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Midweek Review

Undiplomatic secrets

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By DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

Uditha Devapriya, uncannily close to a reincarnation of Ajith Samaranayake in the same vital social and intellectual role he plays as the Critic, reviews in The Island’s SatMag, Prof Rajiva Wijesinha’s indispensable book, or notebook, on Geneva, the UNHRC and Sri Lanka’s diplomatic trajectory of triumph and travails. He entitles it ‘Downhill All the Way’.

Devapriya closes-in on my contribution in a tightly framed ‘shot’, rightly embedded in a more sweeping recounting of Rajiva’s role:

“…Nothing epitomised these developments better than the removal of the man responsible for the 2009 diplomatic victory. Dr Wijesinha is justifiably nostalgic in his recollections of Dayan Jayatilleka…That this ploy succeeded tells us just how much the reversal of such strategies after 2009 cost the country. In that sense, the author is right in considering Dr Jayatilleka’s removal as ‘the silliest thing Mahinda Rajapaksa did.’ In effect, it marked the beginning of the end.” (Downhill all the way – The Island)

In his slim memoir, Rajiva Wijesinha opines:

“His [Dayan’s] appointment was apart from making Gotabaya Rajapaksa his Secretary of Defence, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s most inspired selection. Where Gotabaya led the fight to overcome the LTTE, Dayan led the fight to overcome those who wanted to help them survive through international pressures.” (‘Representing Sri Lanka: Geneva Rights and Sovereignty’, p 13.)

UNHRC Geneva May 2009 remains the equivalent of our Cricket World Cup victory—unprecedented and unrepeated. There is more scholarly scrutiny internationally on that single period of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy (UNHRC 2007-2009) than on any other period or achievement of our diplomatic history. The central critical concern running through all those research reports, academic papers, undergraduate, post-graduate and post-doctoral dissertations, book chapters and books is the problem: “How did Sri Lanka evade R2P in 2009?”

I wasn’t shocked, or surprised, that I was sacked six weeks after we had won in Geneva. It had happened to my father, Mervyn de Silva, at the hands of earlier administrations. The late Izeth Hussain (NMMI Hussain), former Ambassador and literary critic, a few years my father’s senior at the university, put it best:

“…For here was a journalist widely recognised as exceptionally brilliant, a world-class journalist as we say, arguably even Sri Lanka’s greatest journalist, and he, of all people, gets sacked not once but twice, on both occasions from state-owned newspapers. That says a great deal about the vicissitudes of Sri Lankan journalism in our time…” (The Weekend Express, July 10-11, 1999)

Fifth Column? Sabotage?

What really shocked and disgusted me was the attempt to sack me earlier, when the war was at its height in its closing months and the West was closing in to forestall final victory. That attempt was thwarted by the build-up of public opinion especially in and through The Island, culminating in a decision by President MR. This attempt was in early 2009 and ended on March 30th 2009, just before the West began to collect signatures for its draft resolution on Sri Lanka and its call for a Special Session which we managed to delay till the war was over in May, and defeat when it was held.

Shamindra Ferdinando wrote a story in The Island, titled ‘President Extends Dayan’s Term Thwarting Moves to recall him’. It provides the timeline:

“President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ended a simmering controversy over the move to recall Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka…Political sources said that the President had informed Jayatilleka of his decision on Monday, March 30th [2009] in recognition of his significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s successful effort at last month’s Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva…”

In her book ‘Mission Impossible-Geneva’ (Vijitha Yapa, Colombo, 2017), Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka, my wife, recounts this attempt in the section ‘First Rumblings of a Sacking’ (pp. 73-84). She quotes extensively from veteran diplomat Ambassador Nanda Godage’s long letter to the Editor on February 26th 2009, urging my continued stay at the crease, in Geneva, despite efforts to secure my recall.

On February 19th 2009 Secretary/MFA Dr. Palitha Kohona had written a letter to me, titled ‘Termination of Contract’, when the war was still being fought, the West was trying to prevent the military victory by diplomatic means and the decisive battle was looming in Geneva, stating that “in accordance with your contract your services…will come to an end with effect from 31.05.2009.”

The attempt to remove me in wartime only ended with an official communication, dated March 26th 2009, also from Dr Kohona, which informed me that “H.E. the President has decided to extend your tour of duty till 31. 05. 2010”.

