

    • 3

      An interesting incident about Api Wenuwen Api in the UK, which proves that they were not that powerful. In 2008 some racists tried to give a stall for Api Wenuwen Api in the Festival of Cricket event to raise funds for them. I with the support of a few Tamils and fair minded Sinhalese members, vehemently opposed it on the grounds that you cannot bring a military organisation into a sporting event. Unfortunately we were out numbered. There was abuse hurled at the meeting by the racists, but finally due to our strong stand, they came to a compromise that Api Wenuwen Api would be allowed to have a stall, but no one in military uniform will be permitted inside the ground. Api Wenuwen Api had no option than to comply with that order.

  • 3

    “We for Us” was the thinking of tamils soon after independence when they were periodically massacred for the only reason that they were tamis – 160 massacres were recorded by:-

    The [North East Secretariat Of Human Rights] – NESOHR –
    available on the web.

    The culmination was the island wide pogrom of July 1973.

    Roberts carefully avoids mentioning this cause of the conflict.

    • 1

      Pretty sure you mean ’83, not ’73.

      And i may have misunderstood this comment, but are you seriously blaming the victims of ’83 for what happened?

      • 0

        Sorry – 1983 july.
        Victims of ’83 were planned and targeted by voter list carrying mobs – this has been detailed many times.
        It was what finally caused planned militantcy among tamils.

        • 0

          Ah… Thought for a moment you were going all K.A. Sumane/JimSoftly on me :P

  • 0

    Thank you Sir for the article. It confirms that we owe our thanks to the Security Forces for a job well done. We need to throw our weight behind them in protecting them from the vulgar accusations being made by the LTTE rump.

    It is interesting that the US was supportive of Sri Lanka TILL we won the war against the terrorists, though it’s attitude since then leaves a lot to be desired.

    • 4


      “It confirms that we owe our thanks to the Security Forces for a job well done.”

      Amid the euphoria of “We for Us” even academics tend to forget “They for Us”.

  • 1

    Dr Roberts:

    Winning The War: Evaluating The Impact Of “Api Wenuwen Api”.

    There is no need for a Recruitment Drive when there are 20 million Soldiers who are ready answer the call to arms and die for the Sinhala Nation. This is the biggest Racist Army in the World 5 times bigger than the Jewish Army ready to kill.

  • 1

    Now looking back I can see why the US is supportive of Navi Pillai and was behind in getting a UNHCR decision to intiate a Probe. US has overwhelming evidence to implicate GOSL and people like me learn from our mistakes. I know people are going to find it hard to understand change of heart but it is better late than never and I am sorry.

  • 0


    I have had reason to complain that my pen name is being misused on this site. I have used this name for 4 years or so. It is difficult to believe that it is CT ineptitude that is the reason.

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