Army Commander In A Soup?
- Prageeth Eknaligoda Dissappearence Case
By Nirmala Kannangara
Army Commander Major General Chrishantha de Silva (A. W. J. C. De Silva) who was appointed as the 21st Commander of the Sri Lanka Army effective from February 22, 2015, is likely to face legal action for his alleged failure to cooperate with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over the investigations into the disappearance of senior journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda.
The CID, it is learnt, has sought the Attorney General’s (AG) opinion to take action against De Silva and is waiting for AG’s recommendations for further action. When the CID on an earlier occasion in August last year wanted to arrest two Lieutenant Colonels in connection to the disappearance of Eknaligoda, De Silva and the then Defence Secretary had reportedly opposed the CID’s move strongly, claiming that the accused were involved in winning the country’s three decade war. Recently, it was revealed as to how Army Commander Chrishantha de Silva together with the Head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, S. Salley, along with Lt. Colonel Mahathanthila had attempted to get Senior State Counsel Dileepa Peiris appearing in the Eknaligoda case removed, allegedly to help the Eknaligoda murder suspects obtain bail.
“This Senior State Counsel, who has left no stone unturned to unearth the truth, vehemently opposed any move to release the suspected army officials on bail. It is alleged that the Army Commander has used his good office to influence to get the Senior State Counsel replaced with another State Counsel whom they believe would help them obtain bail for the suspects. In addition to the Army Commander’s attempt, Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front and Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thero’s Bodu Bala Sena movement (which is known for their extreme anti-Muslim views) have strongly opposed the arrest of the former military intelligence sleuths over Eknaligoda’s disappearance,” reliable CID sources said on conditions of anonymity. It was also reported that when Eknaligoda case was taken up at the Homagama Magistrate’s Court in mid-December last year, former Media Spokesman and UPFA Parliamentarian Keheliya Rambukwella who was present at the hearing had later told that UPFA dissident (i.e. Joint Opposition) MPs had decided to donate their MP salaries to the families of the arrested military intelligence unit members. Although the Army Commander made attempts to get the Senior State Counsel appearing for the case removed, acting Attorney General Dr. Suhada Gamlath had reportedly turned down the request claiming such actions will not be resorted to at the Attorney General’s Department. Meanwhile Sandya Eknaligoda alleged that the suspected military intelligence unit members had been receiving ‘right royal’ treatment in prison. “When the Homagama Magistrate asked from where these suspects were brought, the prison official who accompanied the accused said that they were brought from the prison hospital. The Magistrate said that although the Court cannot ask these accused not to be placed at the prison hospital if they are really sick.
But the Magistrate added that although they live in luxury in the prison hospital, their consciousness knows that they ought to be rather subject to punishment if they have done something wrong. We have received information that these accused are receiving special treatment. People want to know on whose directives these facilities were given to these murder suspects,” Sandya Eknaligoda stressed.
Meanwhile. questions have been raised as to why the Army Commander and several other UPFA dissident MPs including the Kurunegala District MP, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other movements closer to the former President are trying to safeguard these accused military intelligence unit members by paying visits to the prison to meet the ‘political prisoners’.
“Since they know very well that these accused undertook contracts for the Rajapaksa regime, now they are trying to defend them,” the CID sources said.
“What the Homagama Magistrate wanted was, the Army to furnish the vehicles’ movement details of the Giritale Camp of a certain period where my husband was thought to have been detained. The Army has so far failed to divulge these details but had given the vehicles’ movement details before and after the period the court required for the investigation. This shows that the army is trying to impede the ongoing investigation by not supporting the CID,” Sandya said.
Although Homagama Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake directed the Army Commander to assist the CID investigation, the Army Commander is alleged to have taken some important documents pertaining to the investigations under his custody from the Military Police.
“If what had now transpired is true, will the Army Commander take the responsibility of these important documents? What is the reason for the Army Commander to oppose the CID when they were to arrest some army officers who are accused of their involvement in the disappearance of my husband,” Ms. Eknaligoda queried.
The Homagama Magistrate instructed the Sri Lanka Army to cooperate with the investigation and to provide all the information required by the CID. The Magistrate further said that under the Penal Code, the Army Commander is liable to face legal action in the event he fails to cooperate with the Police investigations.