This was later rescinded by fax on July 16th 2009 six weeks after our diplomatic victory at the UNHRC, and I was instructed to quit by August 30th 2009, without even a cross-posting i.e., a lateral move to another state. But that is far from being my main point.

The historical record shows that powerful liberal-interventionist hegemonistic forces were closing in on Sri Lanka’s war effort from early 2009. Wikileaks disclosed that in April 2009, the UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, spent 60% of his time on Sri Lanka due to the “very vocal Tamil Diaspora in the UK”. Much more crucially, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State of the world’s sole superpower, had instructed in a personally signed cable dated May 4th 2009 that its Mission in Geneva was to throw its weight behind the move on Sri Lanka at the UN HRC Special Session:

“Mission Geneva is requested to convey to the Czech Republic and other like-minded members of the HRC that the USG supports a special session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and related aspects of the humanitarian situation. Mission is further requested to provide assistance, as needed, to the Czech Republic in obtaining others, signatures to support holding this session…Mission is also instructed to engage with HRC members to negotiate a resolution as an outcome of this special session, if held. Department believes a special session that does not result in a resolution would be hailed as a victory by the Government of Sri Lanka. Instructions for line edits to the resolution will be provided by Department upon review of a draft.” [Cable dated 4th May 2009 from Secretary of State (United States)]

If I had been recalled in February-March 2009 or any time until the war and the diplomatic battle had been won, what would have ensued? Could any new Head of Mission have maintained the broad alliance that had been painstakingly built in 2007-2009 as described by Prof Wijesinha? The proof of the pudding being in the eating, the abject failure to do so in 2012, 2013 and 2014 when we were defeated by successive resolutions at the UNHRC, and then again in 2021, under Permanent Representatives of quite diverse politico-ideological orientations, answers that question.

If my recall had taken place in the 1st quarter of 2009, a UNHRC resolution—the UN mandate the West was seeking and couldn’t obtain in New York due to the Russo-Chinese ‘veto wall’—would have been secured, calling for a cessation of hostilities. Action is then likely to have been taken invoking R2P, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Secretary David Miliband doing the joint, concerted pushing, to stop the war from reaching its victorious conclusion. That this was the game-plan is evident from published western material including a Report archived in the House of Commons.

Had my recall by May 30th 2009 (as in Secretary /MFA Kohona’s Feb 19th letter) gone ahead and Mahinda Rajapaksa had not intervened to modify it—reversibly, as it turned out– I would have been packing to leave at the end of May 2009 and saying my farewells. No Ambassador would have been persuaded by what I said and voted with us because it would have been known that I was on my way out. With a May 30th departure date, I would have been unable to devote full attention to the Special Session—which in actuality I did with only one (just arrived) Foreign Service officer (Mr. Jauhar) to assist me, because the Ministry had overruled my request to keep my young de-facto deputy, Mr. OL Ameerajwad (now a superb Ambassador) until the Special Session, so vital to Sri Lanka, was over. My de jure deputy had left for Colombo weeks before for his sister’s wedding. He was later employed by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Geneva office.

GR and Geneva Redeployment

Dayan Jayatilleka as Chairman ILO, Geneva 2007-2008

It gets (arguably) worse. I had supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his re-election bid in late 2009, despite my sacking and to the surprise and disapproval of many. Much as I admired General Fonseka, I believed that the voters should not visit on MR what he had visited—or permitted to be visited– upon me: the injustice and unwisdom of dismissing someone from a post in which he had successfully defended and furthered his country’s interests against all odds. I also held—and in this I have been proven amply correct—that someone with no experience in governance should not be elected over someone who had.

In late-2009 when Lalith Weeratunga tracked me down at lunch at Prof GL Peiris’ and offered me the ambassadorship in Tokyo -which Ajith Nivard Cabraal had already congratulated me on at breakfast that day (to my confusion) — I politely told him that if my help was required in the presidential re-election campaign I was quite ready to extend it (which I did), but he needn’t bother to incentivize me with the offer of an ambassadorship. Instead, I went to the National University of Singapore as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow.

