The great betrayal
The saga of the Army's Athurugiriya Safe House, and the humiliating ordeal
of an officer and five soldiers-national heroes who were treated as traitors-has
at last ended.
But the enormous damage to national security, humiliation to officers
and men in the Sri Lanka Army, distress in the minds of conscientious policemen,
and above all, colossal embarrassment to the United National Front Government
The anger and bewilderment of the vast majority of Sri Lankans, here
and abroad, following this tragi-comedy not only highlighted the disgust
it had caused but also underscored the hatred against those who caused
it. A host of e-mails to Military Spokesman, veteran infantryman, Brigadier
Sanath Karunaratne, summed it up.
If it is ironic that one gazetted officer of the Sri Lanka Police could
single handedly cause all this, it is tragic that his conclusions came
even before his own inquiries could begin. Superintendent of Police Kulasiri
Udugampola, brought the full glare of the media, both print and electronic,
to publicise all his actions, just two hours after the raid on the Safe
House at Millennium Park on January 2.
To a wholly unsuspecting media, unaware of the realities, what he exhibited
as startling finds a cache of weapons including land mines, light anti-tank
weapons (LAW), assault rifles and thermobaric shells, among others were
an arsenal used by the Sri Lanka Army not to kill Tiger guerrillas but
to be used in a sinister plot to eliminate leaders of the United National
Front. The nation and the outside world were told about the great catastrophe
portended by a so called conspiracy.
As the news spread, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, officers and men in
the Army writhed in deep anger. That wide publicity, repeated locally on
TV many times, seemed the beginning of a pubic trial. Morale reached a
low ebb. Conscientious policemen, who were in the know of what was going
on, were ashamed at what was happening. "This kind of thing has never happened
in Police history," declared a retired Police Chief who wished to remain
However, there were also the blind fanatics in the Department who believed
whatever the Police did was always right. One of them even thought it fit
to say DIG Nimal Gunatilleke, Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF)
was not a policemen. All because he had chosen to speak the truth that
men from Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) stayed in STF camps
before venturing out to Tiger guerrilla dominated territory to carry out
Some in the upper echelons of the Army, in the know of what has been
going on, lamented they were being made to feel like a bunch of killers.
Their predicament, they said, had been made worse by the failure of the
high command to quickly resolve matters by raising issue with UNF leaders.
But in a matter of just a week, Mr. Udugampola himself learnt, after
his own exhaustive investigations, later supported by men from the Criminal
Investigation Department (CID), the real truth that the premises he raided
at the Millennium City in Athurugiriya, was indeed a Safe House run by
the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). Every single item he found,
and later displayed to the media as a startling discovery, have been accounted
for. Statements he recorded from Army officials, backed by supporting documents,
were to come as further testimony. Even the little discrepancies that existed
were resolved. If there was anything seriously sinister, or a cunning conspiracy,
to kill any UNF leader, there was no evidence. Not a shred.
Yet, by last Sunday, the officer and five men were still being holed
up in two remand cells at the Katugastota Police Station. They were being
held virtually incommunicado. These were cells which usually accommodated
common criminals and drug addicts as revealed in these columns last week.
An angry Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, directed DIG Mahinda Balasuriya,
to immediately release the Army men. To ensure nothing went wrong, Mr.
Marapana told him to hand them over to the Army.
After issuing that directive, Mr. Marapana had other urgent tasks to
attend to that Sunday. As the new Minister of Transport, he had to rush
to Kiriwalpitiya in Rambukkana, where the intercity train from Kandy to
Colombo, had derailed killing 15 passengers and wounding over 200. At the
scene, during late afternoon, he ran into Brigadier B.H.M.R. Tammita, General
Officer Commanding (GOC) the Central Command.
He asked Brig. Tammita whether he had taken charge of the officer and
the soldiers from Police custody. The latter had said Police had not informed
him of any release.
Angered by what he learnt, Mr. Marapana, immediately contacted DIG Balasuriya
to ask why his instructions were not carried out. The senior Police officer
in charge of the Kandy region said he was awaiting Mr. Udugampola's return
to the hill capital. The latter had been in Colombo recording statements
from Army officers. Mr. Marapana, a veteran lawyer and one time Attorney
General, was prompted to ask why he could not, as DIG of the area, carry
out his instructions. He asked why the DIG should wait to contact an SP.
