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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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Jugglery alleged in Constitution making process: SJB, Gevindu make strong case against jumbo Cabinet

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition and Samagi Jana Balavegaya Leader, Sajith Premadasa, says that the current economic crisis shouldn’t be exploited to form a jumbo Cabinet, under any circumstances.

 “The national economy is in such a pathetic state that those struggling to make ends meet shouldn’t be burdened further,” the Colombo district MP said. The growing opposition to further expansion of the Cabinet-of-Ministers is quite understandable, the former UNP Deputy Leader said, urging the government to drop the relevant provisions.

The Opposition Leader said so when The Island sought his opinion on the provisions, pertaining to the formation of a National Government, in terms of the proposed 22 Amendment to the Constitution. Declaring his party has absolutely no intention of joining the government, lawmaker Premadasa warned the public would revolt if the limits on the number of Cabinet Ministers and Deputies/State Ministers were violated.

 The SJB leader emphasized that whoever is in power should adhere to the limit of 30 Cabinet Ministers and 40 non-Cabinet rankers.

Lawmaker Premadasa said that political stability and economic revival couldn’t be achieved by expanding the Cabinet-of-Ministers.

 SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga last week strongly condemned, in Parliament, what he called controversial provisions pertaining to the National Government. Cumaratunga told The Island that he took up the issue at a recent party leaders’ meeting. The provision for Parliament to decide the number of ministers and Deputies/State Ministers would be abused, the leader of civil society group Yuthukama said.

Referring to the inclusion of provisions pertaining to a National Government, in the 19th Amendment that had been endorsed in 2015, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the proposed 22 Amendment interpreted National Government as an administration formed by the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament, together with the other recognized political parties or the independent groups.

The first time entrant to Parliament said that this should be examined, taking into consideration the strength of political parties represented in Parliament. Of the 225 MPs in Parliament, a total of 199 were elected: the SLPP (145/17 National List seats) and SJB (54/07 National List seats)) ticket. The third largest grouping in Parliament belonged to the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK/01 National List seat), the MP pointed out. The powers that be owed the public an explanation how the SLPP backed President Ranil Wickmesinghe intended to form the National Government without having a formal agreement with the second largest party in Parliament.

MP Cumaratunga recalled how the then UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, at the Committee Stage of the 19th Amendment, asked the then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, for an interpretation of national government and was told national government meant formation of an administration by the party securing the largest block of seats and the party with the second highest number of seats. Vasudeva Nanayakkara declared that they wouldn’t support the 19th Amendment unless the government provided an interpretation of the National Government.

However, what had been put to the Speaker for approval was very much different from the assurance given in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga said. The MP pointed out that the difference was instead of the union of party with the highest number of seats and the second highest being the national government, the gazette referred to the party with the highest number of seats and other parties in Parliament as the national government. The section in question is 46 of the 19th Amendment.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the 2015 wrongdoing had been repeated.

Parliament website posted the 19th Amendment with the original clause given below: “If at the conclusion of the General Election held immediately after the coming into force of this Article, the recognized political party or the independent group obtaining the highest and the recognized political party or the independent group obtaining the second highest number of seats in Parliament agree to form a Government of national unity, then, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1), the number of Ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers and the number of Ministers outside of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Deputy Ministers, may be increased up to forty-five and fifty-five, respectively, if Parliament agrees to such increase, within two weeks of the first sitting of such Parliament.”

MP Cumaratunga said that finally the limits had been done away with for obvious reasons. Responding to another query, the Yuthukama leader said that the change of provisions, pertaining to the National Government, surreptitiously could be compared with the jugglery in manipulating the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee’s recommendations as regards the National List appointees.

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CEB again faces crunch situation with another unit at Norochcholai breaking down

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Three-hour daily power cuts a possibility

By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) now had to impose at least three-hour power cuts due to a sudden breakdown of the First Unit of the Lak Vijaya Power Plant Complex at Norochcholai, a senior electrical engineer said.

The second unit there has already been shut down for annual maintenance. Both units account for 540 MW of power with each usually producing about 270 MW.

CEB Chief Nalinda Illangakoon told The Island that he had instructed officials to go for maximum intake of hydro power, instead of turning to fuel powered generation, to meet the shortfall. It is understood that in the event of turning to the latter, the cost would be Rs. 47 per unit.

CEB Chairman Illangakoon said that it would take between 13 and 14 days to rectify the latest breakdown.

Responding to queries, he said that scheduled maintenance of the Second Unit would be further delayed due to some overseas technical experts contracting COVID.

He expressed confidence that the second plant would be restored and connected to the grid in November.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera earlier confirmed the breakdown of Unit 1.

He added: “Technical staff is working to identify the fault. Unit 2 is undergoing scheduled maintenance work. Unit 3 will continue to operate.”

However, he said West Coast and other Fuel Power Plants would be used to bridge the supply shortfall.

Meanwhile, the electricity sector regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) has given the approval for three-hour power interruptions for the next four days.

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Now Prasanna alleges Diaspora link in SJB, JVP, and FSP

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Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has alleged that the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the Janatha Vikukthi Peramuna (JVP), its breakaway faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and some civil society groups, affiliated to the Tamil Diaspora, were engaged in a campaign to remove Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmakers from politics.

 The accusation was made at a meeting held in Colombo last Friday (12) attended by SLPP members of Parliament and Local Government representatives, representing the Gampaha District. The allegation coincided with the government delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

 Lawmaker Ranatunga, who is also the Chief Government Whip, claimed that this operation was being implemented, taking advantage of the ongoing protest movement. Minister Ranatunga said that the conspirators wanted to defeat the SLPP’s ideology at the next national level election.

 Acknowledging that the SLPP had suffered a setback, as a result of a protest campaign launched in the wake of the economic crisis, Minister Ranatunga stressed that they still dominated Parliament, therefore no one could ignore the 2020 parliamentary mandate received by the party.

 The Gampaha district SLPP leader said that the SLPP backed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the parliamentary contest to choose an MP to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term because he was the best available choice (SF).

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