When Prof GL Peiris who was attending the Shangri-la strategic dialogue in Singapore in 2010, conveyed to me over dinner President MR’s puzzled remonstrance that I had suddenly disappeared from SL after his re-election, shared his concern about the forthcoming Darusman report, mentioned that Ambassador Kohona in New York had expressed apprehension about the stand of France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and communicated MR’s request that in that emerging context I return to diplomacy and serve in Paris, I agreed in principle but reminded Prof Peiris that I had a commitment to the ISAS/NUS. He said he had already cleared that up at breakfast that morning with the Institute’s Chairperson, Ambassador Gopinath Pillai. To Sanja’s dismay I pulled up stakes from the NUS. (We took the financial hit of having paid an advance for an apartment.)

During my tenure, Minister G.L Peiris arrived in Paris and the Embassy arranged a series of meetings including with the Foreign Minister of France, Alain Juppe. The relationship built up by me with the Quai d’Orsay was such that at Prof Peiris’ meeting with Alain Juppe the case of the killings of the 17 ACF employees did not come up.

Upon completing my two-year term in France, I returned home in January 2013. Sri Lanka had just commenced its losing streak in Geneva, with Delhi’s distancing from Colombo (which I had warned about while in Colombo in 2011; a warning dismissed by then High Commissioner to Delhi, Prasad Kariyawasam) and SL’s first defeat in 2012.

My immediate redeployment in Geneva was suggested but ignored by Foreign Minister GL Peiris and dismissed outright by Secretary/Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa. India’s High Commissioner Ashok Kantha, a friend of Sri Lanka who had served in Colombo from late 2009 to 2013, had told GL Peiris that things were going badly in Geneva and GoSL’s best bet was to follow the foreign policy advice in my columns, and also to send me back in. Prof Peiris had replied that he had received rather more optimistic reports from the Geneva end.

High Commissioner Ashok Kantha’s father was a high-ranking military-man who had been commanding officer of the famous Jungle Warfare Training School in Mizoram when Gotabaya Rajapaksa had trained there. This cemented the High Commissioner’s friendship with the Secretary/Defence. Travelling together on official business to Delhi he urged upon GR the same counsel he had given Foreign Minister Peiris: send Dr Dayan Jayatilleka.

GR’s response to Ashok Kantha’s recommendation had been quite decisively negative and for the most interesting reasons. He had expostulated with a gesture, that I was “on another plane” and furthermore, had sorely offended Israel by my stand while Ambassador to France and UNESCO to the extent that he had to fly to Tel Aviv to explain it. (With MR’s encouragement we had successfully supported Palestine’s entry to UNESCO securing a more-than-two-thirds vote while defying Hillary Clinton’s personally delivered warning of a Congressionally-mandated 60% budget cut. Prof Tissa Vitarana was witness and enthusiastic participant). But what did incurring Israel’s ire have to do with the ability to effectively defend Sri Lanka’s national interest?

Collaboration and Capitulation

In late 2009, when MR faced the electoral challenge from the Army commander who had won the war on the ground, he was not only the President who had given political leadership to the war effort in which his rival General Fonseka was the warrior who headed the miliary effort, he was also the leader who had led Sri Lanka as a country to the heights of overall achievement including internationally, as seen in the Geneva UNHRC victory under his hand-picked Ambassador.

After he had dismantled the Geneva team weeks after May 2009 and did not exercise the option of reassembling it after we had lost the first time (2012) or even the second (2013), it was the serial defeats of 2012, 2013 and 2014 that shattered the myth of invincibility of Mahinda Rajapaksa, emboldened his domestic opponents including critics inside the ruling SLFP, and gave momentum to the external push for regime-change. The triple Geneva defeats made landfall in the defeat of January 2015 (an election in which I stood by MR).

This opened the door to the abject capitulation by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in Geneva in 2015. The recent testimony of John Sifton of Human Rights Watch (HRW) to the US Congress at the initiative of Congressman Tom Lantos, confirms the ugly truth about that betrayal of national sovereignty:

“…Sri Lanka joined a consensus resolution of the UN Human Rights Council in 2015, resolution 30/1, which included…justice through a hybrid mechanism including international investigators, prosecutors, and judges.” (hrw.org)

The Rajapaksas opened the gates for this capitulation by dismantling our successful May 2009 team, destroying our Geneva defences, and failing to give the effort to resist and reverse the triple defeats that followed at the UNHRC in 2012, 2013 and 2014 the (proven) best shot.

