Military top brass shuffle casts doubts on Sri Lanka ‘internal mechanism’

United Nations have called upon Sri Lanka's new government to address mistrust among Tamils while recent appointments to top military posts have heightened doubts on the effectiveness of the proposed 'internal mechanism' to investigate war crimes. UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman on a four day visit to Sri Lanka told journalists in Colombo after meetings in Jaffna that the government could improve trust by addressing detentions and disappearances of Tamils in addition to militarisation of the Tamil dominated north.

The first UN envoy to visit the island since the new government came into power in January,  made these observations while President Maithripala Sirisena was in the northern city of Jaffna on Tuesday promising to 'address the grievances of Tamils' who overwhelmingly voted him to office. However, "When I was in Jaffna yesterday, I heard great scepticism from people in the north about whether some of those words really translate into tangible steps that would affect their life," said Feltman.

While Tamils consistently call for accountability, almost all the newly promoted military officials have been responsible for operations during the final phase of the war where alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed. The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) delayed a long-awaited report into alleged human rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months from March until September 2015 based on what the high commissioner called, ‘clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate with my Office on a whole range of important human rights issues’.

Fonseka side lined

Earlier appointments to key posts influenced by former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka have been reversed on orders by the president and prime minister. Although Brigadier Duminda Keppetiwalana, a close associate of General Fonseka  was earlier appointed as director of military operations, he has now been assigned to direct the infantry division. Government authorities claim that he has been transferred as investigations have initiated into abductions, involuntary disappearances, killings and ransom demands during his spell as Colombo military commander.

Brigadier Jayantha Gunaratne has been re-appointed as operations director.  Major General Amal Karunasekara earlier appointed as Vanni army commander has been recalled to military headquarters to be replaced by Major General Boniface Perera.

Command responsibility

In cases of war crimes, the standard procedure to establish command responsibility, is to examine the hierarchical accountability by investigating the chain of command. The codified international law prevents absolving superiors from responsibility for war crimes committed by their subordinates.  

Latest military appointments by Sirisena-Wickramasinghe administration follow.

Lieutenant General Crishanthe de Silva    - Commander of the Army

Lieutenant General AWJC de Silva who counts over 35 years of service in the army, was the Kilinochchi commander in 2003-2004. Following the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as the head of the military, De Silva was transferred to Kilinochchi as Forward Maintenance Area Commander. He was in charge of dispatching civilians fleeing the north at the conclusion of the war.

He was promoted to the rank of Major General following his key evidence in the court of inquiry that stripped Sarath Fonseka of his rank, medals and pension. Former army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya appointed De Silva to head a military court of inquiry (CoI) to investigate the 2009 August JDS video showing the execution of suspected Tamil Tiger prisoners of war broadcast by Channel 4.  The CoI concluded that the military conducted itself strictly in accordance with the ‘Zero Civilian Casualty’ policy. He is yet to provide the findings of the second part of the inquiry that commenced in February 2013 into allegations of summary executions of surrendered LTTE leaders, widely known as the ‘White Flag Killings’. He was appointed as chief of staff while being overlooked in promoting a junior officer Daya Ratnayaka as army commander in 2013. The Rajapaksa administration appointed him as the deputy ambassador to Russia in May 2014.

Major General Mahesh Weerathunge Senanayake - Military Secretary,  Army Headquarters

Major General NUM Mahesh W Senanayake who joined the engineering corps in 1981 was the Special Forces (SF) commander established in the late eighties. He led the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) covert operation unit under the command of SF. When General Sarath Fonseka was chief of staff, Senanayake served as the director general of the planning and research division. Sent on early retirement due to his close association with Sarath Fonseka, he immigrated to Dubai to join Emirates Airlines.  On his return to the island following the victory of Maithripala Sirisena, Senanayake was re-enlisted to the military.

Brigedier Duminda Keppetiwalana - Director Infantry

Brigadier Keppetiwalana has served as the Sinha Regiment headquarters commanding officer as well as the Colombo brigade commander. Keppetiwalana was later released from jail after being detained for the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga. He was the aide to Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and was actively engaged in the 59th brigade that launched the conclusive massacre of Mullaitheevu. He too returned from overseas to rejoin the military following the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Major General Aruna Perera - Director General General Staff, Army Headquarters

An officer of the armoured corps, Major General Aruna Perera has served as director logistics in the army headquarters. He has been a major contributor to Excercise Cormorant Strike. This exercise hailed as a ‘brainchild of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’ is designed to jointly train all three forces for unconventional operations in hostile territory. Aruna Perera has been involved in active operations in Jaffna as commander armoured corps.

Major General Kamal Gunaratne - Master General Ordnance, Army Headquarters

A member of the Rajarata Rifles division disbanded due to its violent role in the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom, Major General Kamal Gunaratne was later attached to the Gajaba regiment and was regarded as a close confidante of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He has been involved in operations in the north and east since 1983. Leading the 53rd battalion during the war Gunaratne was considered the most senior among military commanders in the attack on Mullaithivu, as such as  Shavendra Silva, Prasanna Silva, Chagi Gallage, GV Ravipriya, and NAndana Udawatte. , Major General Gunaratne is accused for the killing of many Tamils in custody including Tamil Tiger leader’s son Balachandran and newsreader, singer Isaipriya. He served as an additional judge in the court of inquiry against Sarath Fonseka. He was involved in the report that cleared the military of wrongdoing in the war. The former administration appointed him as the deputy ambassador to Brazil for a brief period.

Major General Channa Gunathilake - Commandant, Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force

Major General Channa Gunathilake was former military secretary. He represents the engineering corps. Gunathilake who was military commander in Mannar during the war was made Kilinochchi commander after the military overran the whole of the north.

Major General Nandana Udawatte - Commander, Security Force Headquarters - Jaffna

Major General Nandana Udawatte was earlier the deputy commanding officer of the 57th Brigade. Later he led the 59th brigade attack from Welioya to Mullaithivu. In order to capture Mullaithivu he operated from Anandapuram where a large number of civilians were killed. In 2012 he was appointed as the deputy ambassador for Russia.

Major General Janaka Walgama - Commander, Security Force Headquarters - East

Major General Janaka Walgama from the engineering corps was the commanding officer of the 51st brigade in the Vanni operations. Earlier, he was the commanding officer of the 22nd  brigade in Trincomalee and Thunukkai. He has been the commanding officer of the security services officers college and director intelligence services.

Major General Sumedha Perera - Commander, Security Force Headquarters - Central

Another member of the court of inquiry on the Channel 4 video, which concluded that no civilian was killed in what the military called a 'Humanitarian Operation'.  Major General Sumedha Perera was sent on compulsory leave for allegations on forging documents to possess the Obeysekara mansion in Rajagiriya. He served in the Gajaba regiment under Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Brigadier Jayantha Gunaratne - Director Operations, Army Headquarters

Served as the Commander of the Task Force II during the final offensive and was later appointed as the Director, Training. He was involved in oraganising Indo - Lanka joint military exercices in 2014, code named 'Mitra Shakti'.

Major General Boniface Perera - Director General General Staff , Office of the Chief of Defence Staff

Joined SL Army in 1981 as an Officer Cadet and was subsequently commissioned to the Sinha Regiment (SLSR). He had commandered 52 and 22 Brigades at a later stage. During the final war, served as the Commanding Officer of the 4 SLSR and took part in operations to capture Kilinochchi. He had earned a Diploma in Senior Defence Management from Ahilya University, India before being selected to follow a one year course at the National Defence Studies in China. Appointed to the new position after relinquishing his duties as the Commander, Security Force Headquarters - Wanni.