By Shamindra Ferdinando
The founding Director General of the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) Asanga Abeyagoonasekera says the then Chief of State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardana had received the final warning about the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks from an Indian with diplomatic status based at the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
Abeygoonasekera, in an exclusive interview with Chamuditha Samarwickrema recently on ‘Truth with Chamuditha’ quoted the Indian as having told him intelligence on the impending blasts would have been shared if he knew Abeygoonasekera was planning to visit Shangri La.
Abeygoonasekera was about to press the button of a lift in Shangri La when the first of the two blasts ripped through the hotel. One time Executive Director of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) had been with his wife and two children.
Shangri La blasts claimed the lives of 35 persons and wounded 34.
Abeygoonasekera alleged that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) that inquired into the Easter attacks prevented him from naming the Indian.
Claiming that he knew the diplomat for some time, Abeygoonasekera questioned how the Indian intelligence had prior information of the date of the operation unless someone within Zahran Hashim’s outfit worked for them.
Zahran Hashim and Ilham Ahmed carried out attacks in Shangrila.
Abeygoonasekera said that when he asked for an explanation as to how India got to know about the date of the suicide attacks, the Indian HC representative attributed their success to examination of accidental explosion in Sainthamaruthu in the East. Abeygoonasekera said that Indian claimed the accidental blast that had wrecked a motorcycle led them to get specific information.
Abeygoonasekera agreed with interviewer Samarawickrema the diplomat’s claim was not acceptable.
However, Abeygoonasekera appeared to have mistakenly referred to a blast at Sainthamaruthu in the run up to the April 21 suicide attacks whereas the actual test blast took place at Kattankudy on April 16.
Abeygoonasekera now functions as the Senior Advisor to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa.
The young academic alleged that in the wake of 2019 Easter attacks the yahapalana government sought to move him out of INSSSL. Asserting that an influential section of the previous administration wanted him out of that position in the wake of him raising the failure on the part of the then President Maithripala Sirisena to act on a missive sent by him as regards heightened threat posed by extremists.
Declaring that he raised the issue at the National Security Council following the Easter Sunday blasts, Abeygoonasekera admitted that he was not sure whether the President actually received his report exclusively prepared for him though it was submitted through the Secretary, Ministry of Defence.
Pressed for a definite answer, Abeygoonasekera said that when he inquired from President Sirisena, the latter claimed he never received it.
Abeygoonasekera claimed that however, Senior DIG Jayawardena had told him how President Sirisena discarded the report expressing concerns about causing an unnecessary issue.
Abeygoonasekera, the only son of assassinated SLMP leader Ossie Abeygoonasekera recalled how President Sirisena created INSSSL by a cabinet paper. The SLMP leader was killed in an LTTE suicide attack on UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake’s political platform at Thotalanga in Oct 1994.
The academic contested Gampaha district at the 2015 general election on the UNP ticket.
Asanga Abeygoonasekera questioned whether the powers that be felt uncomfortable as a result of him disputing the then administration’s response to the extremist threat. According to him, in his capacity as the DG, INSSSL, he authored a report warning the President of the impending threat soon after the police raided extremists’ hideout at Wanathawilluwa in January 2019.
Responding to interviewer, Abeygoonasekera said that after the 2019 presidential election he was told of a diplomatic posting at the Sri Lankan mission in Germany. On an assurance received from the cabinet by way of a letter, Abeygoonasekera quit the INSSSL to pave the way for the incumbent Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage to take over that post. However, the diplomatic posting hadn’t materialized as promised, Abeygoonasekera said, adding that though he brought the development to the notice of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa the government didn’t take remedial measures.
After the change of government in 2015 the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had removed Abeygoonasekera from LKIIRSS though the same government created INSSSL later to accommodate him.
Commenting on former Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC’s declaration soon before his retirement in May this year that the Easter Sunday carnage was a conspiracy, Abeygoonasekera explained how the perpetrators would have chosen Sri Lanka to carry out the operation. Abeygoonasekera made reference to high level Indian delegation visiting Colombo just ahead of the Easter carnage.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly asked the government to inquire into the former AG’s claim though he was yet to be questioned.
According to the Parliamentary Select Committee that inquired into the suicide blasts that claimed the lives of 277, including bombers and caused injuries to 406 persons.
Abeygoonasekera strongly questioned the conduct of the then SIS Chief Senior DIG Jayawardena. In spite of President Sirisena’s specific instructions, Jayawardena conveniently refrained from making available certain letters written by Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara thera regarding extremist activities. The SIS Chief withheld those letters claiming they had previously examined the matters discussed therein, Abeygoonasekera said.
