Safe house raid: heads roll as Army Chief cracks the whip
The sequel to the Police raid on the Army Safe House at Athurugiriya two years ago, which brought disastrous consequences to Sri Lanka's national security interests, began to unfurl last Friday.

That morning, Major General Ivan Dassanayake, Adjutant General, walked into the electronically secure office room of the Army Commander in the now shut down Baladaksha Mawatha. There, whilst Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda watched, Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, broke the news.

He told Maj. Gen. Dassanayake he would have to retire from his post on March 31, this year - three months ahead of his scheduled date of retirement. This is upon reaching his mandatory maximum period of three years in the rank on June 30.

However, Maj. Gen. Dassanayake was eligible to appeal for an extension of service until December 16, this year, when he would have reached 55 years. That premature exit from service was being imposed on him for his role in the raid; he was told by Lt. Gen. Balagalle. Maj. Gen. Dassanayake is learnt to have strongly denied complicity and pleaded innocence over allegations made against him.

At the time the Police raided the Safe House run by the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Maj. Gen. Dassanayake was the Provost Marshal of the Army. In this capacity the Sri Lanka Corps Military Police (SLCMP) was his responsibility. Since then, he has assumed office as the Army's Adjutant General and Colonel Commandant of the SLCMP. As Adjutant General, he is a Principal Staff Officer and is responsible for the directorates of Personnel Administration, Welfare, Medical Services, Pay and Records, Rehabilitation, Humanitarian Law, Recruiting, Legal and Provost Marshal.

Later that same afternoon, Colonel Parakrama Dissanayake, Deputy Commandant of the Army Training College at Diyatalawa appeared before the Army Chief and his deputy. Also present was Military Secretary, Maj. Gen. K.B. Egodawala.

Lt. Gen. Balagalle told this one time Commanding Officer of the (first) Military Intelligence Corps and Staff Officer at DMI, that his commission as a Colonel in the Sri Lanka Army was being withdrawn. He said he was being dismissed with effect from January 30, this year.

As Col. Dissanayake walked out of the Army Commander's office after learning the bad news, walking in was Major Najith Karunaratne, head of military intelligence in the Jaffna peninsula. He was also told that his commission as a Major in the Sri Lanka Army was being withdrawn and he was expelled from service with effect from January 30, this year.

Col. Dissanayake was summoned to Colombo from Diyatalawa. Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, was advised to direct Maj. Karunaratne, who was on leave, to report to Army Headquarters by Friday. These were done on Thursday evening by Military Secretary Maj. Gen. Egodawala.

The disciplinary action against the two would mean that after January 30, they will be forbidden from holding their ranks. In other words they would be reduced to civilian status and will not be entitled to any Army pension. In addition, all military installations would also be out of bounds for the two.

This disciplinary action against the three officers is the Army's main response to the findings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Safe House raid. They were determined by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle upon a directive from President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as exclusively revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report - January 18). She had directed that the commissions of those Army officers who were directly or indirectly involved be withdrawn. She had also directed that other ranks involved be discharged from service.

President Kumaratunga's directive, The Sunday Times learnt, came after her advisers made two separate detailed studies of the report submitted by former Appeal Court Judge, D. Jayawickrema. He was the one man Presidential Commission that probed "into the disclosure of the existence of and the raid on the Safe House operated by the Sri Lanka Army at Athurugiriya."

Lt. Gen. Balagalle is learnt to have forwarded to President Kumaratunga last Monday his own recommendations on how punishment should be meted out to those on whom indictments were made by the Commission. After obtaining her approval to initiate such action, he is learnt to have also sought and obtained a written directive on Friday from Defence Secretary, Cyril Herath to enforce them. The move meant that both the Commander-in-Chief and the Defence Secretary have formally endorsed the action determined by Lt. Gen. Balagalle as Commander of the Army.

Although President Kumaratunga was expected to review the Army Commander's recommendations with her own advisers, before giving instructions for a go ahead, the move did not materialise.

Besides the disciplinary action on the three officers on Friday, another officer, Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola, is to be marched before Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Kottegoda, in the coming week. He is to be warned for refusing to testify before an Army Court of Inquiry that probed matters connected with the raid. He is also to be deprived of any promotions or extensions of service. Two more officers are also to face disciplinary action and their performance kept under observation for a year. Corporal Anura Peiris of the DMI who had attempted to obtain the address of the Safe House is also to be dismissed from service.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry findings went into nine separate aspects. In response to "Whether there was any information given by any personnel of the Armed Forces disclosing the existence of a Safe House at Athurugiriya," the Commission report said:

"The existence of the Safe House operated by the Sri Lanka Army at No.844 Millennium City, Athurugiriya is beyond any doubt. Except a retired Lieutenant Colonel, Jayavi Fernando, all other witnesses including the Army Commander and other officers, the Inspector General of Police and the other senior Police Officers who gave evidence as witnesses before this Commission accepted that this was a legally maintained Safe House by the Sri Lanka Army. Even Jayavi Fernando expressed the view that there was an Army sub-unit at this house and that it was not a safe house.