However, refuting allegations, Army Spokesperson Brig. Jayanath Jayaweera said the Army never tried to obstruct investigations and added that the Army Commander has given instructions to release the details the CID want and to help them in the investigations.
“Following the Court order, legal officers of Sri Lanka Army went to the Giritale Camp accompanied by the Military Police and had taken the details that the CID wanted. The Army had never tried to prevent any investigation from carrying out against the accused military intelligence members,” Brigadier Jayaweera said.
When asked whether the alleged attempt to get the Senior State Counsel removed from the case in order to get bail for the accused, the Army Spokesman said that neither the Army Commander nor any other army officer tried to get the Attorney General’s representative changed. “How can the Army get this done? These are baseless allegations,” he retorted.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that one of the suspects in the case, Col. Shammi Kumararatne is facing another murder probe by the CID. The new probe is related to a murder that had taken place around 2007.
The CID has found that the Army in 2007 had uncovered, during some excavation work in the camp using a backhoe, a three wheeler and the body of a soldier suspected to be Argen Premakumara from the Giritale Camp.
Kumararatne at the time was the second in command (2IC) at the Giritale Camp. The inquiry had been carried out by the Polonnaruwa Police at the time. However, OIC Crimes Jayathileka at the Polonnaruwa Police at the time had faced much pressure from certain sections of the military. Finally, Jayathileka had reportedly ‘shot’ himself, and to date his death remains a mystery, according to sources from the police. Then ASP Joseph in the Polonnaruwa Police had also pulled out of the case as well.
Furthermore, one of Kumararatne’s loyalists Ravindra Rupasinghe alias Ranjith, who is the fifth suspect in the Eknaligoda case was caught in 2012 for selling boat engines that once belonged to the LTTE. Ranjith had reportedly served as a bodyguard to former Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan.
Pillayan is now in CID custody. He is a key suspect in the murders of MPs Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadaraja Raviraj.
Following the arrest of the former LTTE cadre, Sudha, who was taken into custody for the killing of former UNP parliamentarian, Nadaraja Raviraj, the CID arrested 11 suspects for Eknaligoda abduction on evidence unraveled during Sudha’s interrogation.
It was on Sudha’s information that two former LTTE cadres were arrested, who later revealed who was behind Eknaligoda’s disappearance. It is also said these two Sumathipala Suresh Kumar, and Sathya Master were attached to the Intelligence Wing of the Karuna faction, and it was on their information, Sergeant Major Ranbanda attached to the military intelligence was arrested in Kurunegala. This was followed with the arrest of two Colonels attached to the army intelligence unit and seven others.
The two LTTE intelligence cadres were attached to the Karuna faction. It was they who had reportedly abducted Eknaligoda from Rajagiriya on January 24, 2010 and had dropped him off at Giritale camp and later drowned the abductee in the seas off Trincomalee.
Amongst the arrested are Lieutenant Colonel Kumararatne who was in charge of the Giritale Army Camp, Lieutenant Colonel Siriwardena, Staff Sergeant Rajapakse and Corporal Jayalath.
According to Sergeant Major Ranbanda, who was attached to the Giritale Camp at the time; Eknaligoda was brought for interrogation and had been taken away after a rigorous interrogation by Major Jagath Wijesuriya.
Major Jagath Wijesuriya who was in charge of the Girithale camp where Eknaligoda was brought and questioned, was later promoted to the rank of Major General by the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa although there were allegations levelled against him for theft of livestock. This promotion is said to have been given because of the friendship the then Defence Secretary had with Wijesuriya.
It is also learnt that Lieutenant Colonel Shammi Kumara Ratnayake is also accused of having a hand in the operation to abduct Eknaligoda where the latter was taken to his private farm in Sigiriya and later to the army intelligence headquarters at Giritale in the Polonnaruwa District. It is alleged that Eknaligoda was rigorously interrogated by Lt. Col. Ratnayake and his staff for several days before his fate was decided.
Eknaligoda is said to have been detained at Giritale Camp for one week and had taken to the Sorivila Army Camp at Manampitiya in the Dimbulagala police division. Sorivila is a Tamil village and is yet to be cleared for landmines. From further interrogations, Eknaligoda is alleged to have transferred to the Plantain Point Army Camp in Trincomalee where Eknaligoda is believed to have breathed his last.