A fearless defender of the Motherland
A tribute to Major General (Retired) Janaka Perera, who died in a
LTTE suicide bomb explosion in Anuradhapura yesterday
General (Retired) Janaka Perera
Jaffna was in chaos in the third week of April 2001. The LTTE was on
the offensive and the troops were on the defensive. But, repeated
attempts to halt the LTTE advance east of the city had failed. The
Tigers were on the verge of driving the Army out of Jaffna after their
success at Elephant Pass.
KKS harbour and Palaly air base were under heavy mortar and artillery
attacks. The enemy’s 12-barrel Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers [MBRLs]
were in action. Withdrawing units were bringing in bodies of officers
and men to the city. Everything including ammunition was in short supply
as regular supplies could not be moved in due to enemy attacks on the
KKS harbour and the strategic Palaly complex, home to Security Forces
The LTTE was calling the army to surrender and people and some
politicians were talking of inviting India and other friendly nations to
evacuate the Army. The Army was in disarray.
However, in a last bid to halt the LTTE advance, crucial changes were
made in the top command and control structure of the Armed Forces. These
changes included the creation of the post of Overall Operations
Commander [OOC] North responsible for Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu,
Mannar and Welioya.
Major General Janaka Perera, the then Deputy Chief of Staff and Major
General Sarath Fonseka, the then Quarter Master General and Director
General General Staff [DGGS] were ordered to fly there and take whatever
steps necessary to stabilise the situation.
Rear Admiral H.R.Amaraweera was named the senior naval officer in the
These appointments were made immediately after the Government ordered
the army’s 54 Division to abandon Elephant Pass. Perera was appointed
the OOC. Fonseka was named the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna.
They succeeded in Jaffna. There was no point in going into detail
about what they did in Jaffna.
Perera, one of the few officers who played key roles in battles
against the JVP and the LTTE, will be always remembered for vowing to
defend Jaffna at any cost when he addressed the nation over the
Independent Television Network [ITN] when the LTTE was just outside
He came live over the ITN, urging the deserters to return and fight
alongside their colleagues in the Jaffna theatre while stressing the
need for the entire nation to support the Army. Perera’s speech captured
the attention of the Colombo based correspondents of international news
agencies. At that time politicians were nowhere to be seen or heard.
They did not want to face the people.
But, the OOC who was confident of the fighting capabilities of the
Jaffna troops, was able to give a guarantee that Jaffna would be
The Forces succeeded in halting the enemy advance just outside the
town until the Government flew in Pakistani and Czech supplied MBRLs and
other weapons to reinforce them.
Their success paved the way for “Rivikirana” and “Kiniheera”
offensives to get underway in the first week of September.
Perera had been involved in previous operations against the LTTE.
During the 1992-1993 period he organised a series of highly successful
operations that caused heavy losses among the LTTE groups operating in
the Eastern theatre.
At the end of the second JVP inspired insurgency, the Independent
Brigade comprising Commando and Special Forces was formed under Perera’s
command. In June 1993, he was made the General Officer Commanding [GOC]
of the Reserve Strike Force [RSF].
Then he was moved out of the East in 1995 shortly after he expressed
fears of a major LTTE build up during the time the group had a 100-day
truce with the Government.
He was appointed the Welioya Brigade Commander. Some people accused
him of seeking to sabotage peace talks. But when the LTTE resumed
hostilities and sank two gunboats at Trincomalee on April 1995, people
knew what Perera was talking about. About three months after the
resumption of hostilities, the LTTE mounted a major sea-borne assault
aimed at wiping out army detachments at Welioya. If they succeeded,
Perera would have been probably accused of allowing the LTTE assault for
political reasons. But, what happened surprised even his critics.
The LTTE suffered their first big defeat in the Eastern theatre [Welioya
included] at the hands of the troops under Perera’s command in July
1995. The 11-hour Welioya battle shocked the LTTE.
Troops and homeguards under Perera’s command repulsed a major LTTE
sea-borne assault on Kokilai, Kokkuthuduwai, Janakapura, Jayasinghepura
and Army’s sixth Brigade Headquarters, Welioya. At least 300 terrorists
were killed. The LTTE was forced to withdraw leaving bodies and a large
stock of armaments. Perera returned bodies of about 200 cadres to the
LTTE through the ICRC.
That was the first major transfer of LTTE bodies through the ICRC and
also the first heavy defeat the LTTE suffered in a single battle. Only
two personnel under Perera’s command were killed. The successful defence
of Welioya prevented LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s plan to
trigger a massive exodus of Sinhalese civilians out of the area.
If the LTTE succeeded in inflicting a major loss on the Army and
forced the Sinhalese to flee Welioya, the Government would not have been
able to concentrate on the combined security forces operation,
“Riviresa” that drove the LTTE away from Jaffna town area by December
Perera with troops.
Perera contributed immensely to the “Riviresa” success. Under his
command, the elite 53 Division, then known as the Reserve Strike Force [RSF]
comprising Special Forces, Commandos and Air Mobile troops, played a
crucial role in the campaign that involved two other divisions, the 51
and the 52.
Brigadier Perera was promoted to the rank of Major General on April
15, 1996 along with Brigadiers P. A. Karunatilake and Neil Dias. They
commanded the three Divisions that were involved in the “Riviresa”
Dias was the General Officer Commanding [GOC] of the 51 Division. His
deputy was Sarath Fonseka. Karunatilake was the GOC of the 52 Division.
His deputy was Anton Wijendra. Perera was the GOC of the 53 Division.
Brigadier Percy Fernando at Elephant Pass was his deputy.
The success of “Riviresa” depended on a major battle that occurred at
Ponnalaikadduwan-Navakkeri and Puttur west-Avarangal in the first week
of October 1995. Operation “Thunder Strike” was launched in October to
expand the defences of Palaly in a bid to give some extra protection to
aircraft and helicopters operating out of the base. At that time the
base was under regular mortar attacks.
Troops engaged in the operation were able to capture about 25 square
kms southeast and east of Palaly and were engaged in consolidating their
defences when the LTTE struck. The enemy assault was very similar to the
one that forced the Army to abandon operation “Leap Forward” less than
four months ago. The main attack was directed on troops under Perera’s
command who succeeded in inflicting heavy losses on the enemy killing at
At least 120 bodies were returned to the LTTE through the ICRC. The
LTTE never recovered from that shock. Then “Riviresa” campaign was
launched on October 17 and came to an end on May 12 after troops
regained Point Pedro. Perera was involved in many offensives. Both
seniors and juniors valued his opinion as they knew that his
contribution and also his immense knowledge in handling
counter-insurgency operations or high intensity battles against the LTTE.
Perera, the first paratrooper to become a Major General retired from
the Army after serving the nation for over three decades.