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Easter carnage: One of those who allegedly failed to prevent it, turns state witness

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‘We still do not know what had happened to Sarah’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Director General, Legal Affairs at the Presidential Secretariat, Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera Monday night (30) revealed that former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena would be a key witness in the State’s 2019 Easter Sunday case against former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando as well as then IGP Pujith Jayasundera.

Rohanadeera also made reference to another case also in the High Court, in which Jayawardena would be a major witness. The top Presidential Secretariat official said so appearing on Salakuna live TV programme, a nearly two-hour interview telecast on Hiru.

Rohanadeera explained how a person against whom accusations had been made become a State witness. The panel of journalists comprised Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Madushan de Silva and Kalindu Vidanage. The explanation was provided when the panel of journalists pointed out the failure on the part of the then government to thwart the suicide bombings in spite of specific intelligence received from India, regarding impending attacks.

Eight separate blasts, including three targeting churches at Katuwapitiya, Colombo Kochchikade and Batticaloa claimed the lives of 270 and wounded over 400.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) Final Report, Vol. 1-p 287-288 handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Feb 2021 recommended to the Attorney General criminal proceedings against SDIG Jayawardena “under any suitable provision in the Penal Code”

At the onset of the interview, Rohanadeera acknowledged that he was the first DG, Legal Affairs, at the Presidential Secretariat and his responsibilities included examination of international agreements.

Responding to growing criticism that the incumbent government had reneged on repeated assurances of punitive action against all responsible regardless of their status, Rohanadeera emphasised that action couldn’t be taken only on the basis of PCoI recommendations. The panel of journalists asked why the government justified the inordinate delay in taking tangible action against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who also held the Defence portfolio as well as the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The panel of journalists pointed out that the PCoI had clearly commented that then Premier Wickremesinghe’s soft approach towards extremism facilitated the Easter attacks.

The panel of journalists also sought Rohanadeera’s response to Church’s accusation that the government sought to protect Sirisena, now a member of the ruling SLPP representing the Polonnaruwa district.

Pointing out that lawmaker Sirisena in terms of 35.1 of the Constitution enjoyed immunity to a certain extent, Rohanadeera stressed that it would be the prerogative of the Attorney General to move court against those who had been named by the P CoI. Rohanadeera repeatedly explained how findings made by the P CoI may not be sufficient in a criminal case.

Commenting on the continuing controversy over the fate of Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah Jesmine, the wife of Katuwapitiya bomber Hastun, Rohanadeera insisted the government wasn’t aware of what really happened to her though aware of her presence at Sainthamaruthu at the time the military surrounded their hideout about a week after the April 21, 2019 blasts. The panel of journalists pressed Rohanadeera over claims by Opposition lawmakers based on statements made by law enforcement officers regarding Sarah Jasmine managing to secure refuge in India having fled the country in a boat.

Responding to former Attorney General Dappula de Livera’s claim that the Easter Sunday carnage was a grand conspiracy, Rohanadeera questioned the rationale in that particular statement as he could have dealt with the so-called grand conspiracy during his tenure as the AG. Rohanadeera pointed out that the former AG made the claim just two days before his retirement in May this year. Rohanadeera asserted that the former AG could give a statement to the CID in that regard and, the police too could seek clarification from the former Chief Legal Officer of the government.

Rohanadeera dealt with the deterioration of national security in the wake of Maithripala Sirisena’s triumph at the 2015 presidential election. Having described the yahapalana administration an abnormality, Rohanadeera asserted that handing over the government to the UNP with just 40 odd members of parliament was constitutionally flawed. Rohanadeera recalled how the then CJ was unceremoniously sent home by PM Wickremesinghe who just commanded 40 odd lawmakers. Reference was also made to the power struggle between the yahapalana President and the Prime Minister, Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 and the failure on the part of the AG’s Department to advice the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) as regards Zahran Hashim in the run-up to the Easter blasts. Rohanadeera declined to comment on the conduct of the officers of the AG’s Department.

The panel of journalists raised the negligence on the part of State Counsel Malik Azeez and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi on the basis of the recommendations made by the PCoI. The P CoI recommended the Public Service Commission (PSC) consider disciplinary action against both.

