Polonnaruwa District MP Maithripala Sirisena leaving P CoI recently
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Many an eyebrow was raised when Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, intervened in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), tasked to inquire into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.
The Diocese of Colombo stepped-in, in the wake of accusations that attempts were being made to suppress the investigation. The then President Maithripala Sirisena, who named the P CoI, on Sept 22, 2019, wouldn’t have anticipated the P CoI to boomerang on him.
Sirisena, who is also the beleaguered leader of the SLFP, constituted the P CoI, ahead of the seven-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) submitting its report to the Parliament, on Oct 23, 2019. The PSC sittings took place between May-Oct 2019.
Sirisena, who had been away in Singapore, at the time of the coordinated suicide attacks, on the morning of April 21, 2019, returned on the following day, to take charge of the situation. Initially, the public didn’t find fault with the President, whereas the then Premier Ranil Wickemesinghe was mercilessly attacked. Within days after the attacks, Sirisena appointed his first P CoI to probe the attacks. The P CoI, headed by Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda, included former IGP N.K. Illangakoon (July 16, 2011 to July 11, 2016) and retired Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order Padmasiri Jayamanne.
It would be pertinent to mention that the Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim stepped up his clandestine activities, during Illangakoon’s tenure, as the IGP. By August 2015, Hashim had reached consensus with a group of Muslim politicians, and the parties they represented.
Sirisena named his second P CoI, in response to the PSC named by the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Headed by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, the PSC consisted of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, Ravi Karunanayake, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa , Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, and Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, PC. The PSC summoned members of the first P CoI, on August 20, 2019. Illangakoon and Jayamanne also appeared before the PSC, on July 25, 2019.
Special status for Prez, SIS head
Sirisena declined to appear before the PSC. Instead, the PSC visited him at the President’s House, on Sept 20, 2019. Sirisena received kid glove treatment. Let me reproduce what the PSC stated in its report on meeting Sirisena:
“Committee, having observed the evidence of H.E. Maithripala Sirisena, the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, who was the Minister of Defence at the time these incidents took place, would be very helpful and important in preparing the final report of the Committee, decided to make a request to H.E. the President to give the Committee an opportunity for that.”
Sirisena named his second P CoI two days after his chat with the PSC, on Aug 20, 2019. The then head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena too received special status when his testimony was recorded in camera, at the Parliamentary Committee Complex (formerly Agriculture Ministry) located at Rajamalwatta Road, Battaramulla, at 7.00 p.m., on July 24, 2019. The hearing continued till 1 a.m. the following day. Jayawardena, having joined the Police, as an ASP, in February, 1998, received appointment as Senior DIG, in late Feb 2019. Interestingly, even after the PSC named Jayawardena as the main culprit, the incumbent SLPP administration appointed him Senior DIG, in charge of the Eastern Province. Jayawardena received the appointment on Jan 1, 2020.
Obviously, Sirisena never expected the second P CoI to really go into the Easter attack. Perhaps, Jayawardena, too, didn’t anticipate any devastating exposure, at the second P CoI.
Sirisena concluded his testimony, on Nov 25, having appeared before the P CoI, on eight occasions, with Shammil Perera, PC, Counsel for the Diocese of Colombo, giving the former President a very hard time. Sirisena, now an SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) MP for Polonnaruwa, ended up having to produce his medical reports to the P CoI.
The on-going second P CoI comprises Court of Appeal Judge Janak de Silva, Court of Appeal Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, Retired High Court Judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, and A.L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary of the Ministry of Justice W.M.M.R. Adikari. Secretary to the Commission is H.M.P.B. Herath.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith refrained from seeking changes to the P CoI, though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested the Archbishop of Colombo to make suggestions. Instead, the Church had Counsel therein to raise pertinent issues. Perhaps Sirisena felt confident that he could deal with the situation. However, the proceedings have taken a nasty turn with the Counsel for disgraced former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando questioning Sirisena whether he lied before the P CoI.
Responding to Fernando’s Counsel, Sirisena, on Nov 24, acknowledged how his son Daham’s wedding had to be shifted from the Shangri-La Hotel, where Zahran Hashim, and another, carried out suicide attacks, to Hilton Colombo. Sirisena also defended visiting Tirupathi, before Singapore, where he claimed he received treatment, whereas Fernando’s Counsel insisted he was there for a regular checkup. The Counsel also challenged Sirisena’s excuse for not taking an earlier flight, in spite of the unprecedented national security emergency.
Diocese of Colombo responds
sought an explanation from His Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando, S.S.S., President, Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Bishop of the Diocese of Badulla as regards the intervention made by the Church.
