Regaining the Elephant Pass
Regaining the Elephant Pass
By – Leel Pathirana
"My only wish is before I die, is to visit Alimankada (Elephant Pass ) and see the LTTE’s explosive laden bulldozer which my son destroyed," says 61 year old Y.L. Juliet, the mother of Corporal. Gamini Kularathna.
Again, the victory of the Elephant Pass has brought jubilant celebrations by the people in the south. The Battle of Elephant pass is emotionally bonded with the supreme sacrifice of then corporal Gamini Kularathne popularly known as Hasalaka Hero or Hasalaka Weeraya, a poor youth hail from a small remote village named Hasalaka, bordering to Monaragala District. 223 km from the capitol Colombo. He joined the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) on 07th August 1987 with the blessings of his mother Y.L. Juliet and his father S.G. Babanis, a farmer died when he was a young boy.
Elephant Pass (Alimankada) is the most strategic location of the north and it’s the gateway to the rebel held northern Jaffna peninsula. Battles for regaining control of the Elephant pass have left hundreds of lives of both sides in the past, the Army and the LTTE as well.
During the early month of July 1991, the Elephant pass Base Complex was occupied by 800 Soldiers of Sinha (Lion) Regiment (SR) and was suddenly came under siege by around 5,000 strong LTTE cadres. Not only the invasion was done a massive numbers, LTTE had planned the attack perfectly. While mortars rained into the base premises and though the anti aircraft guns were placed and no helicopter can land with supplies nor evacuate casualties from the base. Wave after wave, LTTE cadres pounded the camp’s southern defense lines, and entered to the camp by tractors fitted with armor plated and mounted machine guns on them.
Corporal Gamini spotted a hitherto unknown massive explosive laden Bulldozer was moving into the camp and which could not be destroyed or prevents entering firing on it from outside, since it was armor plated and was bullet proofed. It was later said that the suicide bomber inside who drove the bulldozer was hand cuffed to the steering wheel. Considering the danger of 800 fellow soldiers, Corporal Gamini Kularathne realizing that the only way is to prevent the imminent danger is to blow the dozer.
Above all, the fall of the Elephant Pass Base to the enemy would be catastrophic and counterproductive at national level, there was no time to waste, Gamini did not think twice, he pulled two hand grenades from his pouch, ran behind the moving bulldozer while terrorists were firing at him from all the directions.
He clambered the tank’s ladder, took the safety pin off from the couple of grenades and flung them inside through its upper small door. Within seconds, fiery bursts of fire accompanied by series of massive explosions occurred. Gemini’s motionless body was flung to the ground.
Corporal Gamini Kularathne saved the lives of his fellow 800 soldiers and the base. He made this supreme sacrifice on 10th July 1991 on the first day of the attack.
However the second day, the southern entrance of the base fell into the Terrorists. During the time of the resistance, Major Lalith Buddhadasa who was the second in command died due to the shrapnel injuries by the enemy’s mortar fire. Due to the placement of LTTE cannons, SLAF could not land any helicopters. Instead, they air dropped supplies into the base. Although the majority of the supplies fell into the base and some were retrieved by the enemy.
The fourth day, Operation Balavegaya was launched, commanded by Major General Densil Kobbekaduwa and Brigadier Wijaya Wimalarathna which included 10,000 SLA troops, was the largest army operation launched by then. The LTTE having understood the territorial advantage of the base complex, they continued to resist the SLA advance. Fighting lasted for 17 days with heavy resistance and was backed by reinforcement’s infantry and air force.
The LTTE could not hold the positions and retreat from the base. Finally on the 03rd August at 17.00 hours vanguard of the ‘Operation Balawegaya’ reached into the Elephant Pass base. This victory was considered as the best achieved by the armed forces until the capture of northern Jaffna peninsula.
Although the battle was won it wasn’t without casualties. It was recorded that a total number of 200 soldiers scarifies their lives defending the Motherland and more than 500 were injured. The casualties of the LTTE were much higher. It was said that they lost 573 cadres (450 male and 123 female) but the well informed sources reveled that they lost over 800 and the similar numbers suffered injuries.
Hearing the news of regaining the Elephant Pass Gamini’s mother, Y.L. Juliet was so happy. She is now 61 years old. Juliet had received Weera Matha (valiant Mother) award.
She says “my only wish is before I die to visit Alimankada ( Elephant Pass ) and see the LTTE dozer which my son destroyed”
She recounts her memories. After couple of days, my Son came home in a sealed casket, I didn’t even lucky to see my son’s face. I fainted when I saw the coffin was coming. Also I was surprised the then late President Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa came to pay his respect.
Even the present president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa has visited my home and admired my son’s sacrifice. My Son’s ambition was to build a house for us instead of the small hut we had been living and assist his younger brothers and sisters.
She says "most of the soldiers traveling via this small town usually ask the directions from the people to my place and they pay a visit to our home."
"They share the grief with me. Whenever I go to the city people show to the others and say "that is Gamini’s Mother." I am proud of my Son and all the Sons of mother alike me. My Son became an icon of the Elephant Pass battle. I am happy that today my son’s dream has become a reality;" Juliet said wiping her tears coming from her gloomy eyes.
Corporal Gamimini Kularathna’s scarifies, dedicated for the sake of Sri Lanka ’s territorial integrity and sovereignty was well received with admiration and honor by all segments of masses across the island.
In recognition of his act of gallantry Lance Corporal Gamini Kularathne promoted to the rank of Corporal posthumously conferred with Parama Weera Vibhushana, the highest gallantry award for the first time in the military history of Sri Lanka . Later he came to be known as Hasalaka Weeraya (Hasalaka Hero).
His gallantry was even brought an international attention and was published in Readers Digest magazine on 1995 which circulate billions of copies in different languages around the world.
- Asian Tribune -