Abeygoonasekera declined to blame any particular country though he expressed the belief Indian, US and China factors should be examined thoroughly. The academic lamented the failure on the part of successive administrations to probe how the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) received the required funding. Asked whether the perpetrators could be identified, Abeygoonasekera quoted a foreign expert as having told him perhaps in about 20 to 30 years.
Referring to a discussion he had with Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Abeygoonasekera said that the Church suspected a certain country, though he didn’t want to disclose the Archbishop’s suspicions. Abeygoonaekera said that all agreed that there was an external power behind the Easter Sunday carnage.
Declaring that President Sirisena, who had held the defence portfolio at the time of the deadly carnage didn’t benefit at all, Abeygoonasekera blamed the ‘Deep State’ for the heinous operation. When repeatedly asked by the interviewer, Abeygoonasekera admitted that his reference to experts in Singapore receiving the attention of the P CoI was about Prof. Rohan Gunaratne now with the INSSSL.
Abeygoonasekera said that the conduct of the then SIS Chief was very suspicious as he in spite of being the recipient of specific intelligence didn’t take tangible measures to thwart the attacks.
President instructs officials to vaccinate kids with Pfizer
Health Ministry still deliberating pros and cons
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed health officers to inoculate children between the age 15 to 19 with Pfizer vaccine, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said yesterday.
General Silva added that the President had also instructed officials to inoculate children with special needs above the age of 12, with the Pfizer vaccines. He there are around 50,000 children with special needs.
General Silva said Sri Lanka would receive adequate Pfizer vaccine doses in the coming weeks. During the Presidential Task Force meeting, on Covid-19, it was decided to allow the Department of Motor Traffic, and the Land Registry to operate during the lockdown, which was extended until 01 October. However, a few hours before this statement was made, Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath told the media that no decision had been taken on vaccinating children.
He, however, said that discussions were ongoing about vaccinating children.
“There are a number of discussions on this because this is a serious matter. We have also decided that when we vaccinate the priority will be given to children with comorbidities. Then the rest will be vaccinated based on age groups. But we have not decided on anything else,” he said.
The dates, the brand and other details would be announced once the Health Ministry was done with consultations with experts. Once the decisions were taken the Ministry would prepare guidelines which would then be made available to the public, he said.
“So, I urge the parents not to worry or panic. They can vaccinate their children once we issue guidelines. We will ensure that this will be done safely and with virtually no side-effects or shortages,” Dr. Herath said.
The Deputy Director General of Health Services also urged people not to be misled by claims that those who had been double jabbed and being treated at home were dying in increasing numbers. Some people with serious underlying issues could die even if they were double jabbed, he said.
“However, as we vaccinate an increasing number of Sri Lankans, the deaths and those who need ICU treatment will decline rapidly. Don’t be fooled by various unscientific claims. We are a nation that has universal vaccine rates and we should maintain that tradition with COVID,” he said.
Sumanthiran demands immediate due process against Lohan
Immediate legal action including arrest and prosecution must be taken against Lohan Ratwatte and others who were involved in the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said on Thursday. He said Ratwatte’s mere resignation from one portfolio would not do.
“The Presidential Secretariat has issued a statement that Lohan Ratwatte has taken responsibility for the incidents that transpired at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. Although Ratwatte is said to have resigned from his post as Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he continues to be a minister in charge of other subjects. This is not something we can accept,” he said.
The TNA MP said that the State Minister should be removed from all his positions immediately and the pistol he carried with him should be taken away from him.
“Otherwise, it’s a grave threat to the public at large,” Sumanthiran said. There had been other incidents where Ratwatte brandished his weapon in public spaces, he added.
The TNA MP said that an independent investigation should be held with regard to those incidents and Ratwatte and others involved in entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons should be arrested and charged.
“The police have still not taken any action in this regard. The question that must be posed is how he was able to carry his personal firearm inside the prison premises. Prison officials must answer these questions,” he said.
MP Sumanthiran said that given that the prisoners were wards of the state, their security was in the hands of the state.
“Therefore, this is a very serious incident. Action must be taken accordingly,” he said.
Taking contradictory stand on 2015 Geneva Resolution
‘Govt. seeking credit for accountability mechanisms set up by previous administration’
UNHRC 48th sessions:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena has alleged that the government’s stand on accountability issues at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is contradictory to its much publicised opposition to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the previous administration.