Asked whether the decision to employ legal counsel had been taken by the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Dr. Fernando explained how the Diocese of Colombo could take the relevant decision as the Easter Sunday attacks took place within the area coming under its authority. The senior clergyman pointed out that the church, attacked in the Batticaloa district, didn’t come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Batticaloa. Responding to another query, Dr. Fernando said that the intervention of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference depended on the nature of the issue at hand. On behalf of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Dr. Fernando strongly endorsed the measures taken by them to ensure justice for those who perished in terror attacks.
Dr. Fernando underscored the pivotal importance of maintaining cordial relations among communities as the investigation progressed. Colombo is among altogether 12 Dioceses which constitute the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Supreme body responsible for the overall direction of the community. Rt. Rev. Dr. J.D. Anthony Jayakody, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, functions as the Secretary General of the body.
In October 2020, the supreme body had the courage to reject the much touted 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Instead, it called for the appointment of an independent constitutional council to draft a new constitution. It also called for tangible measures to plug the loopholes that could lead to multiple interpretations.
Thanks to apt strategies adopted by the Church, the P CoI inquiry attracted unprecedented attention with the Counsel going ahead with no holds barred questioning of no longer privileged ex-President Sirisena which would have been unthinkable a year ago. Did Sirisena realize how the P CoI inquiry could boomerang on him! Obviously, consequences are catastrophic and irreversible. The impact on the Muslim political leadership too is quite devastating and likely to undermine their longstanding relationship with major political parties. If not for the tough stand taken by the Church, utterly corrupt political party system could have easilysucceeded in suppressing the investigation.
The releasing of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Vanni District lawmaker Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother, Riyaj, taken into custody over his alleged involvement with one of the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) suicide bombers, by the incumbent government, is a case in point. Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC called for an inquiry into the release of Riyaj. However, law enforcement authorities are yet to take him back into custody.
Pompeo’s questionable claim on Easter Sunday attacks
Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the end of his official talks in Colombo on Oct 28, 2020, directly blamed ISIS for the Easter Sunday attacks. Let me reproduce the relevant section of his statement verbatim: “Finally, this afternoon, I’ll travel – it’s important for me to take a moment to go and visit the Shrine of St. Anthony, one of the five sites that were attacked by ISIS on Easter Sunday of 2019. I’ll shortly have the chance to pay my respects to the hundreds of victims of evil terrorists, including five Americans. I’m proud that the State Department has offered substantial counterterrorism assistance to help Sri Lankans bring killers of Americans and their own people to justice. These Easter Sunday attacks represent the kind of sectarianism that Sri Lankans are ready to leave behind forever. Sri Lankans of all backgrounds – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike – want a peaceful nation where their human rights are respected.”
Two senior intelligence personnel, a retired official and a serving officer categorically denied ISIS culpability, though the organization claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage, several days after the attack. Both having access to an entire range of information, emphasized that at the time the suicide bombers struck, the ISIS hadn’t been aware of the operation. Referring to the US Secretary of State’s claim, they underscored the need to set the record straight as the perceived ISIS leadership could divert government and public attention, away from the real perpetrators.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, they explained that the ISIS claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings at churches and high-end hotels on Tuesday (23) after a youth, 21, from Matale, who had been in Qatar before, contacted the ISIS. The CID later arrested the suspect.
The ISIS offered no evidence to back its claim, initially announced in Arabic, carried by its Amaq news agency, on April 23, 2019. The news agency claimed the attackers were ‘among the fighters of the Islamic State.’
ISIS later issued a longer, formal statement, identifying the seven suicide bombers, who detonated explosive-laden vests, at the churches, and hotels, and a housing complex, on that particular Sunday.
Elusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a week later, reiterated his fighters carried out the attack.
In spite of Sirisena continuing to deny knowledge of the NTJ build-up, there had been three briefings on Zahran Hashim at the National Security Council (NSC) before the Easter Sunday massacre. In addition to them, the Defence Ministry received nine comprehensive reports on the extremists. The DMI, on several occasions, in the run up to the Easter Sunday attacks, suggested that Zahran Hashim be arrested and dealt through legal means.
Who really masterminded the Easter Sunday carnage?
What really triggered the Easter Sunday attacks? Did negligence on the part of the political leadership, and the security apparatus, paved the way for this high profile terror project? Who masterminded the overall operation? If Zahran Hashim wasn’t responsible, who actually picked the targets? Did Thowheed Jamaat suicide bomber Atchchi Muhammadu Hastun’s Tamil wife P. Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah, 24, leave their Sainthamaruthu hideout, on April 28, before troops, and the police, cordoned off the area. Pulasthini remains an enigma, well over a year after a series of blasts, within the hideout, claimed the lives of 15 persons, including six children. Troops captured Zahran Hashim’s wife and child following the confrontation at Sainthamaruthu.