That saw Mr. Balasuriya ordering the Katugastota Police to release the
men in custody. An order made on Sunday morning was executed only that
When he returned to Kandy, Mr. Udugampola found that five of the six
Army men he had arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism
Act were no longer in custody. The officer and four men had been handed
over to Brig. Tammita last Sunday night. The sixth person, a Tiger guerrilla
surrendee, who had been recruited to the Army as a soldier, was, however,
held back at the Katugastota Police Station reportedly for "further interrogation."
Last Monday, (Thai Pongal Day), he had been escorted to a temple by
a Police officer. He had also been given a cash reward on account of the
religious festival. The following night (Tuesday), plans were afoot to
move out the former guerrilla to another "safe location" for "further interrogation."
It was not clear why more "interrogation" was required when the man
had been put through question and answer sessions for a whole week and
statements recorded. These developments began to baffle those in the higher
echelons of the defence establishment. It was past 8 p.m. last Tuesday
night when Mr. Marapana, telephoned Defence Secretary Austin Fernando,
and asked him to order the Police to immediately release the remaining
soldier held at the Katugastota Police Station. DIG Balasuriya,(who has
since been transferred to the Police Transport Division) who gave the order
for the release, made one point clear the one time guerrilla and now
Army soldier, should be handed over to Brig. Tammita without any delay.
Shortly before 9 p.m., this soldier stood to attention before Brig. Tammita,
at the Central Command headquarters and was later re-united with the officer
and four colleagues.
In these columns last week (RAID ON ATHURUGIRIYA SAFE HOUSE THE CONFUSION
CONTINUES Situation Report - January
13), I said "
..Whilst the men who fought terrorism are being held
as terrorist suspects in sub human conditions at a Police Station, the
dilemma for those who arrested them appears to be increasing. If they are
released, how does one justify the arrest
This indeed has become a dilemma. When the officer and five soldiers
were arrested, the Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of Kandy division,
had issued a Detention Order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for
three days the maximum statutory period empowered to the SSP of a division.
Thereafter, they are required to obtain a Detention Order from the Ministry
DIG Balasuriya had written to Defence Minister Marapana, requesting
him to issue a Detention Order to cover the period January 5 to 10. He
has flatly refused the request in view of the circumstances. Hence, the
arrest and detention of the Army officer and four soldiers (a Detention
Order has been issued in respect of the sixth, a one time Tiger guerrilla)
after January 5, becomes illegal.
This is one of the many grounds on which the officer and his men
are preparing to file a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court.
They are already receiving offers of free legal support from some of the
country's leading lawyers.
Dealing with the raid on the Army Safe House last week, I erroneously
referred to Kulasiri Udugampola, as a Senior Superintendent of Police.
He is a Superintendent. Hence, he was specifically invited by the Inspector
General of Police Lucky Kodituwakku, to a conference of Deputy Inspectors
General of Police (DIGs) and Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) at
Police Headquarters on January 7 (Monday). The idea was to ask him to explain
to the DIGs and SSPs, the top most leaders of the country's Police, the
sequence of events leading to the raid on the Athurugiriya Safe House.
Soon after Mr. Udugampola, conducted the raid, Army Commander, Lt. Gen.
Lionel Balagalle, had despatched his Director of Military Intelligence
(DMI), Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana, to the scene. He thought the Army's
intelligence chief could explain matters. Lt. Gen. Balagalle had also telephoned
Police Chief Kodituwakku from the Safe House. Later, when Brig. Hendavithana
telephoned Mr. Kodituwakku from the Safe House to say he could account
for all the weapons and explain why the Safe House existed, the latter
had wanted to speak to Mr. Udugampola on the same telephone. The Police
Chief had tried to tell the SP to take into consideration what the Army's
intelligence chief was saying.
As he finished the conversation, Mr. Udugampola rang Interior Minister
John Amaratunga, to complain of pressures on him. Minister Amaratunga despatched
his relative and now a senior official in his Ministry, former DIG Lal
Ratnayake, to ensure nothing was done to suppress matters.
