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Former STF Commandant admits to transferring out its intelligence officers from East on his watch

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by Rathindra Kuruwita

STF intelligence officers had stopped probing Islamic extremism in the East as a gazette issued in August 2017 entrusted them with dealing with organised crimes and drugs, former Commandant of the STF, M.R. Latheef, on Saturday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the Easter Sunday attacks.

“Thereafter, we focussed on our new mandate. However, I expected that the STF too would be involved in dealing with rising Islamic extremism. In the past, the STF commandant and the head of STF intelligence took part in the weekly intelligence coordination committee meetings. When I became the head of the STF, I was informed that there was no need for the STF to attend those meetings.”

The chairman of the Commission then asked the witness whether by 2019, the focus of the STF had been completely shifted from eradicating terrorism to tackling organised crime. Latheef said that to deal with organised crimes, the STF had to assist the Police Narcotic Bureau, the Police Crimes Division and the Women and Children’s Bureau.

“We focused on these from 2018. Our main role was to assist the police. We were also asked by the Presidential Secretariat to look into environmental destruction,” he said.

Latheef was also asked if there had been transfers of STF intelligence officers deployed in the East on his watch. The witness said there had been 31 transfers. Some were sent for advanced training at the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). There were 20 such transfers. There had been two transfers over misconduct, four based on appeals, and five had been removed over indiscipline, he said.
The Chairman: “The STF commandant before you, Ranjith Perera, attached these 30 intelligence officers to camps in the east. They were the ones who were transferred, weren’t they?”

“Yes,” Latheef said.

Chairman: “So these officers were removed and placed somewhere else?”

Latheef: “That had been done due to service needs and requests by commanders in various camps. We were also not asked to look at Islamic extremism and Community Police, who consisted of people from the same areas also found nothing.”

Chairman: “Why didn’t the SIS ask for your help?”

Latheef: “That’s a puzzle to me too.”

The Commission also questioned Latheef why he had not earlier submitted to the commission reports by STF intelligence officers warning of rising Islamic extremism in the East. During his first appearance at the PCoI in late September, Latheef said STF intelligence officers had never reported on the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. In his second appearance, earlier this month, Commissioners directed Latheef’s attention to a report sent by the STF intelligence officers to the Commanding Officer of the Kalawanchikudi STF camp on 24 March, 2018. This report referred to Zahran and the NTJ and Latheef acknowledged that the report referred to NTJ and Zahran.

Commissioners: “Why didn’t you include STF reports on Zahran and the NTJ in the documents you submitted to the Commission?”

SDIG Latheef: “I don’t know if the documents you have were received by the STF headquarters. Can you please request a report on this from the STF headquarters? These three reports were sent to STF regional camps. It should be checked whether they were referred to the headquarters and it should be ascertained whether any officer at the headquarters had inquired into them.”

On Saturday, this issue was taken up again, when the Attorney General’s Department official leading the evidence asked Latheef why he had not submitted two reports dated March 18, 2017 and March 24, 2017, warning of NTJ and Zahran, to the PCoI.

“I only presented reports after July 2017,” the witness said.

The AG’s Department official said: “None of these reports speak of NTJ or their involvement in a clash at the Aliyar Junction in Kattankudy. It is after this that Zahran and others left the area.”

“There was no specific reason and I wanted to show th 2019 reports,” the witness said.

At this point the Chairman of the PCoI stressed that the PCoI had asked him to submit all STF intelligence reports in his possession on Islamic Extremism since 2015. Letheef affirmed that it indeed was the case.

“The main reason why the STF was established was to combat terrorism, am I right?” the Chairman asked.

“Yes,” the witness said.

“At that time the STF had a strong intelligence wing, didn’t it?” the Chairman asked.

“A small team was trained to gather information,” Latheef said.

“If I say these men were given special training on gathering intelligence, would you accept?” the Chairman asked.

“Yes, in 2006 a team of Indian intelligence officials gave a training,” Latheef said.