Endgame 2022

The Gotabaya administration’s March 2021 defeat in Geneva was the worst yet. UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s written report of March 2022 will activate universal jurisdiction and international prosecutions, while providing caches of evidence for cases. These will dissuade foreign investors and tourists while shrinking demand for our products in Western markets. Protecting and promoting those found guilty could trigger unilateral sanctions. “Downhill all the way”, as Uditha Devapriya concluded.



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Midweek Review

Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus

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A smiling Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after receiving the premiership. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President looks on. Mrs Maithri Wickremesinghe was present at the brief ceremony at the President’s House, Fort last Thursday evening (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.

Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.

The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.

The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.

Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.

Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.

Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.

The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.

Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.

The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.

In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.

In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.

PM, family take refuge in SLN base

Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.

By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.

Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.

Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.

For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.

Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.

Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.

Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.

Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.

Politicos under threat

The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”

During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.

Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.

The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.

A tragedy

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.

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Midweek Review

Up for Grabs

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By Lynn Ockersz

It’s the Horse Trader’s hour once again,

And fierce bargaining unfolds on Stage;

Creatures stomping with iron hoofs,

Displaying teeth of menacing length,

And merciless whips for tongues,

Are receiving top most billing,

By ‘Strutting and Fretting’ business Heads,

Trying now to sit in saddles under siege,

But in a hitherto nodding land,

That’s suddenly come rudely awake,

These are risky sleazy deals to make,

For, the moment has already arrived,

Wherein hunger has turned Ploughshares,

Into Spears of divisive hate and vengeance.

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Midweek Review

Possible link between TID head’s arrest and Easter Sunday massacre baffles retired DIG

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Retired DIG Priyantha Jayakody, one-time police spokesman, last Saturday (07) advised the police on how to deal with the current wave of protests. Jayakody addressed the media in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declaring a State of Emergency following police crackdown on protests near the Parliament. The retired top cop urged his former colleagues not to give into illegal orders, under any circumstances. Jayakody is the first retired top cop to declare his support for the ongoing countrywide campaign for political reforms.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Actor Jehan Appuhamy carried a life-sized cross on his shoulder from Katuwapitiya, in the Katana electorate, to the entrance of the President’s Office (Old Parliament), Galle Face, where a high profile ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign was underway.

The three-day trek began at the St. Sebastian Church premises, on April 19, where exactly three years ago Achchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun detonated his suicide device, killing over 100. Hasthun is widely believed to be one of the bomb makers, responsible for six suicide blasts, in the space of 20 minutes, beginning at 8.45 am on that particular day. The first detonation occurred at the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo, Kochchikade, at 8.45 am. Other blasts ripped through Kingsbury, Colombo, at 8.47 am, St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, also at 8.47, Shangri-La, Colombo at 8.54, Cinnamon Grand, Colombo at 9 and Zion Church, Batticaloa at 9.05.

In addition to those planned blasts, there were two explosions – one at the Tropical Inn Guest House, Dehiwela, where one terrorist triggered his explosive device, and the last blast at Dematagoda, where Fatima Ibrahim, the wife of Inshaf Ibrahim (the Cinnamon Grand bomber), blew herself up, killing three police commandos. The blast also claimed the lives of her three young sons and her unborn child.

Actor Appuhamy’s endeavor received the blessings of the Catholic Church, campaigning for justice. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has repeatedly demanded that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre, as well as those who failed to thwart the conspiracy, due to sheer negligence, or some other reasons, be punished, regardless of their standing in the society.

Appuhamy completed a 25-mile long journey, on April 21, on the 13th day of the ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign. A group of Catholics joined a protest launched opposite Temple Trees, three days later, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday carnage. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference members, and the Archbishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has pledged their support for the ongoing campaign, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the entire Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Quite a number of Catholics displayed placards, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday victims, an issue that has sharply divided the country, experiencing the worst-ever post- independence economic-political and social crisis.

Retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Priyantha Jayakody, in an open letter, addressed to Defence Secretary, retired Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, published in Annidda, in its May Day edition, has questioned the failure on the part of the incumbent dispensation to bring the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre to justice. Jayakody also queried the inordinate delay in completing the high profile investigations, launched during the yahapalana administration, into the alleged attempts to assassinate the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the incumbent President.