Samarawickrema reminded how the then government arrested DIG Nalaka Silva who sought the AG’s advice regarding Zahran Hashim over unsubstantiated accusations made by Namal Kumara regarding an alleged plot to assassinate President Sirisena and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rohanadeera also explained how the government addressed contentious issues on the basis of the P CoI recommendations that largely dealt with two areas and the Sectoral Oversight Committee chaired by MP Malith Jayatilleke during the previous administration. Responding to a spate of questions regarding the suspicious conduct of the SIS and Directorate of Military Intelligence and direct links between Zahran Hashim and some of his followers with the intelligence services before the change of government in 2015, Rohanadeera emphasised those who propagated various theories and gave credence to unsubstantiated accusations were not aware of the whole picture. Rohanadeera explained intelligence services followed various strategies therefore it wouldn’t be fair to judge them on wrongful assumptions and misinterpretations of events.

Asked whether the Easter Sunday carnage was meant to facilitate SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at the 2019 presidential poll, Rohanadeera dismissed such claims declaring that it was a blatant lie. Referring to the SLPP’s unprecedented victory at the Feb 2018 Local Government polls, Rohanadeera declared that the then administration was so unpopular as a result of Treasury bond scams and political turmoil the presidential poll victory was already a foregone conclusion.



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Amidst farmers’ protests, ministers at BIA to welcome first stock of liquid fertiliser

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Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Shashindra Rajapaksa standing near the airlifted fertiliser consignment.

Activist alleges violation of procurement procedures

Amidst continuing protests in several parts of the country against a severe shortage of fertiliser, SriLankan Airlines yesterday (21) airfreighted a stock of nano-nitrogen liquid fertiliser from India.

UL 1156 touched down at the BIA 12.25 am. Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Ministers, Shashendra Rajapaksa and D. V. Chanaka and Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith Jayasinghe were there to receive the first consignment of fertiliser.

The Presidential Secretariat said that during this week 500,000 litres of nitrogen fertiliser would be brought in. It said that altogether the government had ordered 3.1 mn litres from India’s IFFCO.

The Indian fertiliser would be made available to farmers through Agrarian Centres in the Ampara, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee Districts and other districts, where paddy cultivation has already commenced, the Presidential Secretariat quoted the Agriculture Secretary as having said.

Methsiri Gunawardena, Chairman of the Colombo Commercial Fertiliser was also at the BIA.

Former Governor of Uva, Central and Southern Provinces and civil society activist Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon in a statement issued yesterday alleged that the fertliser had been ordered at a cost of Rs 9 bn without following proper procurement procedures.

Tennakoon asked whether the government deliberately created an environment for the emergency import of fertliser from India. Tennakoon said the government should explain how such large scale imports were made contrary to basic procedures. Tennakoon alleged that the government had created a monopoly for fertliser imports for the benefit of a few (SF)

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Govt. seeks an eco-tourism plan

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By Ifham Nizam

The Environment Ministry and the Tourism Ministry had joined hands to appoint a joint expert committee to formulate an eco-tourism strategic plan, a senior government official said.

Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Dr. Anil Jasinghe said that the objective of the programme was to promote the tourism industry as well as environmental protection.

“Sri Lanka has a vast flora and fauna biodiversity, pristine beaches and priceless ancient sites. The mangrove system can also attract a large number of tourists. But biodiversity is under serious threat due to the unintentional destruction by certain people in our country,” he said expressing concern.

Although there are many places in Sri Lanka where eco-tourism can be found, the ecotourism industry has not yet developed in a formal way. Therefore, the Environment and Tourism Ministries have decided to initiate a joint program to formulate an eco-tourism strategic plan aimed at attracting tourists to the ecotourism industry as part of promotion and development of our tourism industry.

A special discussion on this matter was held at the Ministry of Environment earlier this week. Environment Ministry Secretary Dr. Anil Jasinghe, and Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi chaired the discussion.

Attention was drawn to the identification of eco-tourist attractions, the implementation of this program as a tactic to protect the environment, and to encourage more tourists to come to the country not only for entertainment but also for knowledge.

It was agreed to appoint a committee of experts with a standard knowledge of tourism and the environment to carry out the task.

It was also emphasized that the eco-tourism industry is very important as a source of income for our country as the 2018-22 Biodiversity Action Plan and the National Environmental Plan also include the development of eco-tourism industries.

Officials from the Special Projects Division of the Ministry of Environment also participated in the discussion.

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Finally, Lohan’s statement recorded but not by police

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Retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena on Tuesday (19) recorded former Prisons Minister Lohan Ratwatte’s statement as regards incidents involving him at the Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons, sources said.

They said that the retired judge had asked for two months to prepare her report on the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura on 6 and 12 Sept. respectively.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC asked the retired HC judge to inquire into the incidents. Once completed, the report would be submitted to the cabinet by the Justice Minister, sources said.

The police are yet to record the State Minister’s statement regarding the incidents.

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