Politics & Current Affairs

Sri Lanka president intervenes on behalf of accused military men

The President of Sri Lanka revealed that he has intervened on behalf of military intelligence officials held in custody under suspicion of committing serious crimes against two prominent journalists.

Addressing a military event in Colombo to hand over land and houses to serving and retired soldiers of the security forces, a visibly outraged President said that he is 'displeased and disgusted' over probes against suspected military men.

Several officers from the military intelligence suspected for the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the abduction of Senior Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda are in remand custody pending investigations.

Wickremetunge was killed in broad daylight in the outskirts of Colombo on 8 January 2009 and Ekneligoda was abducted on 24 January 2010.

"I have called the officers investigating a case where military intelligence officers are in remand for 16 months. If there is a fault they should be charged. If not, they should be released or granted bail, these are human rights," the president said in a clear reference to ongoing Ekneligoda investigations.

Sinhala nationalist pressure

Ironically, the request by scores of Tamil political prisoners, in custody for several years under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), to set them free or to file charges against them has gone unheard.

Sinhala nationalist forces led by Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been condemning the probe against military personnel as a move to weaken the security forces and 'betray war heroes'.

Mahinda Rajapaksa represents the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Sirisena.

In an apparent capitulation to pressure from the Sinhala lobby, an irate president vowed "I will never allow to weaken the military."

He went on to confirm his claim by further revealing that he objected to investigating military commanders and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

"Last year army commanders were called for investigations. I expressed my objection to calling commanders who won the war for investigations. A week ago, the former defence secretary and three navy commanders were taken to courts. I express my displeasure for herding war veteran navy commanders to courts," said the president.

Gotabhaya and the Navy

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and three former naval commanders are being probed for causing a loss of SLR 11.4 billion to the government through a private arms deal involving Avant Garde security company.

Investigating bodies came under heavy fire from the president who accused that decisions are plotted in 'hidey-holes' by those pursuing a 'political agenda'.

"The Financial Investigations Division (FCID), Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and the Independent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) is run by a political agenda."

President Sirisena who heads a coalition government seemed to accuse its partner United National Party (UNP) led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Political agenda

The Law and Order ministry that oversees the FCID and CID come under a strong Wckremesinghe ally Sagala Ratnayake.

The state defence minister Ruwan Wijewardena who is a relative of PM Wickremesinghe is also from the UNP.

"My displeasure and disgust as the president is expressed to the defense minister for calling naval commanders to courts," said the president who also handles the defense portfolio, informing the military gathering that the PM and the cabinet of ministers were made aware of his views in an emergency meeting.

"If political agendas are perused, I will have to take stern action," warned the president.

Gota praises Sirisena

President Sirisena’s attack on investigations have been welcomed by the former defence secretary.

“I am happy that it has dawned on the president that investigations against me is politically motivated,” the former president’s sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has told the BBC.

“we have been telling throughout these two years that these investigation are a political witch hunt. Now the president himself has made that clear.”

'Army not helping' - AG

A day after the president's assurance to the military of his backing, the country's attorney general's (AG) department informed courts that the Sri Lanka Army is not helping with the Ekneligoda abduction probe.

Additional solicitor general Sarath Jayamanne told the Supreme court that the Brigadier in charge of the military intelligence has failed to provide details including telephone logs as requested by the CID.

He was appearing on behalf of the AG to respond in a fundamental rights case filed by two military intelligence officers Sergeant Major Dilandjan Upasena and Corporal Ravindra Rupasena challenging their detention.

The supreme court has fixed the hearing for the 29th of November.

© JDS