Army soldier or on duty in Trincomalee town. Photo- by Ishara S.
removes Trinco Navy chief
Series of steps to improve ties
Helgesen seeks meeting with Prabha
A number of measures to cool relations with the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have got under way as President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, whose UPFA Government collapsed on Thursday,
defiantly pursued efforts to seal the post-tsunami aid sharing deal
major step was President Kumaratunga’s order as Commander-in-Chief
on Friday to transfer a senior Sri Lanka Navy officer responsible
for security in the troubled north eastern Trincomalee district.
Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera who was at the centre of a controversy
over the placing of a statue of Lord Buddha in the Trincomalee town
has been told to move out as Eastern Naval Area Commander from June
30.He will take over as Western Naval Area Commander based in Colombo.
Succeeding him will be the current incumbent in this office, Rear
Admiral Sarath Rathnakeerthi. The latter has been asked to move
in as the new Eastern Naval Area Commander with effect from Friday
(June 24). He will thus have time to familiarise himself with the
situation in the area before Vice Admiral Weerasekera moves out.
Both Admirals are not only classmates at Ananda College but are
also from the same batch of recruits who joined the Navy together
on the same day. However, Rear Admiral Rathnakeerthi is senior to
revealed in these columns last week, President Kumaratunga ordered
the Ministry of Defence to investigate a report from a state intelligence
agency that Rear Admiral Weerasekera extended support to the group
reportedly responsible for placing Lord Buddha’s statue. He
is alleged to have addressed this group, a team of three wheeler
drivers offering a transport service and assured them he would ensure
the statue would not be removed.
The Sunday Times learnt from top level sources at Navy Headquarters
that Rear Admiral Weerasekera flatly denied the allegations. See
box story on this page for details. Other sources said a senior
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) politician in the Trincomalee district,
who was warned recently by the LTTE leadership in Kilinochchi for
his lack of aggressiveness, had also mounted pressure on Government
leaders for the removal of this senior officer from the Navy’s
most vital installation in the country.
move, together with a number of others, however, did not see a reciprocal
response from Tiger guerrillas. Within hours of the news of his
transfer a pistol gang shot dead a Police Sergeant attached to the
Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII), the country’s
premier intelligence agency. He was attached to the District Intelligence
Bureau (DIB) in Trincomalee and on secondment to the Kantalai Police.
incident occurred when he was in the Serunuwara town, south of Trincomalee,
on Friday night in the company of two Army soldiers. Eye witnesses
said a suspected guerrilla gunman who came in a push cycle pulled
out a pistol and shot him dead. Once a constable, M. Muthu Banda
had been granted a special promotion to the rank of Sergeant after
he successfully carried out a secret operation against Tiger guerrillas.
He had been warned by his superiors of a threat on his life only
weeks earlier. The incident had occurred when he went there on leave
to visit his wife.
Friday night’s incident further confirmed that the guerrillas
had stepped up their violent campaign against intelligence operatives
of the State. It was only on May 31 Major Nizam Muthaliff (posthumously
promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) was shot dead in Narahenpita.
CID detectives probing the incident are puzzled and even disturbed
by a number of findings including how the killers knew then Maj.
Muthaliff was travelling alone with his driver on that fateful day.
that occasion, he had chosen not to avail himself of additional
security provided to him on the orders of Army Commander Lt. Gen.
Shantha Kottegoda. This had included motor cycle escorts, two official
vehicles plus clearance to obtain another on hire. In addition,
he had also been allowed to draw from resources of the First Battalion
of the Military Intelligence Corps of which he was the commanding
officer. An Army Court of Inquiry headed by Lt. Col. H.K. Lal Wijegunawardena
is now probing the incident. Among other matters it will identify
if there were any security lapses or other shortcomings. Other members
of the Court are Major D.T. Nalin Kodagoda, Captain R.M.C.K. Bandara
and Warrant Officer P.M.P. Tennekoon.
Gen. Kottegoda who had been apprised by state intelligence agencies
of guerrilla threats against officers has not only warned them to
take extra precautions. He had ordered additional security precautions
and authorised shift of the locations from which some of them worked.
Maj. Muthaliff had boarded the vehicle with tinted windows from
within the confines of his quarters in the Army flats located at
the end of Matha Lane in Narahenpita. It was not possible for anyone
to observe his boarding the vehicle. In addition, intelligence operatives
had mounted surveillance along the Narahenpita road at the time
he was departing. CID investigations are still in progress and hence
any speculation may turn out to be counter productive.
state intelligence agencies have warned of guerrilla cadres conducting
surveillance in the City of Colombo and suburbs on a number of would-be
targets. It is said to include intelligence operatives and politicians.
another incident in the eastern Batticaloa district, Tiger guerrilla
gunmen reportedly used a Chinese built T-56 rifle to fire at and
injured three persons – two members of the People’s
Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOT) and a policeman. All
three who had gone to collect sand from the beach were injured whilst
the attackers got away. Senior security officials in the district
suspect that a crack down on PLOT cadres had been stepped up after
their alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Dharmaratnam
Ministry of Defence this week relaxed a ban it had imposed on theatre
to theatre Air Force helicopter transfer of Tiger guerrilla military
wing leaders. On Wednesday, an Air Force helicopter flew in Trincomalee
district military wing leader “Col. Sornam” alias Soosaipillai
Anthonydas and five others including guerrilla intelligence cadres
from Kilinochchi to Sampur. This LTTE controlled area is located
south of Trincomalee. They had been stranded in the Wanni for nearly
a month after the MoD refused to heed their request for helicopters
in view of the troubled situation in Trincomalee.