"There is strong evidence that Col. D.P. Dissanayake, USP psc, made attempts to obtain the address of this Safe House before the 2001 December General Election, and also just a few days before the raid through Major M.B. de S. Jayatilleke, RSP MIC - GSO 1 DMI, and Corp. M.P. Anura Peiris, MPA MIC. The evidence of these officers themselves proves this fact.

"Knowing Capt. Nilam very well there was no necessity for Col. D.P. Dissanayake to find out the address and the whereabouts of Nilam through his junior officers. If he wanted he could have directly contacted Capt. Nilam and got whatever information he wanted. Col. Dissanayake's explanation was that he wanted to contact Capt. Nilam to get his assistance in respect of the house Col. Dissanayake was building at Malabe.

"The evidence before this Commission further discloses the fact that Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola, SLCMP, brother of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola, Major General Ivan Dassanayake and ColonelK.H.N.S.S. Dharmaratna, Major A.C.A. de Soysa, SLCMP, Major A.S.P. Podiralahamy, SLCMP, Major K.U. Jayanetti, SLCMP, Major B.M.A.N.S.K. Karunaratne MIC Corps, J.H.A.P. de Silva, JHAT-MIC, Corp. M.P.A. Peiris, JHAT-MIC were all aware of the impending raid and have directly and indirectly assisted Kulasiri Udugampola in raiding this Safe House.

"If these officers had any doubts about the Safe House they should have brought it to the notice of the Army Commander and moved the Military Police to investigate. But these officers, without doing so, have conspired with Kulasiri Udugampola to raid this Safe House for their own personal benefits. Moreover, none of these officers have informed the Army Commander or the Director, DMI, about the raid before the raid."

After the Commission ruled that the raid "was a betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation" and concluded that Mr. Kulasiri Udugampola, then SP in charge of Operations in the Kandy Police Division "backed up with political patronage" stalled these covert operations and "betrayed this gallant unit," there was considerable public outrage. This is particularly after state run media, both electronic and print, gave wide publicity to the Commission's findings and recommendations. There was many an interview with the man on the street where private citizens voiced deep concern over how national security interests were compromised and demanded deterrent action.

In this context, the question naturally arises whether the actions ordered by President Kumaratunga, Commander-in-Chief in meting out punishment to those involved have been carried out justly and fairly. The question is being asked not only because there have been many pressure moves to sweep the whole issue under the carpet. In fact, for two long years after the raid, the United National Front Government ignored the entire episode though more than 44 persons - intelligence operatives, informants and the like - have been murdered since the raid on the Safe House - the result of its secret activities becoming public.

Captain Mohamed Nilam, who led Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) operations from the Athurugiriya Safe House together with a team of other Army men have gone to Supreme Court to complain their fundamental rights have been violated. The judgement in this case is pending. It is known that some very influential personalities in the UNF tried to persuade Captain Nilam and party to withdraw their case. They were offered attractive cash rewards and promised employment cum refuge in a country of their choice together with their families. When such persuasion failed, some of these personalities began hurling frivolous accusations at the men and challenged their roles as LRRP operatives.

Since the Presidential Commission of Inquiry has noted that the raid was an act of treachery that harmed Sri Lanka's security interests, the question is raised in the national interest. The Sunday Times learnt that Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, had explained to the authorities concerned the reasons why he has personally determined the punishment to be meted out to only some and left out others on whom strictures have been made by the Presidential Commission. He may well be quite right in saying so.

On the other hand, several important questions arise. It was Lt. Gen. Balagalle who was Commander of the Army on January 2, 2002 when the Police raided the Safe House. At the behest of then Minister of Defence, Tilak Marpana, he appointed an Army Court of Inquiry to go into the matter. This Court was constituted by him in consultation with then Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando.

This Court of Inquiry was headed by Maj. Gen. Ivan Dassanayake and comprised Brigadier M.R.W. de Zoysa, Colonel K.A.N.S.K.A. Dharmaratne and Col. J. Pathirana. This inquiry concluded that the Safe House run by the DMI was engaged in legitimate counter terrorist activity. It also determined that all the military equipment found in this Safe House was obtained legitimately and after laid down procedures were followed.

Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, later studied the findings of this Court of Inquiry. He was satisfied that only legitimate counter terrorist activity was conducted from the Safe House. He therefore directed then Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, to order the Army Commander to appoint another Court of Inquiry. This was mainly to ascertain how the information about the existence of the Safe House leaked thus causing colossal damage to security interests.

