Colombo, April 29: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday appointed former Army Commander Gen (Rtd) Shantha Kottegoda (70) as Defense Secretary in place of Hemasiri Fernando, who resigned owning responsibility for the failure to follow up on prior intelligence about the April 21 suicide bomb attacks.
Kottegoda was Sri Lanka Army Commander from July 1, 2004 to December 5, 2005.
In December 2005 he was replaced by Sarath Fonseka, who went on to win the war against the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.
Although Gen. Kottegoda was an efficient and highly decorated officer with experience of fighting both the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) rebels in South Sri Lanka and the LTTE in the North and the East, President Mahinda Rajapaksa upon coming to power in 2005, preferred have Gen.Fonseka leading the army. He was determined to defeat the Tigers comprehensively with innovative methods under the no-nonsense leadership of his brother and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
When Hemasiri Fernando made his exit, there was speculation that the new Defense Secretary will former Army chief Gen.Daya Ratnayake. But Ratnayke was not favored because he was thought to be close to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In the period around Rajapaksa’s electoral debacle in January 2015, it was alleged that Rajapaksa was trying to remain in power with the help of the Army headed by Gen.Daya Ratnayake. Eventually it was proved this was not the case.
Gen. Shantha Kottegoda, a mild mannered but efficient officer, had served the Sri Lankan Army for 29 years in all parts of Sri Lanka.
He had fought the Marxist JVP-led 1971 and 1987-89 insurrections as well LTTE in North and East Sri Lanka.
He was Colonel of the Regiment of the Sri Lankan Light Infantry, General Officer Commanding a Division in Jaffna, General officer Commanding 51 Division in Vavuniya, and Director of Training, Director Military Intelligence.
After retirement he had served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Brazil. He is married to Sonia, and the couple have a son and a daughter named Asanka and Avanthi.
Police Chief Sent on Compulsory Leave
After police chief Pujith Jayasundara refused to resign for his failure to act on the intelligence about the terror threat, he was asked to go on Compulsory Leave on Monday. The President has no power to sack him as he is appointed by the National Police Commission.
According to President Sirisena, Jayasundara virtually accepted his guilt but has not acted on his undertaking to resign, unlike Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando.
(The featured image at the top shows Retired Gen.Shantha Kottegoda with President Sirisena after being made Defense Secretary)