Friday another Air Force helicopter flew from Kilinochchi to Karadiyanaru
in the Batticaloa district with military wing leaders. It included
LTTE’s “special commander” for Batticaloa and
Ampara districts “Col. Banu,” “Commander Ram”
and “Commander Janarthan” of the “Jeyanthan Regiment.”
significant thaw in Government’s attitude came as Norwegian
peace facilitators sought a meeting with Tiger guerrilla leader
Velupillai Prabhakaran in the coming week.
Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, who arrives in Colombo tomorrow
will fly to Kilinochchi on Wednesday with Ambassador Hans Brattskar
and two Embassy officials – Solfred Lien, Advisor and Tom
Knappskog, second secretary. Norway sought a meeting for Mr. Helgesen
with the LTTE leader early this week. Ahead of his arrival in Colombo,
Mr. Helgesen had already spoken to LTTE chief peace negotiator Anton
Balasingham in London and Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan
in Kilinochchi about the request. However reports from Wanni say
it may not materialise.
he is likely to have talks with Mr. Thamilselvan and others.
Although President Kumaratunga has publicly declared her determination
to sign a memorandum of understanding with the LTTE to enforce a
Joint Mechanism (or Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure),
she is yet to reveal its full contents or agree on a date for the
signing. So much so, she was angered when newspapers early this
week published accounts of a “Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) for the Establishment of a Post-Tsunami Operational Management
Structure (the “Joint Mechanism”).
Copies of a three page document together with a two page chart that
described in boxes and arrows how “the proposed Post Tsunami
Reconstruction Mechanism” would work were distributed to a
select group of Deputy Ministers.
was ahead of a meeting of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party parliamentarians
last Monday to discuss the Joint Mechansim or P-TOMS proposal. They
had been told specifically by President Kumaratunga to ensure the
contents of the document were kept a secret and not divulged to
the media. But someone had already done that. After the newspapers
reported on the matter, an official at the Presidential Secretariat
began telephoning the Deputy Ministers in question and began withdrawing
the copies issued to them. They explained it was being done at the
request of President Kumaratunga.
later, addressing the meeting of her Freedom Party parliamentarians,
an angry Kumaratunga accused the media of introducing additions
to the proposals that had been published. The truth was different.
The newspapers concerned had made no such addition. But the draft
JM proposals had contained a contentious issue which the LTTE had
taken exception to – vesting with the Treasury the allocation
and disbursement of donor funds for tsunami recovery.
based Tamil media contacted S. Prabagaran alias Pulithevan, head
of the LTTE Peace Secretariat in Kilinochchi. He was asked what
the LTTE’s response would be to the newspaper reports and
the references made to the Treasury. He replied that they wanted
an independent custodian to be in charge of the funds but added
that the LTTE would not issue any statement on the newspaper accounts.
This was because they did not consider the newspaper reports to
be official and hence awaited Government intimation.
is still confusion at the highest levels of the Government over
the modalities to be followed with regard to the Joint Mechanism.
Although it was suggested that the document containing the proposals
be presented in Parliament in the form of draft legislation, it
has now been dropped. This was after Government’s legal advisors
pointed out that such legislation for an arrangement with the LTTE
would confer formal recognition and legal status to the guerrillas.
Instead, it has now been decided that the document should only be
tabled in Parliament. Thereafter the government may allow a debate.
issue is the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding to give
effect to the Joint Mechanism. Earlier proposals for officials of
the Peace Secretariats of the two sides to sign the MoU have been
dropped. It is now likely that an official in the Ministry of Rehabilitation,
Relief and Reconstruction will sign on behalf of the Government
of Sri Lanka. On the LTTE side, it is expected to be an official
from its “Planning and Development Secretariat”. The
dates for such a signing are yet to be determined. It is to be decided
Helgesen’s request for a meeting with Mr. Prabhakaran, according
to diplomatic sources in Colombo, is to focus on the resumption
of the peace process. This is immediately after the Joint Mechanism
deal, which President Kumaratunga has categorically declared will
be concluded, is finalised. The latter task is now being pursued
by Ambassador Brattskar.
The recent protests against the JM, the exit of the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna from the UPFA Government and the impending deal with the
LTTE have all heightened security concerns for the defence establishment
in Colombo. The subject figured at the National Security Council
too. As a result, troops have been placed on standby to help the
Police in a contingency.