Mr. Udugampola took the officer, men into custody, seized the stock
of weapons found and drove to the Military Police Headquarters in Narahenpita.
The word soon spread and that was how a top "State secret" became public.
Tiger guerrillas became aware that the Safe House was one used by the Army's
Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs). The men arrested were part of
the dare devil group that went deep into guerrilla dominated territory
to attack targets.
By January 4 (Friday), Tiger guerrilla teams in the Batticaloa district
had launched a crackdown on civilians suspected to have helped the LRRP
teams. The Sunday Times learnt that an unknown number of civilians
have been "arrested" for interrogation by guerrilla intelligence cadres.
The UNF Government, needless to say, was grossly embarrassed by the
manner in which the raid on the Safe House was carried out. Minister Amaratunga
requested Senior DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, to seek the help of some Criminal
Investigation Department (CID) officers to conduct his own inquiry and
ascertain the truth behind the raid. The move saw D.S.Y. Samaratunga, an
SSP in the CID, overlooking investigations conducted by Mr. Udugampola.
Last Tuesday, both were present at Army Headquarters when the statement
of Brig. Hendavithana, DMI, was recorded for over five hours.
At the January 7 conference of DIGs and SSPs, Police Chief Kodituwakku
had invited Mr. Udugampola to explain how and why he conducted the raid.
However, when he began to explain matters, Senior DIG Kotakadeniya objected
on the grounds that it would be prejudicial to inquiries he had been told
by Minister Amaratunga to conduct. The Police Chief declared he was completely
unaware such an investigation had been ordered. DIG Balasuriya was to intervene
to point out that Mr. Udugampola had neither kept him briefed of investigations
into the Safe House nor sought his permission to conduct the raid outside
his own division.
By the time objections were raised, Mr. Udugampola had already told
the most senior men in the Police, DIGs and SSPs, that the information
to conduct the raid came from a "very reliable informant" who had given
him important tip off in the past. When Mr. Kodituwakku asked how it had
happened, Mr. Udugampola had replied that he was at the Magistrate's Court
in Teldeniya when he received a call on his mobile phone that a weapons
cache was hidden in a private house at Athurugiriya.
He had immediately written the address on a white piece of paper that
was in his pocket and obtained a warrant from the Magistrate the same day.
What transpired at the DIGs and SSPs conference revealed how procedural
flaws can pose serious threats to national security. In this instance,
it became clear that Mr. Udugampola did not reveal to his own superior,
DIG Balasuriya, the information he had received from a "reliable informant
who had earlier given him valuable tip off. Nor did he obtain his permission
to leave Kandy division and proceed to Athurugiriya. Nor did he obtain
permission from the next highest authority, the Police Chief himself. Therefore,
by his own admission, Mr. Udugampola acted almost entirely on his own and
seemed blissfully unaware of the harm he was going to cause to national
Even if his investigations did not reveal anything incriminating, like
a conspiracy to assassinate any UNF leader, Mr. Udugampola was yet keen
to find out why a Safe House had to be located, of all places, in Athurugiriya
a question that was in the lips of many. He posed this question to almost
every one from whom he recorded a statement.
Mr. Udugampola, who has risen to the ranks of a SP, is no doubt aware
of the concept of Safe Houses. A plethora of them existed under the Police
and the security forces when they combated the violence of the then outlawed
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the late 1980s. Suspects were arrested
and grilled at these Safe Houses not to mention the complaints it drew
from human rights group of torture. In the later years, major state intelligence
agencies had their Safe Houses to detain and question Tiger guerrilla suspects.
A Safe House, which functioned elsewhere and used by Long Range Reconnaissance
Patrols was shifted to the house in the Millennium Park in Athurugiriya
on December 15, last year. The house belonged to an Army officer and had
been obtained for a monthly rental of Rs 12,500. An intelligence source
explained that the house belonging to an Army officer was picked since
movement of soldiers there would not arouse any suspicions in the neighbourhood.