Although Pulasthini was widely believed to be therein, later multiple sources claimed she escaped. Had the P CoI been able to verify claims Hasthun’s wife fled to India, in September 2019, suggesting the possibility of she being one of the informants, run by Indian intelligence?
The Indian intelligence warning, in spite of being ignored by Sri Lanka, revealed the true status of the Indian operation that enabled New Delhi to alert Colombo, well over two weeks before the coordinated terror strikes. Perhaps, Sri Lanka’s response to intelligence warning wrong-footed New Delhi, as Indian interests here were provided enhanced security. On the other hand, New Delhi certainly knew the attackers’ preparations, hence additional warnings.
The confidential Indian memo provided names, addresses, phone numbers, even the times in the middle of the night that one suspect would visit his wife.
If one examined the testimony of Sirisena, and fallen SIS Chief Jayawardena, who appeared before the P Col, for at least 20 days, the bone of contention is nothing but the latter’s failure to tell President of the Indian warning, received on April 4th. Zahran Hashim’s group carried out thespate of blasts, on April 21. Who would believe Sirisena didn’t receive the alert against the backdrop of revelation at the P CoI where there were at least 20 telephone conversations between the two from April 4 to April 21 period alone.
During October 24 P CoI proceedings, President’s Counsel Shamil Perera watching the interests of the Catholic Church, revealed how Sirisena and Jayawardena engaged in a 159-second telephone conversation, beginning at 7.59 am on the day of the attacks. The first blast hit St. Anthony’s Church, at 8.45am. The bomber targeted the Tamil service. However, the PSC, in its report, asserted that the suicide attacks, on St. Anthony’s Church, as well as St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, were carried out at 8.45 am. The next blast, at The Kingsbury Hotel took place at 8.47 am, Shangri-La at 8.54 am, Zion Church, Batticaloa, at 9.10 am and the sixth explosion at the Cinnamon Grand at 9.12 am.
There were two subsequent blasts at Tropical Inn, Dehiwalaand the Dematagoda house of spice tycoon Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, at 1.30 pm and 2.25 pm, respectively. Ibrahim’s two sons were among those who carried out attacks. When police surrounded the Dematagoda residence, Ibrahim’s daughter-in-law detonated explosives. Ibrahim who had been on the JVP’s National List, at the 2015 general election, is still in detention, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Counsel Perera produced a document before P CoI, in the presence of Sirisena, that proved the then President and hisspy chief had been constantly in touch. The list proved that there had been altogether 221 calls, from January to April 2019, therefore claim of Jayawardena didn’t receive an opportunity to pass such vital information, is highly questionable.
Similarly, can the possibility of Premier Wickremesinghe receiving the intelligence warning be ruled out, asJayawardena had shared security alert, received from New Delhi, with the then IGP Pujitha Jayasundera and CNI (Chief of National Intelligence Intelligence) retired DIG Sisira Mendis? Both IGP Jayasundara and Mendis wouldn’t have received appointments if they weren’t the UNP’s favourites.
The NTJ struck a couple of months after UNP leader Wickremesinghe regained the premiership, following Sirisena’s abortive bid to have the general election ahead of the presidential poll, which eventually took place on Nov 16, 2019. If the UNP-TNA-JVP combine hadn’t been successful in its legal challenge, the general election would have taken place on January 5, 2019. Had that happened, who would have taken the upper hand? Under whatever the circumstances, the SLPP wouldn’t have secured a near 2/3 majority by winning 145 seats. The result could have gone either way. Most importantly, the then UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa wouldn’t have an opportunity to contest the general election, under a new symbol. In other words, in case the SLPP won the Jan 2019 general election, envisaged by Sirisena, with a slim majority, the main Opposition would have been the UNP. What we should also take into consideration is that if Sirisena managed to sustain his strategy, his SLFP would have had a far bigger share in the SLPP parliamentary group. The SLFP managed to obtain 13 seats, under the SLPP ticket, and one on its own, in the Jaffna peninsula, at the Aug 2020 general election, after the judiciary reversed the then President’s strategy.
The NTJ mounted attacks after Wickremesinghe regained premiership though the police couldn’t be brought under the UNP. Sirisena would have been in a far more comfortable situation now if he gave in to the UNP demand to have the police under its control. However, an adamant Sirisena retained both the defence and police portfolios thereby automatically taking responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage.
As claimed by academic Rajan Hoole in his explosive ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth, ‘launched ahead of the Nov 2019 presidential election, the failure of high profile NTJ’s political project to get some parliamentary representation, at the 2015 general election, may have prompted the Easter Sunday attacks. According to Prof. Hoole, the NTJ sought an arrangement similar to that of the LTTE having its interests represented in Parliament, through the TNA. An in depth examination of political factors is certainly essential as part of the overall investigation which is still at a very early stage.