Sri Lanka co-sponsored 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015. The then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that the UNP-led government had President Maithripala Sirisena’s consent to go ahead with the co-sponsorship.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media spokesperson Gunawardena yesterday (17) pointed out that the government, at the ongoing 48th sessions of the UNHRC, has reiterated its commitment to key accountability mechanisms set up in terms of the Geneva Resolution.
Civil society activist Gunawardena, who also functioned as the Director General, Information Department during the previous administration said that the assurance given by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last Tuesday (14) should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from 30/1 resolution.
Prof. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena announced Sri Lanka’s withdrawal at the Feb-March 2020 sessions.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation, Gunawardena stressed, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Stop playing politics at the expense of our international relations,” Gunawardena said, underscoring the need for what he called a national consensus on the post-war reconciliation process.
Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that FM Prof. Peiris in his address to the Geneva sessions discussed the progress in what he described as a domestic process in respect of accountability issues. Reference was made to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). However, the FM conveniently failed to acknowledge that the OMP, OR and ONUR had been established in keeping with the 2015 Geneva Resolution that covered broader understanding of transitional justice.
The SLPP, while taking credit for the ongoing transitional justice process, continued to publicly reject 30/1, the very basis of the solution, Gunawardena said. “In other words, the SLPP’s actions are very different from their pledges before the electorate in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Referring to the assurance given by Prof. Peiris at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka Human Rights Council was carrying on its mandate, Gunawardena challenged the government to prove its sincerity by allowing no holds barred investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons on Sept 6 and 12, respectively.
The announcement made by the HRCSL regarding its decision to initiate an inquiry of its own in the absence of police investigation received public attention and appreciation, Gunawardena said.
Commenting on the declaration that Sri Lanka was engaged in an integrated process to bring the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with international norms and best practices, lawyer Gunawardena urged the government to study the work done by the previous government in that regard. Referring to statements made by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in that regard, Gunawardena said that the then Joint
Opposition quite maliciously rejected the move. “They should be ashamed of theirconduct,” relevant ministers and the Attorney General Department couldn’t be unaware of the agreement on new anti-terrorism law.
Gunawardena said that the SLPP administration shouldn’t hesitate to appreciate the previous government’s achievements. “We are quite pleased that mechanisms accepted by the previous government continue to be in operation even though the progress seems slow. However, the SLPP cannot deprive the UNP-led administration of the credit it deserved,” lawyer Gunawardena said.
Gunawardena urged the government to examine the report of the Committee appointed by then Premier Wickremesinghe to develop what he called the policy and legal framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka. He said that a politically motivated campaign derailed that effort whereas the Opposition propagated the lie the yahapalana government intended to deprive Sri Lanka of anti-terrorism law.
Asked to comment on the revelation of the SLPP government having talks with a group of civil society activists to explore ways and means to strengthening the reconciliation process, Gunawardena said that a 13-page Foreign Ministry note dated Aug. 31, 2021 addressed to Colombo-based diplomatic missions acknowledged the pivotal role played by the civil society. Having always accused the civil society of being part of a Western strategy, the same lot exposed their duplicity by meeting a group of civil society activists.
Gunawardena was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ministers, Basil Rakapaksa, Prof. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ali Sabry, PC, and Namal Rajapaksa having separate meetings with SLCC (Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus) in the run-up to the Geneva confab. SLCC comprises 16 individuals.
Gunawardena noted the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, too, in her hard-hitting Sept 13 statement on Sri Lanka referred to President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the SLCC.
Gunawardena said that in addition to the SLCC, another group styled itself as the Civil Society Platform (CSP) in a statement issued on Sept. 13 made its position clear on a range of accountability issues as well as stepped up pressure on the civil society. CSP consists of 30 organizations and 36 individuals.
Responding to declarations by FM Prof Peiris and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that external investigations wouldn’t be acceptable, lawyer Gunawardena said that instead of rejecting the investigation the government should furbish whatever information in its hands or had access to the new investigative mechanism. The government couldn’t ignore the fact that the UNHRC authorized the fresh investigative mechanism at the 46th session with an overwhelming majority with 22 countries voting for the resolution, 11 against and 14 missing the vote.
Gunawardena urged the government to take a realistic view as Sri Lanka didn’t have time and space to engage in silly maneuvers. The bottom line was that the March 2020 announcement that Sri Lanka withdrew from 30/1 was nothing but a farce, Gunawardena said.
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