“So, the STF had a strong intelligence network in the East. Why weren’t they able to detect what was brewing underneath?” the Chairman asked.

“We received a lot of support from Muslims during the war. But as I said earlier our focus shifted in 2017,” Latheef said.

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COPE meets online for first time in its history

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by Saman Indrajith

The Parliamentary watchdog committee – COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) created a history by meeting online for the first time ever on Thursday.

The COPE had Secretaries of three Ministries joining in with its committee meeting through online (ZOOM) becoming the second parliamentary committee holding an online meeting in the country.

Thursday evening’s COPE meeting chaired by its chairman Prof. Charitha Herath connected online with Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Dr) H. S. Munasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Industries W. A. Chulananda Perera and, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Services, Provincial Councils and Local Government J. J. Ratnasiri via zoom technology.

The Environmental Audit Report on water pollution of the Kelani River was brought before the committee and the meeting held between the Chairman Prof. Herath, Ministers and Members of Parliament and secretaries and other officials continued without any technical hitches.

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake said that facilities have been provided to hold meetings and discussions using online technology in two committee rooms in Parliament.

He said that Parliamentary officials had been working relentlessly for months to install the requisite technological tools and that the efforts have borne fruit and future Parliamentary meetings could be held online as a result.

The Committee on High Posts under the chairmanship of Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena also held a discussion with the new Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Kenya, who was living in Kampala, using online technology recently.

 

 

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Legatum Prosperity Index highlights SL’s development of education and healthcare sectors

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During the past decade

One of the key highlights of this year’s Legatum Prosperity Index was the improvement in Sri Lanka’s education and healthcare sectors over the past decade. These improvements were key to increase in prosperity within Sri Lanka, it was noted.

The London-based think-tank Legatum Institute launched the 14th Legatum Prosperity Index on November 17 2020.

The event commenced with the welcome address by the Chair of the Legatum Institute, Alan McCormick. 

Addressing the audience, the Chief Executive Officer of the Legatum Institute, The Baroness Stroud said that according to the Legatum Index, the global prosperity was at its highest level ever with 147 countries seeing their prosperity rise over the last decade.

Speaking at the launch, the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the UK, Saroja Sirisena said that the end of the terrorist conflict in 2009 and the ensuing peace dividend, led Sri Lanka to achieve steady progress within the last decade.

She highlighted that the universal free education and healthcare policies of the country over seven decades are the pillars on which prosperity is built.

Director of Policy of the Legatum Institute, Dr. Stephen Brien explained to the audience as to how the Legatum Index is used to measure prosperity across the world.

The event was also addressed by the Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in Africa, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Biologist and Writer, Matt Ridley and Ambassador of Georgia in the UK Sophie Katsarava.

Legatum Prosperity Index is a global index that analyses the performance of 167 nations across 65 policy-focused elements, measured by almost 300 country level indicators and it is the only global index that measures national prosperity based on institutional, economic and social wellbeing.

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Quick Snacks and Party Recipes from North India with Sapna Mehra

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The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC), High Commission of India, Colombo, will be holding an online cookery demonstration on ‘Snack Time: Quick Snacks and Party Recipes from North India’ on December 5 at 11.00 am on its FACEBOOK page https://www.facebook.com/ICCRSriLanka.

This festival season, the Cultural Centre will present a virtual cookery demonstration by Sapna Mehra. Cooking has been a passionate hobby of Sapna since her childhood days. Growing up in a large family of 17 members, she was very keen on bringing variety to the dining table, and that’s when her cooking journey began, preparing simple wraps, and snacks.

She now specializes in cooking dishes from a variety of cuisines. Originally from Bangalore, she has lived in many cities across India and Sri Lanka, and at present resides in Delhi.

She has a Postgraduate degree in Marketing and has over 12 years work experience in the professional field.

All are cordially invited to attend. For more details, contact the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre on telephone No: 2684698 or Email: iccrcolombo2@gmail.com

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