Parliament reels as Easter Sunday accusations tarnish members’ credibility
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Parliament last week wasted two days on a much hyped debate on national security and the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage carried out by local Muslim extremists radicalized by ISIS ideology. The debate didn’t help political parties represented in Parliament to reach consensus on the post-Easter Sunday reconciliation plan.
But, the ruling ‘Pohottuwa’ party and the solitary UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena defended the handling of the Easter Sunday investigations, whereas those who were in the Yahapalana Cabinet, that ruled the country at the time, attacked the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government over its alleged failure.
A careful consideration of speeches made on September 21 and 22 clearly reflected the fact that political parties remained committed to their original positions, though the political landscape has changed. The exchange between former President Maithripala Sirisena, MP, and war-winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, on the first day of the debate, underlined the pathetic state of affairs.
Polonnaruwa District ‘Pohottuwa’ lawmaker Sirisena’s claim that the war veteran wouldn’t have received the Field Marshal’s rank without his intervention proved again he didn’t have any sense of what he was talking about. If not for Fonseka’s strategic, courageous, ruthless and relentless leadership in pursuit of his goal to destroy the Tigers, the LTTE wouldn’t have collapsed in less than three years (Aug 2006-May 2009) though the successful war effort hinged on the combined forces commitment, and leadership in their respective fields.
MP Sirisena owes an explanation as to why wartime Navy and Air Force commanders, Wasantha Karannagoda and Roshan Gunathilake, respectively, were denied honorary ranks of Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Air Force when Fonseka was awarded the rank of Field Marshal in March 2015. Karannagoda and Gunathilake finally received their due honours in Sept. 2019, several months after the Easter Sunday carnage, the subject of the two-day debate that didn’t achieve anything.
Lawmaker Sirisena should be reminded that he held the public security portfolio as the then President and Commander in Chief at the time of the Easter attacks. Sirisena steadfastly refused to swear in an UNPer as Public Security Minister though he reluctantly swore in Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier after the Supreme Court thwarted his constitutional coup. In fact, an influential section of the Yahapalana setup wanted Fonseka appointed as the Public Security Minister, though the proposal didn’t find favour with Premier Wickremesinghe.
While Parliament debated the Easter Sunday carnage, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who served as the Premier at the time of the near simultaneous suicide attacks, was away in Washington to attend the 78th sessions of the UN General Assembly in New York. Let me reproduce verbatim the assessment made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday carnage. “Upon consideration of the evidence, it is the view of the CoI that the lax approach of Mr. Wickremesinghe towards Islamic extremism, as the Prime Minister, was one of the primary reasons for the failure on the part of the then government to take proactive steps towards Islamic extremism. This facilitated the build-up of Islamic extremism to the point of the Easer Sunday attack.” (Final report, Vol
01, p 276-277).
Against the backdrop of lawmaker Sirisena seeking UN intervention following the Channel 4 allegations, based on Hanzeer Azad Maulana (ex-aide to State Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan aka Pilleyan) over claims of complicity of Maj. Gen. Suresh Sallay in the Easter Sunday plot, it would be pertinent to point out the CoI’s assessment on the then President Sirisena. “Upon consideration of evidence of facts before 4th April 2019, the CoI is of the view that President Sirisena has failed in his duties and responsibilities and that his failure transcends beyond mere civil negligence.” (Final report, Vol 01, p 263)
CoI suggested: “….based on the evidence, the CoI is of the view that there is criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions explained above. The CoI recommends that the Attorney General consider instituting criminal proceedings against President Sirisena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code.” (Final report, Vol 01, p 265)
Supreme Court Justice Janak de Silva chaired the CoI. The other members of the CoI were Court of Appeal Judge Bandula Karunaratne, retired Court of Appeal Judge Sunil Rajapaksa, retired High Court Judge Bandula Atapattu and retired Justice Ministry Secretary W.M.M.R. Adikari. The CoI commenced its hearings on Oct. 31, 2019 and sat on 214 days in total, holding 640 sittings and interviewing 451 witnesses.
The ‘Pohottuwa’ caused suspicions among the Catholics by appointing a six-member team to study the report prepared by such an eminent group. The group, headed by Chamal Rajapaksa, and included Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena, was named on Feb. 19, 2021. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the report on Feb 01, 2021.
The Catholic Church repeatedly pointed out that none of the recommendations made by the CoI had been implemented.
Retired AVM doubts C4 claims
Air Vice Marshal [retired] A.B. Sosa V S V, psc, emphasized the pivotal importance of what he called maximum possible legal punitive action against those responsible for the attacks and security failure at all levels.
