Chandani Kirinde, courtesy of the Sunday Times
On the night of July 23, 1983, when Army intelligence officer Sarath Munasinghe, serving in the rank of Major drove in the dead of night towards Thirunelveli junction in Jaffna from his camp at Gurunagar to investigate an explosion that had taken place a short while earlier, he had no idea that the scene had been set for the dawn of the darkest days in the country’s recent history. When he reached the scene of the explosion, a colleague with whom he had shared a cigarette a short while earlier lay dead on the road with several other soldiers. In all the Army dead were 13 and the incident set off the worst race riots in the country.
For late Major General Sarath Munasinghe, it was a day that was well etched in his memory and a day he has recalled in detail in a book he wrote titled “A Soldier’s Version” which gives an insight into the experiences of the Army during some crucial operations against the LTTE.
Major General Munasinghe died in March 2008 at the age of 59 after a battle with cancer. But during his 30 years in the Army and during his brief stint in politics he left his mark. “My father was a committed Army officer. He left the Army early and joined politics as he believed that he could serve the men in the forces more by being in politics,” his son Duminda recalled.An old boy of Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala, young Sarath Munasinghe had been a star athlete in school securing many of the coveted medals. He joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1970.The 30 years he served in the Army was a period when the military experienced some of its most trying times.
It is these experiences that the late Major General put together in his book. Duminda said his father began penning his experiences in the Army over the years and completed it before his demise. An interesting account of his meeting with the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Rohana Wijeweera after the latter was arrested from his hideout in Ulapane in April 1989 by the Army too is contained in the book.
Major General Munasinghe served as the military spokesman during three different spells between 1991 and 1999 and was recognised for his service to the Army being awarded the Rana Wickrama Paddakkama (RWP), Rana Sura Paddakkama (RSP) and the Uttama Seva Paddakkama (USP) for his distinguished service to the Army before his retirement in 1999. “He had no intention of joining politics initially but later he felt that being in politics would enable him to work for the betterment of people particularly soldiers,” Duminda said.
He was elected to Parliament in 2000 from the Kurunegala District and served as Deputy Speaker during the period of the probationary government during the tenure of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Even though his time in Parliament was brief, Major General Munasinghe continued to engage in politics till the time he fell ill.
My father’s wish was that one of his two sons continued his political legacy and so my brother Chamila has taken on the task,” Duminda added.