Dismissing arguments that it could have been located somewhere in the
east, close to the battle zones, the source said "Tiger guerrilla surrendees,
recruited as soldiers would have been found out in no time." Responding
to a question on why weapons had to be kept in the Safe House and not drawn
from any nearby Army camp, the source said "the practice of retaining weapons
in a Safe House is nothing new. It is part of measures to ensure strict
confidentiality during top secret operations. Drawing weapons from a camp
regularly would draw both suspicion and unwarranted attention."
The full report of Mr. Udugampola's investigation, later backed by the
CID, is now being awaited by Interior Minister John Amaratunga. Similarly,
Defence Minister Tilak Marapana is awaiting the final report of the Army
Court of Inquiry headed by Major General Ivan Dissanayake. In their preliminary
report, the Court said no illegal operations have been carried out from
the Safe House. The final report, among other, matters, deals with measures
to be adopted in determining Safe Houses and other related procedures.
The final report of the Court has already been handed over to Army Commander,
Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, who himself has come under strong criticism
for his inability to secure the release of his own men and also for being
completely slow in reacting to the raid on the Safe House.
Nor has he been successful in preventing degrading treatment being meted
out to the officer and five soldiers when they were in a remand cell.
There was also no visit by him, although he has once been the Director
of Military Intelligence. It is extremely unlikely the Police would have
rejected if a request was in fact made at the highest levels. After all
they were not ordinary officers and men. They were extraordinary in every
sense in view of the heroic role they played. (See box story
on this page)
The Sunday Times learns that President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga, who is Commander-in-Chief, was also displeased the way Lt.
Gen. Balagalle handled matters. She is learnt to have told him that he
should have kept UNF leaders briefed on the existence of the Safe House
and its activities. This was particularly in view of some doubts that arose
during the general election campaign.
In November last year, then UNP Chairman, Charitha Ratwatte, alleged
that thermobaric explosives had been brought from the operational areas
in the North to the Panaluwa Army Testing Range and that certain persons
alleged to be attached to a northern Tamil political party were being trained
in its use. The training, he alleged, was being co-ordinated by the Directorate
of Military Intelligence (DMI) together with Army instructors from the
north. He said there may be an attempt to use these weapons on the meetings
held by the UNP leadership and the leader's campaign bus. Lt. Gen. Balagalle,
however, denied the allegations.
During the period when the raid was conducted on the Safe House, Lt.
Gen. Balagalle, was otherwise busy. He was locked in a strong move to retire
his deputy, Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Neil Dias, by using the very Regulations
which President Kumaratunga promulgated to keep him in office when he was
due to retire at 55 years on June 14, 2001. President Kumaratunga rejected
his recommendation that Maj. Gen. Dias should step down on December 31,
last year, and extended his term until April 12, 2002. She pointed out
that the services of experienced officers like Maj. Gen. Dias should be
retained. (Situation Report January 6)
The UNF Government last week accepted President Kumaratunga's recommendation.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, requested Defence Minister Tilak Marapana,
to request Maj. Gen. Dias to resume work. He had been out of office since
December 31 but reported to work, in accordance with this directive, on
The absence deprived him from taking part in a seminar in Washington
for Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen. Balagalle had nominated Deputy Chief of Staff,
Maj. Gen. Lohan Gunawardena. He is already away and is not due in Sri Lanka
until next month.
Now comes the news of a failed attempt during the tenure of the last
Government to have Maj. Gen. Dias investigated. It was on purported grounds
that he was a staunch UNP supporter and had indulged in extra legal activity.
A high ranking intelligence official, to whom a three page document
was handed over, not only laughed at the request made by a top man in uniform
but also briefed a PA leader about the sinister attempt. No probe was conducted
but PA leaders took note that a plot was afoot to malign the senior officer
in a campaign riddled with intrigue, power politics and devious manipulations.
In this backdrop, internal Army investigations have brought out some
startling revelations. Some disgruntled officers, in the Directorate of
Military Intelligence it has now come to light, had leaked information
about the Safe House and other matters a case of traitors within the
system causing more damage to national security than the enemy itself.
They are likely to face a Court Martial after the inquiries are completed.
How others twisted the information and passed it down to interested parties
is also now being probed.
The saga of the Safe House and the arrest of six Army men, all heroes
in the ongoing separatist war, has set a number of posers to the United
National Front Government.