The former coordinating Officer of the Hambantota District at the height of the JVP-inspired insurgency (1987/88) and Mahiyanganaya in 1989 where the JVP declared a curfew to sabotage President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s Gam Udawa project explained how various interested parties exploited the developing situation to their advantage.
Declaring that the Easter Sunday carnage is a crime against humanity, Sosa examined the sequence of events as presented by C4, based on Hanzeer Azad Maulana, ex-CID Officer Nishantha Silva, who sought political asylum in Switzerland a week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as the President in Nov. 2019, and an anonymous Sri Lankan Government Official.
C4 accusations pertained to the period about four years prior to the Easter bombings. They rely on the accusations of Maulana and Nishantha Silva. C4 dealt with circumstances Pilleyan’s involvement in the murder of a sitting Member of Parliament Joseph Pararajasingham while attending holy mass on Christmas day 2005. That killing took place in Batticaloa.
One-time LTTEer and sidekick of Karuna Amman who served Mahinda Rajapaksa’s parliamentary group had been entrusted with the task of eliminating those opposed to the Rajapaksas, according to Moulana, who lucidly explained the role played by his former boss over the years.
Sosa questioned Moulana’s claim that Pilleyan’s group had been accommodated at the former Tripoli market premises and was named the ‘Tripoli Platoon.’ The former Director of Operations and Training declared: “This is an outrageous claim. As there had been an Army detachment therein, a motley crowd of civilians couldn’t have been positioned there under any circumstances. Such a situation is not possible in any disciplined military organization.”
Reiterating his concerns over the failure on the part of successive governments to punish those responsible for the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009, the Air Force veteran said that Moulana’s claim that the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed the so-called Tripoli ‘platoon’ to eliminate the eminent journalist is nothing but a blatant lie.
Sosa said that the ex-CID officer’s unsubstantiated claims regarding the Wickrematunga assassination and his removal from the investigation should be examined against the backdrop of his failure to produce any documents or incriminating tapes. The retired AVM emphasized decisions couldn’t be made or consensus reached merely on a statement. Reference was made to an unprecedented Swiss Embassy ‘drama’ that followed the CID officer leaving the country along with his family.
During his career, Sosa, who had received training in the UK and Pakistan, held several command appointments, including as the Commander of the Katunayake Air Force Base.
Commenting on the alleged meeting arranged by Moulana between Sallay and the would-be Easter Sunday suicide bombers in a coconut estate called Lactowatta in the Puttalam district in Feb. 2018, Sosa emphasized this allegation should be examined taking into consideration the officer concerned was based in Malaysia as Sri Lanka’s Minister Counsellor. Sallay is on record as having said that he never left Malaysia in 2018 to visit Sri Lanka or any other country. Sosa stressed that Sallay, who had served as head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at the time of the 2015 presidential election, was removed and sent out of the country. Malaysia could help Sri Lanka and other interested parties to establish/ascertain the then Minister Counsellor’s movements. Sosa said: “Sallay could not have been simultaneously in two countries.”
The retired AVM also disputed C4 claim that Moulana had received instructions from Sallay on April 19, 2019, over the phone on the basis the officer was on a National Defence College, India, course. The government and other interested parties could easily verify this with Indian authorities, Sosa said, pointing out that both Malaysia and India must have examined claims.
The retired officer said: “In such circumstances, it is obvious that some ill-considered notions had been accepted by C4. Did C4 engage in a deliberate project to discredit Sri Lanka? I hold no brief for anyone. I have never met those who had been interviewed by C4 or persons mentioned, including Maj. Gen. Suresh Sallay. There is absolutely no doubt that the heinous Easter Sunday attacks and other allegations must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators punished. However, it is necessary to sift out red herrings such as the farcical so-called C 4 hatchet job meant to discredit Sri Lanka. Perhaps, C4 is among those who pursued a different agenda as they couldn’t stomach our victory over terrorism.”
Sosa retired in Aug. 1990 on reaching the mandatory 55 years, several weeks after the eruption of Eelam War 11. Having successfully met the JVP challenge in the hotbed of subversive activities, where he served as CO for a year, Sosa received appointment as Base Commander, Karunayake, even though the Security Council wanted him appointed as CO, Kegalle. Sosa recalled how President Ranasinghe Premadasa, having succeeded JRJ, sent him to Mahiyangana to neutralise the JVP threat to facilitate the holding of Gam Udawa there. “Immediately after I took over security at Mahiyangana, President Premadasa met me there. We had a very cordial one-to-one meeting. The President told me to ensure that power supply was not interrupted and normalcy restored. The JVP had sabotaged the entire fleet of around 30 buses in the depot. I flew down motor fitters and mechanics from Katunayake air base who got the buses going by cleaning the sand spiked gear boxes and oil tanks. Army troops were placed on 24-hour patrols to ensure the power pylons were not destroyed by the JVP. These troops had to be maintained by helicopters as the area was not accessible by road. During the Gam Udawa period, President Premadasa met me every morning. The Gam Udawa drew a large crowd and everything went off well except for a minor incident after closing time on one occasion. When leaving in the morning after the final day the President said “Thank you, see me in Colombo.” Sosa said that he opted to get back to Katunayake air base and remained there until retirement.
