8 Dec 2010

Who are Sri Lanka Army’s 53 Division?

The Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence claims 53 Division troops killed Isaipriya, one of the female bodies shown in the video screened by Channel 4 News. But who are they and who was their commander?

General Kamal Gunaratne, commander of 53 Division

The final few days of the 26-year Sri Lanka war – where government troops surrounded and killed the majority of the remaining Tamil Tigers -were marked by vicious fighting.

The so-called “end battle” comprised three divisions of the Sri Lanka Army – 53, 58 and 59 Division.

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence website account of the “end battle” suggests their efforts would become a “legend that would be told from generation to generation”, but accusations of war crimes continue to dog both government troops and Tamil Tigers.

These accusations have also been levelled at soldiers pictured in an apparent execution video screened by Channel 4 News last week, however the soldiers remain unidentified.

Channel 4 News has, however, identified one of the bodies pictured in the video as Isaipriya, a Tamil journalist. Her colleague confirmed “100 per cent” that the body seen in the video is that of Isaipriya.

It is unclear from the video how Isaipriya died, or who may have been responsible – however on a Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence web page, 53 Division claims responsibility for her death – listing that she was killed on 18 May along with 30 other “identified LTTE leaders”.

Channel 4 News has looked into who made up the division that claims to have killed Isaipriya.

53 Division

Major General Kamal Gunaratne was the commander of the troops and has since been lauded by pro-government supporters as one of the key men in the war on sites such as Facebook.

After the war ended, General Gunaratne was appointed the Commander of the Security Forces Headquarters-Wanni.

On a Facebook fan site, the General posted information about his troops after the war finished, calling them “warriors”.

Major General Kamal Gunaratne

He explains 53 Division is an offensive division, prepared to go anywhere, staffed by “warriors”. He said 98 per cent of the soldiers were “regulars”, meaning previous generations of their families had served or were serving in the military.

The division also includes the Air Mobile Brigade, who are airlifted into battle.

“They have a natural instinct of very high determination and strong spirit of dedication who are determined to fight until the last milliseconds of their lives,” he wrote. “This is the force that can makes the warriors to take any daring mission and deliver results.”

Pictures on this page provided by sources.