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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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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty, a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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