The Thileepan affair
Amidst the ongoing controversy over the Easter Sunday carnage and ahead of the two-day debate in Parliament, a vehicle carrying a portrait of Thileepan was attacked by villagers at Shardhapura, Uppuveli.
Thileepan died of a hunger strike at Nallur Kandasamy Kovil on Sept. 26, 1987. His fast lasted 11 days. A section of the media reported that National List MP Selvarajah Kajendran (a member of the Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam led Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress) accompanying the vehicle was also attacked. It would be pertinent to mention that Kajendran first entered Parliament in 2004 on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) ticket. The one-time President of the Jaffna University Students Union received the backing of the LTTE at that election in the wake of the TNA recognizing Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, amidst the shocking split caused by then LTTE Eastern Commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan aka Karuna Amman defecting to the government.
The portrait-carrying vehicle began its journey at Pottuvil and was on its way to the Jaffna peninsula, where the final remembrance was to be held. A section of the media depicted Thileepan as a person who died for the rights of the Tamil speaking people.
Let us examine the circumstances 26-year-old Thileepan died following the 11-day fast after Velupillai Prabhakaran ‘deployed’ him as a suicide bomber. Actually, Thileepan’s fast unto death was meant to cause mayhem in the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE mounted its first suicide attack on July 05, 1987, on the Nelliady Army detachment.
Former LTTE terrorist Niromi de Soyza (adopted pseudonym) dealt with Thileepan’s fast unto death, in her debut as a writer. ‘Tamil Tigress’ first published two years after the Sri Lankan military decimated the LTTE’s conventional military capability, the writer, who had been 17 at the time she joined the group in 1987, discussed Thileepan’s death against the backdrop of Velupillai Prabhakaran’s decision to take on the Indian Army. Sri Lanka was forced to accept the deployment of the Indian Army in late July 1987.
The writer ‘Niromi’ questioned Velupillai Prabhakaran’s choice as Thileepan was physically fragile and too intelligent to be sanctified. She had been one of those assigned for crowd controlling duties at Nallur Kandasamy Kovil where she witnessed Thileepan being welcomed onto the makeshift podium. The LTTE’s No. 02 at the time Mahattaya had been with Thileepan at the launch of his fast. ‘Niromi’ had been at the scene of the hunger strike on many days and experienced the LTTE propagating the lie that the dying man’s wish was for the LTTE to defeat the Indian Army. Recalling the opportunity she received to get onto the podium, the writer translated four lines of a Tamil song heard about a week after Thileepan launched his much advertised action.
A sweet-smelling flower is withering
It cannot speak, it cannot walk
Will Thileepan anna’s desire be satisfied?
Won’t the foreign army flee?
The writer named Thileepan as the person who conscripted her, handed her first assault rifle as well as a cyanide capsule which the writer called kuppie.
She had been present when a doctor who examined Thileepan on Sept. 26, 1987, pronounced him dead.
‘Niromi de Soyza’ wrote: With his life Thileepan had paved the way for war (Chapter 09: There’s still time to change your mind).
Less than 10 days after Thileepan’s death, the Sri Lanka Navy intercepted a trawler carrying a group of hardcore LTTE terrorists in the northern seas. Their detention and their subsequent mass suicide in Sri Lankan custody led to the resumption of war in the second week of Oct. 1987.
Niromi de Soyza quoted Velupillai Prabhakaran as having told a group of cadres, including herself, soon after the mass suicide at Palaly, “The Indian government engineered the so-called peace process as a plot to gradually eliminate us.”
Propaganda war will continue unabated until Sri Lanka countered lies. Fifteen years after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to counter various narratives. There cannot be a better example than the bid to exploit deliberately caused Thileepan’s death to launch a fresh rift between the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people. The vehicle convoy that had been launched from Pottuvil was meant to cause maximum harm to these yet fragile relations. Unless the government takes tangible measures against such exploiting tactics to create fresh wounds between the two communities, the day the country erupts again is not far off.
The Masked Gentry
By Lynn Ockersz
In the Lil Isle’s survival saga,
Desperation, dark and subtle,
Is now starkly visible,
And ponder we must on this duality,
For, out of humans given to avarice,
The worst explodes to the surface,
Drive-by killings being a proof of this,
But elders walking the streets,
Teeming with bargain hunters,
Out of neglect and dire need,
Their Covid masks proving handy,
To hide their genteel identity,
Are a sound measure as well,
Of the nation’s state of health,
For, in their frail persons they carry,
An indictment on a society past caring.
