ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday January 6, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 32

Slashing of security and the slaying of a politico

~ Govt. blames LTTE for Maheswaran killing before completion of investigation

By Asif Fuard, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara and Sam,an Kariyawasam

The head of Ministerial Security Division, tasked to provide security to parliamentarians said that slain MP Thyagarajah Maheswaran's personal protection strength was reduced on the recommendations of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), the Government's premier spy agency.

Last Tuesday’s assassination of UNP Parliamentarian Thyagarajah Maheswaran in Colombo has however raised serious questions about the credibility of threat assessments carried out by state intelligence authorities on the security of MPs.

Mr. Maheswaran, who survived an assassination attempt in April 2004 with gun shot injuries, had an 18-member state security contingent but it was reduced to two, days after he reportedly voted against the final vote on the government’s budget on December 14. The government justified the move, saying it was based on a threat assessment report.Ministerial Security Division (MSD) Director Senior Superintendent of Police A.S.K. Munasinghe said Mr. Maheswaran’s security contingent was reduced after the state intelligence services confirmed that Mr. Maheswaran did not need additional security personnel because of minimal threats to his life.

“After the report we reduced his security. There was no need to provide additional security personnel who would be confined to one particular area. But we provided him with two MSD bodyguards, which every Member of Parliament is entitled to,” SSP Munasinghe said.

Maheswaran’s wife and only son during the funeral rituals.

On December 18 several MPs saw their security personnel pruned down. TNA parliamentarian S. Srikantha’s security was slashed from 9 to 4. Anura Bandaranaike, Rauf Hakeem and Western Peoples Front (WPF) leader Mano Ganeshan also saw their security personnel reduced with the latter eventually leaving the country citing security concerns.

After the state intelligence threat assessment Mr. Maheswaran was provided with an MSD sergeant and a police constable. The static guards posted outside his residence in Jaffna were also removed. The Sunday Times learns that he was compelled to cancel his visit to Jaffna on December 19 due to the pruning of his security contingent. However he had reportedly later flown to Jaffna with 6 MSD bodyguards.

Following the reduction of his security personnel, Mr. Maheswaran had written to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa requesting enhanced security citing security threats to him and his family.

In probably what was Mr. Mahesawaran’s last letter to the Defence Secretary, he had pointed out that he had been shot at pointblank range, when he was the Minister for Hindu Cultural Affairs in the run up to the 2004 general election. He said his security had been intensified then. He had also pointed out that the police had not apprehended the suspects but had blamed the LTTE.

The Sunday Times learns that former minister Anura Bandaranaike whose security has been reduced too has written to Police Chief Victor Perera for the second time requesting that his security be strengthened. Mr. Bandaranaike says that the IGP had not even acknowledged his request and added that Mr. Maheswaran too had appealed to the IGP but to no avail and he had to eventually pay for the IGPs inaction with his life.

Last Tuesday’s defence briefing centered on the pruning down of Mr. Maheswaran’s security contingent. Defence spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella answering a question said that although former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had 126 security personnel and former President Premadasa had 600 personal bodyguards, a breach in security eventually led to their deaths.

“Mr. Maheswaran’s security was removed after the threat assessment. One cannot say the threat assessment was wrong. His bodyguard who was on duty managed to retaliate and injure the assailant which is something we should take note of,” Minister Rambukwella said. Not even a week has lapsed since the assassination but police have already pointed fingers at the LTTE for the assassination despite the lack of evidence. Conflicting and contradictory versions are being given by the police.

Colombo Crime Division Chief SSP Anura Senanayake told The Sunday Times that the suspect is a member of the LTTE. In a TV interview on the Minnal programme on Shakthi TV, a week before Mr. Maheswaran was gunned down in a kovil, he had accused a paramilitary group of carrying out various atrocities including killings, abductions and extortions in Jaffna. He was to submit a report in parliament regarding these atrocities.

In his last interview, a day before he was killed , Mr. Maheswaran, had told that it was the EPDP that was behind all these atrocities in Jaffna. Incidentally the news item was posted on the website a few minutes before the shooting. He said on his last visit to Jaffna residents had complained to him of harassment at the hands of the EPDP. He charged that EPDP cadres kill at least six people on a daily basis in Jaffna and that the government security forces turned a blind eye to these killings.

Mourners participating at Maheswaran’s funeral

There are reports that say that the assailant had been a one time bodyguard of Mr. Maheswaran as well as being a former bodyguard of EPDP leader Douglas Devananda. It is also learnt that the assailant was a former army intelligence operative who had taken part in many secret operations.

Police have identified the assailant as V. Wasanthan alias Valentine from Beach Road, Jaffna. Police say that he was living in a safe house in Wattala. However Mr. Maheshwaran’s family does not recall this name. They are yet to see the suspect.

On that fateful Tuesday of January 1, Mr. Maheswaran, a father of three was taking part in his daily prayers at the Sri Ponambalavanes-waaar Kovil in Kotahena at about 10 a.m. when the assailant who was mingling among the devotees had opened fire with his micro pistol.

Mr. Maheswaran’s bodyguard sergeant Dharmasiri had fired back at the assailant and the 20 minute gunbattle that ensued caused mayhem in the temple. Nearly 10 civilians were injured and one killed. Mr. Maheswaran succumbed to his injuries in hospital. The gunman is receiving treatment at the Colombo National Hospital amidst tight security.

The assailant’s house in Wattala was searched by teams from the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). The detectives recovered 28 rounds of live ammunition and a map of the Wellawatte area which had Maheswaran’s residence highlighted.

The day after the shooting, three more suspects were taken into custody by the Kotahena police. Two other suspects who are reportedly related to the gunman were taken into custody on Thursday in Jaffna. They were brought to Colombo for interrogation. All together 9 suspects have been rounded up.

Police say they are hunting for another suspect who is believed to have assisted the gunman who killed Maheswaran, based on new evidence. CCD detectives believe that the second gunman’s role would have been to pull the trigger in case the first attempt at assassinating Mr. Maheswaran failed.

The Colombo Additional Magistrate Ravindra Premaratne who took up the case on Thursday directed the CCD to take into consideration the facts revealed by Mr. Maheswaran in his last TV interview. The CCD had requested the court to grant permission to probe certain bank accounts of the suspect.

Presidents Counsel M.L.M Ameen who is watching the interests of the deceased asked court to consider the facts revealed in the TV interview as a voluntary statement made by Mr. Maheswaran. The EPDP in a statement on Thursday said the killers of Mr. Maheswaran had rushed to spread rumours to divert attention from the real culprits behind the assassination.

What about Raviraj and Pararajasingham?

Slaying of Raviraj: Scene of the crime

Investigations into the killings of TNA parliamentarians Nadarajah Raviraj and Joseph Pararajasingham are still pending. Mr. Raviraj was killed on 10.11. 2006 and Mr. Pararajasingham on 25.12. 2005.

Although the main culprits behind the killing of Mr. Raviraj have not been apprehended, police say they have two suspects linked to the main culprits. However, the investigation is at a standstill now, due to lack of vital evidence, detectives say.

A book published by the Foreign Ministry and titled “LTTE: A Trail of Atrocities”, which was distributed at the International Conference on Counter Terrorism held in Colombo last October, has categorised these two killings under the list of Tamil Politicians assassinated by the LTTE.

The key question is how did the Foreign Ministry come to the conclusion that the two MPs were gunned down by the LTTE while investigations are pending due to lack of evidence.

Maheswaran's profile
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