The current dispensation couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for not adequately addressing the grievances of the Catholic Church, Jayakody told The Island. It would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to believe the issues, at hand, would be forgotten in a couple of years, therefore the current protests could be ignored. Jayakody, who had served the Police Department for almost 40 years, retired in late April 2021.

Namal Kumara affair

Ex-DIG Jayakody asserted that the arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, the head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) on Oct 25, 2018, over his alleged involvement in an attempt to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (then an ordinary citizen) may have facilitated the Easter Sunday suicide mission. Declaring that at the time of Silva’s arrest, the officer had been tracking the would-be Shangri-La bomber, and the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran Hashim, Jayakody questioned whether the investigator was falsely implicated in an alleged assassination plot to clear the way for the dastardly suicide attacks.

Jayakody emphasized that the conspirators had intervened when the investigation reached a crucial stage. Did the government pay sufficient attention to the unwarranted delay at the Attorney General’s Department, in respect of its failure to deal with Zahran Hashim’s file? The National Catholic Committee for Justice, in a missive, dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Goabaya Rajapaksa, referred to the conduct of the Attorney General’s Department. The Committee pointed out to the President, the PCoI (Presidential Commission of Inquiry) recommendation to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that disciplinary action be taken against State Counsel Malik Azees and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi (PCoI Final Report, Vol 01, p 329).

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Silva after having questioned him over a period of five days. At the time of his arrest, Silva had been suspended on the instructions issued by the National Police Commission (NPC).

Jayakody pointed out how within 24 hours after the TID Chief’s arrest, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In spite of Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as the Prime Minister, he couldn’t prove a simple majority in Parliament. A disappointed President Sirisena had no option but to dissolve Parliament, on Nov 09, 2018, and set January 05, 2019 as date for parliamentary election. But, the Supreme Court intervention restored Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership. Thus President Sirisena’s plan for January 05, poll was thwarted; thereby the stage was set for scheduled presidential election.

According to Jayakody, the arrest of the TID Chief, over alleged assassination plots, automatically crippled the unit. Those who had been attached to the TID were looked down, both by other police officers and men, as well as the public.

The retired top cop questioned the role played by the media, particularly the television channels, in propagating claims made by police informant Namal Kumara, as regards alleged plots to assassinate President Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pujith Jayasundera, who had served as the yahapalana IGP, is on record as having told the PCoI that Namal Kumara was paid by the Presidential Secretariat. Jayasundera quoted Dr. Saman Kithalawarachchi, the then Chairman of the Presidential Narcotics Bureau, as having told him that Namal Kumara served as a lecturer and was paid by the Presidential Secretariat.

Jayakody, in his open letter to Gen. Gunaratn, asked for the status of the investigation launched, following Namal Kumara’s unprecedented claims. “The people have a right to know. The government, under siege over the economic fallout, should come clean,” Jayakody stressed, adding that the ongoing countrywide protests reflected the crisis the country is in today.

Key issues

The Police Department owed an explanation to the public regarding the status of the investigation into the disgraced TID Chief’s alleged involvement in planned political assassinations. DIG Jayakody said that the incumbent dispensation, having repeatedly assured justice for the Easter Sunday victims, was yet to bring a critically important investigation into the Namal Kumara affair, to a successful conclusion. The need for a thorough investigation into the constitutional coup, perpetrated by President Maithripala Sirisena immediately after DIG Silva’s arrest, cannot be ignored. Would Zahran Hashim have gone ahead with the attacks if the constitutional coup succeeded? DIG Jayakody raised the following unresolved accusations leveled by Namal Kunara:

* DIG Silva dispatched a police hit squad, that had been assigned the task of carrying out VIP assassination, to Batticaloa

* DIG Silva sought special weapons used by snipers

* DIG Silva conspired with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

* Involvement of Thushara Peiris, a person living overseas, in the assassination conspiracy

*Conspiracy to involve ‘Makandure Madush’ in the conspiracy

Suspected drug baron, Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha, alias ‘Makandure Madush,’ was shot dead in the early hours of Oct 21, 2020. Madush was killed, under controversial circumstances, while being in police custody. At the time of the incident, Madush had been in the custody of the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). The police claimed that Madush received gunshot injuries at the Lakshitha Sevana apartment complex at Applewatta, in Maligawatta. Madush was brought to Colombo on May 05, 2019, from Dubai, where he was arrested on February 05, 2019.