How shoddy handling of accountability issues facilitated anti-Sri Lanka Geneva project
Sri Lanka’s failure on the Geneva front has facilitated a high profile project to undermine the country’s unitary status. The Geneva role in the controversial bid to introduce a brand new Constitution during the Yahapalana administration with the involvement of the rebel UPFA group (now SLPP) has been quietly forgotten. At one point, Wimal Weerawansa quit the process, warning the then Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to leave the UNP-led operation or face the consequences.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
In the absence of a cohesive and holistic effort on the part of Sri Lanka, till now, to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, the country remains enmeshed in the Geneva trap.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009 in spite of Western efforts at scuttling it, even at the eleventh hour, by dispatching a powerful team of foreign Ministers from the UK and France to prevail on the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to halt the war when we were on a certain winning path, proving many a pundit wrong.
With such a powerful Western delegation, comprising French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Dr. Bernard Kouchner and Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom David Miliband trailing President Rajapaksa he even conveniently fled to Embilipitiya to avoid them but they pursued him there and pleaded their case in late April 2009. The President simply rejected their plea. So, no wonder, the West left no stone unturned to destroy that government and the Rakapaksas! That is not to say that we consider the Rajapaksas’ to be lily white; they were far from it.
The basis for the continued harassment, and humiliation, of war-winning Sri Lanka, is the report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability here, released on 31 March, 2011. It was authored by Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) and Steven Ratner (US).
On 01 October, 2015, Sri Lanka became the first country to betray her own armed forces by co-sponsoring UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution 30/1 that ostensibly promoted reconciliation, accountability and human rights. Since then Geneva has gleefully engaged in bashing Sri Lanka annually.
The ongoing 54th Geneva sessions (11 Sept. – 23 Oct., 2023) is no exception. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Himalee Arunatilaka rejected the latest Geneva statement (written update). The career diplomat also strongly disputed the reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. That reference, obviously, was based on UK television station Channel 4 allegation that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa engineered near simultaneous Easter Sunday suicide attacks which claimed the lives of 269 persons, including 45 foreigners, based on an allegation levelled by a sole individual, while trying to seek political asylum in Switzerland.
On the basis of Geneva claims, some of those who successfully spearheaded what was repeatedly dubbed an unwinnable war, have been harshly dealt with. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva is one. Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage, who retired in late 2018, is another. The list is long. When the writer raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, a year ago, he didn’t mince his words when he declared that not only individuals but the entire fighting formations have been condemned.
Sri Lanka never made a genuine effort to address accountability issues. The Rajapaksas unashamedly exploited the Geneva threat to their advantage, whereas other political parties played politics with the issue. Defeated LTTE’s sidekick, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the Geneva project.
Arunatilaka who previously served as our Ambassador to Nepal (Oct. 2019 to Dec. 2022) succeeded C.A. Chandraprema in January this year following the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe as President. Parliament elected Wickremesinghe on July 20, 2022, a week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a thumping 6.9 mn votes, was forced to flee the country, following an unprecedented public protest campaign over the disruption of basic services, with lavish funding from both local and foreign sources angry with the Rajapaksas. In the latter case they were angry at them for delivering a crushing defeat to the LTTE. The declaration of bankruptcy by the Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, during the tail end of Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, was long overdue. In January, this year, Dr. Weerasinghe said that Sri Lanka had been bankrupt much earlier but didn’t acknowledge the reality.
But the irony is Sri Lanka has gone bankrupt with a foreign debt of little over USD 50 billion, a sizeable amount out of it had been borrowed at high interest rates during the Yahapalana regime (2015-2019). The situation had been exacerbated by that regime loosening exchange controls by doing away with the time-tested Exchange Control Act that had been in place since the early 1950s. As a result, Sri Lanka has been made open to unscrupulous elements to steal valuable foreign exchange from the country. To make the situation worse, even according to Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, some unscrupulous exporters have parked export proceeds abroad to the tune of about USD100 billion that should have been legitimately brought back to Sri Lanka. So in actual fact our bankruptcy is entirely an artificial one created by interested parties! So the billion dollar question is why the government is not taking action to bring back the money that legitimately belongs to this country, or at least name the culprits in public.
At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored resolution 30/1, career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha (currently Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute) served as Permanent Representative there (19 July, 2012 to 31 March, 2018), according to our mission website. The late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera directed Aryasinha to go ahead, regardless of serious concerns raised by him. At the behest of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, Aryasinha was simply overruled.