This second Court of Inquiry was headed by Maj. Gen. Jayantha Ranaweera and comprised Maj. Gen. Sivali Wanigasekera, Brig. M.R.W. de Zoysa and Col. AW.J.C. de Silva. Here is what this second Court of Inquiry was called upon to go into by Lt. Gen. Balagalle:

a. Whether any member of the Army obtained, or sought to obtain, without authority and did cause a leak of any information relating to the existence of the Intelligence Cell, otherwise referred to as the "Safe House" at Athurugiriya, or any, or all, authorised activity carried out thereat:

b. Whether by obtaining, and or, leaking such information, did any member of the Army, wilfully and or deliberately, exercise spiteful and traitorous motives by:

1. Leaking secret and operationally lethal military information regarding the existence of the Int Cell (or Safe House) and its activities.

2. Whether such acts were calculated to bring into ridicule the Army in general and the DMI in particular.

3. Whether there were any attempts, wilfully or otherwise, to tarnish the reputation of any senior officer or officers.

c. Whether any unauthorised action by any member of the Army has:

1. Affected the nation's National Security Interests.

2. Compromised covert operations which brought great honour and success to the Army's counter terrorist operations.

3. Exposed the identities of members of the Int Cell (or Safe House) at Athurugiriya and consequently endangered their lives.

4. Assisted the enemy by providing inside information of covert operations of the DMI, which the enemy otherwise would not have had access to, and thereby traitorously assisted the enemy to formulate counter measures.

5. Exposed the identities of informants and thus placed their lives at risk.

6. Caused a completely erroneous and wrong image about the Army in the minds of Political Leaders, Security Forces, Police and General Public.

7. Other matters arising from above or incidental thereto.

The second Court of Inquiry findings brought out answers to all the above issues. Based on that, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, gave his own opinion in a four page document forwarded to the Ministry of Defence. In this, he noted that national security was severely affected and declared that the Police raid severely affected future counter terrorist operations of the Army.

In this report, he recommended action against Col. D.P. Dissanayake, Col. P. Udugampola, Major Najith Karunaratne, Major H.B. de S. Jayatithilaka, Maj. K.V. Jayanetti, Corporal Anura Peiris, and Corporal J.H.A.P. de Silva. The only exception to such action was in respect of Maj. Gen. Ivan Dassanayake. However, why such action was was not taken immediately thereafter is not clear. Whether this was because Ministry of Defence approval was not forthcoming is also not clear. However, the Army Commander is fully empowered to act on disciplinary matters without seeking recourse to the Ministry of Defence. That includes findings of Courts of Inquiry appointed by him.

All this was when the subject of defence was in the hands of the UNF. And more than two years went by. Nothing at all was done. It seems ironic that action against the Army officers and men had to await the outcome of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry - a matter initiated by the President Kumaratunga as Commander-in-Chief. Since she had been responsible for ordering this probe, it would have been better if she used her prerogative and directed the course of action to be taken instead of the Army Commander being called upon to report on what such action should be.

The fact that he did so raises more questions than it answers. After all, she knew all the reasons why a Commission of Inquiry had to be appointed to probe the matter. She was in the know of the findings of the two Army Courts of Inquiry that sat earlier.

But it seems hilarious if not ridiculous. Once the Commission's findings are made known, the Army Commander is called upon to recommend courses of action. He makes them and awaits the approval of the President (who is Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defence). Thereafter, once approval is given, he seeks and obtains a directive from the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. That is to go ahead with the same action.

This is all the more intriguing because the findings of the two Courts of Inquiry (appointed by the Army Commander himself) legally empowered him to act on them much earlier, more than two long years before. Why was this not done? In that context, calling upon him to recommend measures after the Commission's findings makes matters much worse.

In fact it raises questions on why a Presidential Commission of Inquiry had to be appointed at all to probe the Police raid on the Safe House? What purpose has its recommendations, which were highly publicized, served? Was not the Commission of Inquiry much wider in scope and content than the limited focus of the Army Courts of Inquiry?

Therefore was not the Presidential Commission of Inquiry an exercise in futility? It now amounts to only a sham exercise used to gain political mileage and to point the finger at political opponents. For this purpose millions of tax payer's money has been wasted. The long winding process of the Commission began in August 2002 and ended in November 2003. The Commission heard 69 witnesses. Thousands of pages of evidence was recorded and now lay at the Government Archives.

This unfortunate situation further illustrates the acute lack of any mechanism at the Ministry of Defence or the President's Office to monitor vital matters relating to national security interests. Defence Secretary, Cyril Herath, is inexperienced. It appears that he is still learning through a trial and error process. President Kumaratunga is far too busy with many significant political developments. There is no Minister of Defence and no Deputy. Hence, it is not surprising, that like in this instance, many matters defence and security continue to drift day by day whilst some succeed effortlessly in furthering their own agenda.

Round one of the Athurugiriya episode, one that concerns a vital aspect of Sri Lanka's security appears to have ended in virtual comedy. That is after much fanfare and talk of treachery and betrayal. Now the public wait for round two. That is when Police Chief, Indra de Silva names a team to probe the raid by former SP and now ASP, Kulasiri Udugampola. Would that also mean taking departmental action that has already been recommended? That is after another long winding, time cousuming probe is over. We will soon know !!

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.