Jayakody questioned the rationale in Namal Kumara’s accusations, TID Chief’s arrest and delivering a crippling blow to investigations into Zahran Hashim’s outfit. Finally, the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been the alleged target of a police assassination attempt, won an opportunity to contest the 2019 presidential election, on the SLPP ticket. Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the mandate of 6.9 mn votes whereas the other claimed target, Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, contested the 2020 General Election. Sirisena re-entered Parliament having contested the Polonnaruwa electoral district. The SLFP group, in the current Parliament, comprised 14 lawmakers, including one National List MP. Except for Angajan Ramanathan, elected on the SLFP ticket (Jaffna District), the remaining 13 entered Parliament on the SLPP ticket.

Ex-DIG Jayakody said that in the wake of the SLPP victory, they expected rapid progress, not only in the Easter Sunday massacre probe, but also investigations into the Namal Kumara affair. Jayakody compared the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks, and the Namal Kumara affair, with that of the 1962 coup attempt meant to remove the then Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike from power. Jayakody recalled how top military personnel, who had been accused of the bid to assassinate Premier Bandaranaike, were dealt with the following investigations. Unfortunately, investigations into Namal Kumara’s disclosure hadn’t been completed, even over three and half years after the arrest of TID Chief.

In his open letter, Jayakody posed the following questions to Gen. Gunaratne: (i) Would you disclose the current status of the investigations into claims made by Namal Kumara (ii) Would you explain why cases hadn’t been filed in court against ex-DIG Nalaka Silva or other suspects involved in the alleged assassination attempts (iii) Have the investigators succeeded in verifying the claims made by Namal Kumara? If the accusations could be verified, what delayed all suspects being arrested? In respect of those who had been arrested so far, what caused the delay in the government moving court against them? (vi) Have the investigators realized that there is no basis for Namal Kumara’s accusations? If so, why a case hadn’t been filed against the former police informant over making false accusation and finally (vii) Could you explain the failure on the part of the government to conduct investigations speedily in spite of one of the two main targets of ex-DIG Nalaka Silva, as alleged by Namal Kumara, is serving the incumbent administration as the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and the other leader of a constituent party and a lawmaker.

Cardinal’s stand

The government should be mindful of the consequences of further delay in bringing the investigations into a conclusion. The widely held belief that the incumbent dispensation deliberately delayed, or undermined the investigations, may cause quite a serious situation, particularly against the backdrop of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) taking up the issue last year. Sri Lanka Co Chairs at the UNHRC, too, have taken up the issue.

Jayakody warned that unless the government, at least now, dealt with the Namal Kumara affair properly, the public would believe it was related to the Easter Sunday conspiracy. According to Jayakody, the public are gravely suspicious of Namal Kumara ‘drama’ being the precursor for later developments. Jayakody questioned Gen. Gunaratne’s response to Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s repeated demands for justice. Referring to Gen. Gunaratne’s recent response to the Cardinal’s public criticism of the handling of the Easter Sunday investigations, Jayakody asserted that the Defence Secretary’s advice to the Cardinal that he should inform the CID of any relevant information without making public statements sounded like a challenge. Jayakody emphasized that the Cardinal had taken the issue beyond the CID against the backdrop of growing suspicions that justice couldn’t be expected under the current dispensation.

Jayakody, identifying himself as a Catholic, drew the government’s attention to the Cardinal’s fight, both here and abroad, that has attracted the attention of the international community. The retired top cop stressed that the government hadn’t so far been able to counter the spate of issues raised by the Catholic Church regarding the Easter Sunday massacre. Instead of challenging the Catholic Church, the government should answer pertinent questions.

Responding to The Island queries, Jayakody emphasized that he didn’t want to issue a character certificate to DIG Nalaka Silva. Jayakody said the issue at hand is whether Namal Kumara, at the behest of some interested party/parties, directed a spate of allegations, at the then TID Chief Silva, to create an environment conducive for law enforcement authorities to move against DIG Silva. Had Silva received the wrath of the powers that be, as he pursued the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre?

The Easter Sunday massacre created an environment that undermined the yahapalana administration. The public responded to the SLPP’s assurances to ensure security in the run-up to the 2019 Presidential Election. Three years later, those who vowed to deal with extremism and terrorism are under fire over the failure to unravel the Easter Sunday mystery.

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