It has not only embarrassed the Government but has come at a time when
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has called a halt to the war and embarked
on peace initiatives with the LTTE. It has demoralised the rank and file
of the Army. It has brought out serious lapses that endanger national security.
Since the Government was in no way associated with the raid on the Safe
House, a full public statement of the events leading to the raid would
And punishing those responsible for the great betrayal will not only
inspire confidence in the Army but the public at large too. And an equally
important job that has to be done immediately is to depoliticise the Army
and place it in the hands of capable young men. They can not only infuse
professionalism but also prepare the men for battle whenever the Government
wants one. To neglect this aspect would be suicidal.
How they were treated in the remand cell
Accounts of the drama that followed the raid on the Army's Safe House at
Athurugiriya by a Police team led by Kulasiri Udugampola, SP (Special Operations)
Kandy Division, has been pieced together after an investigation by The
Sunday Times. Here are excerpts:
With the raid over, Mr. Udugampola and party bring the officer, five
soldiers and weapons seized to the Military Police Headquarters at Narahenpita.
It was around 11.30 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, January 2. The media,
both print and electronic, were already waiting for them. Someone had tipped
off the unsuspecting media but Military Police prevent them from entering
Later, Mr. Udugampola and party escort those arrested and the seized
weapons to the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station. There was a power failure
when they arrived. Video and still cameras are aimed when the officer and
five men get down from their vehicle. The officer shouts out loud not to
take their pictures. But some had already taken shots. The men are taken
inside the Police Station and ordered to remain there.
In the meanwhile, the Police team that raided spread out all the weapons
seized at the Safe House on the floor of the Police Station . Media is
allowed to film and photograph what was found.
The five Army men and the weapons are taken to Asgiriya Police Kennels/Quarters.
A while later they are taken to the Kandy Police Station. A Sub Inspector
asks the officer and five men to alight from the vehicle and makes an entry
in the Information Book.
The officer and men are told to remove their belts and shoes. They are
told they would have to be inside a remand cell. The time is around 5.30
a.m. on Thursday.
There are two cells one with smelling toilets occupied by three suspected
criminals. The other, which is neat and clean, is occupied by only one
crime suspect. The six are told to enter the latter. But the man inside
says they cannot sit with him on a concrete bench. So the six of them sit
huddled together in the other remaining concrete bench. The man screams
mawa maranawo (I am being murdered) and accuses the soldiers of assaulting
him. Soldiers deny the charge and say he is trying to get rid of them.
A Police Assistant (PA) comes in and shouts at the officer and soldiers
in indecent language. They are all pulled out and put into the remand cell
where there are three criminals. Nine of them occupy the remand cell for
a night. After they go inside, the PA shouts in Sinhala that the Army Commander
too would be arrested soon and put in the same cell.
On Friday, the three suspected criminals are taken out. The officer
gives money to a helper to bring a brush, disinfectant and detergent. The
men wash and clean the remand cell and the toilet. They spend the night
in the cell together. Attempts to obtain foam mattresses are refused by
the Police. They are told to sleep on the floor. They hear occasional vulgar
abuse hurled by a sergeant.
The next day (Saturday), the remand cell is open and the officer and
the five men are handcuffed. An Inspector pushes them by their neck and
tells them to walk out of the cell to a waiting vehicle. After they board
the vehicle, Police motor cycles with sirens wailing, escort their vehicle
from Kandy to the Katugastota Police Station.
There, the six men are put into two remand cells also once used to
detain common criminals and drug addicts. Some policemen who had served
in operational areas recognise the officer and men. Evidently, they are
aware of their role and try to console them. They even offer to help in
any way possible and confess some of their "senior bosses have gone mad."
That included offers of plain tea and buns. The Policemen are soon ordered
not to speak to the Army men.
All three meals for them were arranged by the Second Volunteer Battalion
of the Sinha Regiment in Kandy. But visitors, including a large number
of relatives who had turned up, are not allowed. Only the wives were permitted
On Sunday night they are released after an order from Defence Minister
Tilak Marapana. Only the one time guerrilla who has now become a soldier
is detained. He is also released on Tuesday night following an order from