Chief Chandra Fernando has told his officers in charge of divisions
countrywide that they should prevent all attempts to disrupt normal
life of the community. They have been told to deal sternly with
those who violate the law.
controversial Joint Mechanism has already led to the collapse of
the UPFA Government this week. With protests planned by those opposed
to the deal with the LTTE, coming weeks will turn out to be crucial
for those in the defence establishment. Whether cooling off relations
with the guerrillas, with little or no reciprocal response, is going
to pay off remains a critical question.
backstage moves behind the transfer
In the backdrop of a heightened controversy over the placing of
a statue of Lord Buddha in Trincomalee town, Rear Admiral Sarath
Weerasekera, Commander of Sri Lanka Navy’s most important
base, the Eastern Naval Area Headquarters in this north eastern
port city, received transfer orders on Friday.
move, The Sunday Times learns, follows a directive from President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Commander-in-Chief of the armed
forces to the Ministry of Defence.
of Defence Staff and Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri
is to move out Rear Admiral Weerasekera as Commander, Eastern Naval
Area with effect from June 30. He posted the current Western Naval
Area Commander Rear Admiral Sarath Rathnakeerthi as the new eastern
commander with effect from Friday June 24. The six day gap in switching
posts is to enable Rear Admiral Rathnakeerthi to familiarise himself
with the situation in Trincomalee.
the appearance of the statue of Lord Buddha in the Trincomalee town
in the early hours of May 15, Rear Admiral Weerasekera is alleged
to have spoken at a gathering of threewheeler drivers. A state intelligence
agency had accused him of telling the gathering that he would make
sure the statue was not removed. This statement, the agency said,
had exacerbated feelings among groups responsible for placing the
As revealed in these columns last week, President Kumaratunga asked
the Ministry of Defence to conduct an inquiry into the allegations.
On the Ministry’s orders, Vice Admiral Sandagiri had called
upon Rear Admiral Weerasekera to explain his conduct within six
days. Thereafter the Chief of Defence Staff, the country’s
top most security official, The Sunday Times learnt, endorsed the
views expressed by Rear Admiral Weerasekera. He declared that the
measures adopted by his Eastern Naval Area Commander were intended
to ensure security and normalcy in the Trincomalee area.
comments accompanied Rear Admiral Weerasekera’s explanation
he had forwarded to the Ministry of Defence. Officials at the Ministry
of Defence remained tight lipped over the issue. Rear Admiral Weerasekera
was not available yesterday for any comment.
The Sunday Times learnt from top level sources at Navy Headquarters
that Rear Admiral Weerasekera had forwarded a lengthy explanation.
In that he had denied allegations made against him and pointed out
that all measures he took were to restore normalcy in the troubled
to sources at Navy Headquarters Rear Admiral Weerasekera had spoken
about how “Operation Hunter” was launched after a conference
at the Eastern Naval Area headquarters in the Dockyard in Trincomalee.
Summoned by him, it had been attended by Neville Wijesinghe, DIG
(East) and Major General Sumith Balasuriya, General Officer Commanding
(GOC) of the Army’s 22 Division among others.
Admiral Sandagiri was on a tour of India during this crisis situation
in the strategic north eastern town. Rear Admiral Weerasekera had
therefore kept the acting Commander of the Navy, Rear Admiral Mohan
Wijewickrema informed of developments. This, according to him, had
included action against members of all communities responsible for
violating law and order. He had said he ensured that fuel stations,
commercial banks, shops and transport services were made operational.
to sources at Navy Headquarters, Rear Admiral Weerasekera had admitted
visiting the place where the statue had been placed. He had, however,
stated that he warned those present not to resort to violence or
take the law into their own hands. He had appealed to them to allow
the security forces and the Police to do their job.
Admiral Weerasekera, according to same sources, had maintained that
the public in the area from all communities were angered and even
disappointed that no deterrent action was taken against those who
hurled grenades at shops that were kept open. These were done by
shop owners who had defied an LTTE call for a Hartal and closure
of all business establishments. In one grenade-throwing incident
a Sinhala youth had died.
Admiral Weerasekera is also learnt to have pointed out that law
enforcement officers were frightened to act according to the law
when it came to transgressions by Tiger guerrillas. This was for
fear of being accused of “sabotaging” the peace process.
Admiral Weerasekera took over as Eastern Naval Area Commander on
February 2, this year. Prior to that he was Director General, Naval
Operations at the Navy Headquarters in Colombo.
Admiral Weerasekera headed a team of tri services officers named
to a Strategic Planning Committee. Its task was to appreciate threats
posed by the LTTE after the ceasefire and to make recommendations
to counter them. After their findings were made known, President
Kumaratunga presided over a session of the Committee attended by
the armed forces commanders.
the Court of Appeal has suspended an order given by the Trincomalee
Magistrate Ganesh Raja to remove the statue of Lord Buddha and other
unauthorized places of worship in Trincomalee. A two member bench
has suspended the Magistrate's order till June 30 after the Trincomalee
Three-wheeler Drivers Association petitioned the Court of Appeal.
They said the Magistrate had no jurisdiction to make an order for
the removal and if it were done, it would be a breach of law.