Another career diplomat A.L. Azeez succeeded Aryasinha. Azeez and served there from 12 April, 2018 to 31 January, 2020, also according to the website. Therefore, at the time Sri Lanka declared its withdrawal from the Geneva process, on 26 February, 2020, the Geneva position remained vacant. That silly announcement was meant to deceive the gullible people as the ongoing Geneva session reminds Sri Lanka of the tightening noose laid by the West.
Veteran bilingual newspaper columnist Chadraprema served as our PR there 10 Nov., 2020 to 31 Dec., 2022, and was replaced by Arunatilaka, who joined the Foreign Service in 1998.
A pathetic response
Whoever had been at the helm, the Government of Sri Lanka was determined not to set the record straight, both locally and internationally. The war-winning Rajapaksa administration and the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena government, that co-sponsored the treacherous 30/1 US-led resolution in Oct. 2015 against one’s own country, refrained from addressing specific issues. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was definitely the worst. Instead of mounting a proper defence, it merely declared the country’s withdrawal from that resolution.
It would be pertinent to mention that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government hired US-based WR group and a private equity fund manager Imaad Zuberi at a cost of USD 6.5 mn (approximately Rs 1.31 bn) to influence US policy. The payments made over a period of five months, in 2014, were meant to divert US attention from Sri Lanka, ahead of the 2015 Geneva sessions. With the change of government, Sri Lanka joined the US in co-sponsoring a 30/1 resolution against her own armed forces.
In February 2021, Imaad Zuberi was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, foreign influence-peddling and campaign finance violations.
Five years before the endorsement of the 30/1 resolution, the Tamil speaking people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, declared their faith in the warwinning Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, for President. The US, too, affirmed her confidence in the SLA by throwing its weight behind Gen. Fonseka, who contested the first national election after the eradication of separatist Tamil terrorism. The Tamil electorate voted for Fonseka against the backdrop of the TNA’s endorsement of the General, whose ruthless tactics brought the LTTE down to its knees within three years. Then why did the Tamil electorate overwhelmingly vote for Fonseka? Had they really despised General Fonseka for Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, the electorate could have boycotted the poll, regardless of the TNA’s intervention. Let me stress that all those Tamil speaking people, who voted for Fonseka and Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, did so because they appreciated the eradication of the LTTE. That is the truth.
Unfortunately, no government ever referred to this fact in Geneva. Sri Lanka should have taken up this matter with the Sri Lanka Core Group,comprising the US, the UK, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, at the UNHRC.
Having endorsed Fonseka at a national election, less than a year after his Army crushed the LTTE, it would be quite absurd for Tamil representatives in Parliament to press for an international inquiry. And those demanding for external intervention are silent on the origins of terrorism. The TNA, instead of demanding an international investigation, should make a public apology for its recognition of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people, way back in 2001.
Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to declare a sordid relationship between the TNA and the LTTE before the UNHRC as well as to bring it to the notice of the UN, officially. TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, attended meetings on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. For some strange reason, successive governments refrained from placing all facts, officially, before the international community, thereby allowing all those interested in hounding Sri Lanka for defeating LTTE terrorism, especially in the West, along with their cronies like Malawi, exploit a hapless country.
In fact, there is no point in blaming the Western powers, and India, for Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to set the record straight no doubt because of their international clout. In addition to the far reaching disclosure made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct. 2017 that disputed the very basis of the Darusman report, there were a number of other instances/developments which could have been utilized to build Sri Lanka’s defence. But irresponsible political leadership ignored such developments. Sri Lanka’s first major mistake was its failure to use the overwhelming Tamils’ recognition of General Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election.
Having faulted the SLA, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing No. 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.”
Those in authority should have paid attention to the following cases. The writer, on numerous occasions, underscored the responsibility on the part of the government to explore ways and means of exploring the following matters as part of overall strategy to build a solid defence (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by wartime US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examination of the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct. 2017 disclosure based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war (Jan.-May 2009). Sri Lanka never used Lord Naseby’s disclosure to her advantage. (3) WikiLeaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some of these cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important WikiLeaks revelations disputed Sri Lanka deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives claimed by the UN and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept, 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept. 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so-called Mannar mass graves during the Yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry, under the Yahapalana rule, conveniently remained silent on the Mannar graves, while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Acting at the interest of those hell-bent on blaming Sri Lanka, the then Geneva Chief Michelle Bachet faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation. The then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran (Jaffna District MP now) rejected scientific findings of the Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct. 2015 to January 2019. We come to wonder whether she was actually a victim of Gen. Pinochet or a mere manufactured victim. Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is a relevant section bearing No. 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran, in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016, accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in the deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wignewaran is on record as having said a US medical team visiting Jaffna at that time would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.
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