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Corporal Yakandawala: Tribute to a hero

Ranjan Amararatne and Prabhath Attanayake

BRAVE SOLDIER: Corporal Chaminda Yakandawala

Army Commander Sarath Fonseka soon after regaining his consciousness in a hospital bed inquired for Corporal Chaminda Yakandawala by gesturing a motor cycle as he knew very well that he had managed to escape the target of the suicide cadre inside his own premises and was safe in a hospital bed today because of Yakandawala's absolute devotion to save his commander.

HERO REMEMBERED: The valley beneath the long mountain range of Matale was shrouded by the thick layer of mist. The miserable cries of grief rending the air generates a long tale of woe. The banners and white flags fluttering in the breeze right along the Vihara Road of Matale speak of the people's sobs of a national funeral.

At the extreme end of that street there was the small dwelling marked No. 57 where his remains were lying in state. It was clad in the army uniform adorned by several medals won by him during a full span of army life. This iron man may not have had a seven to eight hours of sleep at a stretch throughout his living memory but today he lies there calm and collected in the eternal rest never to rise again.

The unending ripples of tears that streaks down from the gazing eyes of Nishanthi who carries her one and half year old daughter on the lap, is hard to endure. The elder son Nipun stands by staring at the remains with suppressed pride of a valiant soldier who was his father. The second of the siblings, mischievous in outlook, said that this cannot be his father who was not so dark.

As we paid last respects to the remains of Corporal Yakandawala, I thought of an appropriate epitaph that the soul of this brave soldier is sure to take human form once again somewhere some day to resume his journey of gallantry.

Yakandawala Liyanarachchige Chaminda Ruwan Yakandawala was born on November 23, 1971 and joined the forces on October 06, 1991. After a training period in the Army camp of Panagoda he was mobilized as a military policeman. He was a good boxer and played boxing for the Army.

Considering his skills he was selected to serve the Army Commander's Security Division and beginning from Army Commander Rohan Daluwatta, he provided security to three consecutive Army Commanders till he came by his death at the service of Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. He had undergone training as a motor-cycle escort in VIP security division.

The 21 year old woman Tiger suicide bomber who entered the Army Headquarters Complex in Colombo on April 25 to amend the agenda of the whole of Sri Lanka within seconds has been identified as Anoja Kugantthirasa who came to Colombo from Vavuniya and chose the maternity clinic day to approach her target.

She was dressed in a Blue Shalvari Suit which concealed a highly charged bomb containing large razor balls and more than a kilogram of C4 explosive chemicals. She lingered around the area near the hospital under a temple tree expecting the signal to start her operation. A few seconds before 1.30 p.m. her cellular phone rang as the ash colour Peugeot car bearing Army No. 16002 approached with Army Commander Sarath Fonseka in it.

The cinematographic scene of terror commenced simultaneously with the Army Commander's vehicle approaching from one direction flanked by motor cyclists on guard and the Tiger woman running headlong towards the Army Commander's vehicle from the opposite direction. She completely ignored Chaminda Yakandawala's yell to move away.

Right at that moment of time, Yakandawala on Motor Cycle raised his left foot and dealt a tremendous kick on the tiger woman thrusting her away from the vehicle while the bomb concealed under her dress exploded with a thunderous noise killing nine persons including Chaminda Yakandawala.

Thus the life of Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was saved by hair's breadth. If not for this timely kick by Corporal Yakandawala, the explosion would have blasted the Army Commander's vehicle into a mass of debris charring all those who were in it.

Such was the dedication of Chaminda Yakandawala to his duty and his devotion to save his Commander's life. He fulfilled his duty to the very letter considering his own life secondary. Razor balls had pierced through his neck. His trachea was blown up as a result of the explosion.

The famous encounter between the Japanese Karate Champion Anthony Inoko and World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion Mohammed Ali in 1970s came to an end with a kick by Anthony Inoko. Bruce Lee's kick once was good enough to knock down a Taekwondo Champion never to rise again.

The floating kick of actor Chuck Norris who won the World Karate Championship twice is even going by modern standards, capable to put down any giant. Sir John Kotalawala, a former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka too had an iron kick. In 1990, a Commando soldier gave a good fighter of Peradeniya area, a kick by which the fighter fell dead on the ground.

Corporal Yakandawala's kick on this occasion out beat all the aforesaid kicks because of its national value under the circumstances. Only a brave soldier with well trained leg movements can blow a kick of that nature while riding a motor cycle.

Yakandawala who was fearless of any devil from childhood, learnt to ride motor cycles, by stealing rides on his Police brother-in-law's motor cycle. Ultimately, the brother-in-law took pity on this lad who was often chided by his wife and gifted the motor cycle to Chaminda for good. He rode it through the hard terrain in the village crossing mountains, slopes, and streams. There were no barriers that he could not cross in the village.

As a boxer in the army he never stopped until he knocked down his rival. He never gave up a fight even when his nose bridge was broken. He withstood any challenge from any source.

Speaking of Chaminda, his father said that Chaminda never knew what fear was. He was stubborn but fond of bravery. After passing G.C.E. Ordinary Level he wanted to join the police or the army. He was selected for both these jobs, but he opted to join the army. He was the third of my children. He has an elder sister, an elder brother and a younger brother, he said.

January 23, 1994 was a special day for him. That was the day he met his future stake holder in life. They exchanged views and also mutual love and subsequently married. That was Nishanthi Kumburegama whom he met while in service. She was at that time serving as a Physical Training Instructress attached to the Army Women's Regiment.

Speaking of Chaminda, Nishanthi said that he was loyal to the Army Commander but never sought favours from him. When she heard of the incident and viewed the scene over the television, she rang up his cellular but did not receive any reply.

Later I came to know that he was injured. When I went to the hospital on the following day, I was told that he was no more. I am proud of him. He sacrificed his life for the sake of his mother land. That itself is an adequate merit for him to attain the eternal bliss, she said.

According to Government Intelligence sources 27 suicide bombers were moving about in Colombo area targeting President Mahinda Rajapakse, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Minister Anura Bandaranaike, MP Wimal Weerawansa, Minister Douglas Devananda, Ananda Sangaree, Chiefs of Armed Services, Chief of Staff of security forces Daya Sandagiri, the IGP, and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

As far as the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka is concerned, attempts on his life were made by the LTTE on several previous occasions as Major General Janaka Perera and Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka were the key figures that scuttled the Tigers' Incessant Wave.

They were the LTTE targets since 1990. They were the heroes who led the Operation "Thrividha Balaya" to rescue the soldiers holed up in Jaffna Fort. Our view is that the nine lives including that of Corporal Yakandawala were lost due to the loop holes in the security net.

In our view, there are cardinal factors that prepared the ground for the recent spate of LTTE killings:

(i) Loosening of security measures in Colombo following the ruse of cease-fire agreement, specially the removal of road barriers.

(ii) The great betrayal involving Millennium city that led to the massacre of Intelligence Unit Security Personnel.

(iii) The lethargy of security forces to arrest suspects due to pressure by Human Rights Organizations.

(iv) The opposition of certain politicians to the search operations carried out to check lodges in Colombo and suburbs.

We must oppose terrorism as much as we oppose communalism. We must fight back terrorism. We need more and more brave men of the calibre of the late Corporal Chaminda Yakandawala to meet this challenge.




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