The Sunday Leader

Political Assassins Among War Heroes

by Ashanthi Warunasuirya

During the election, the Yahapalana government vowed to take action against those who had been involved in assassinations and fraudulent activities during the previous regime. At that time there were many people who were accused of being involved in the assassination of veteran journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge and Prageeth Ekneligoda and many other crimes. Some of the accused were high-ranking officers in the military. Therefore, despite numerous requests made by the police and the Criminal Investigations Department seeking military support in the ongoing investigations, in many instances adequate support was not providedby the military. As a result, the CID had to obtain court orders demanding the Army’s co-operation. Some have criticised this move as an attempt to arrest battle-hardened war heroes by using the investigations as a scapegoat. Some have even attempted to use this incident for narrow political gain.

There is no question of our respect and gratitude for our noble war heroes. As a key security wing of our nation they must be given the highest place necessary in the state. However, if anyone has committed a crime, they must be brought to justice. If the military is certain of its honour, then it has nothing to fear in supporting the investigations.

However, a massive social dialogue is now going on, regarding this issue. Amongst them are intellectuals, civil society activists and political party representatives. Following are some of the comments made by them regarding the military involvement in the investigations.

 

Genuine wish to bring culprits to justice?

Sumika Perera, Co-ordinator, Women’s Resources Centre

In my view the best solution for all this is the passing of the Right to Information Bill. If that is implemented then the people will be allowed to seek true information. Since these matters are now being subjected to judicial actions I cannot comment on them. But those who changed the regime on January eighth say that it takes time to gather all the facts. But even though many facts have now been revealed regarding the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, still it is problematic as to whether justice is being done. Only The Sunday Leader is talking about it. Others seem to have forgotten about all this. Even the civil society organisations are silent over these matters. On the other hand many who contributed to the change on January eighth have become disappointed. When we see how the government behaves we wonder as to whether the government has joined hands with those who were in the previous government. That is why information has gone under the rug.

Civil society has become suspicious as to whether the Yahapalana government has a genuine wish to bring the culprits before justice. There is a huge barrier that has blocked free circulation of information. All we see is gossip. So the truth has been buried. But we are still optimistic as to the future of the reconciliation mechanism and the constitution.

 

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Result of undue political influence

Gunawathi Hewa Gallage, Chairman, Centre for Preserving Community Resources

After the end of the war the armed forces have been relieved of the fighting status and have been assigned duties in assisting the people during emergencies. They are also playing a key role in the development drive of the country. They are famous for finishing the job well.

But on the other hand, there are still questions about certain incidents that had taken place during the previous regime that is said to have had a military involvement. On several occasions recently, there seems to be a delay and lapse in taking right decisions. It is can be presumed that this must have been the result of some undue political influence. Otherwise the military of this country cannot be this lethargic.

In order to preserve the honour of the military, it must not try to protect any crooked politicians. As all good soldiers must, they should stand firm in this matter. Therefore it is important that the military supports these ongoing investigations to preserve their honour.

 

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Time to take the struggle to the streets

Chandra Jayaratne, Chairman, Women’s Development Centre

It’s the government that commands the Army. The military operates under the instructions of the government. Therefore the military must obey the commands of the government. If a order is given, then the military is bound to execute it. The same thing happens in war.

This applies equally to the north and the south. Civil society organisations oppose only the wrong commands given by the government to the military. There might be certain senior officers of the military and the police who have been involved in various scams. But still we point the finger at the government. It is under its direct authority that all these institutions function. Nowadays the CID has once again started to follow civil society organisations. They are ordered to do so by their superiors. They are only doing their job.

We are not looking down upon any particular group of people. During the war the military made an immense commitment. As the victims of the war, we consider all parties equal. As a leading security arm of the state, the military must be involved in these investigations in finding out the real culprits. Those who had been involved in the killings of Lasantha and Prageeth have now been identified.  But it is the government that is executing these investigations at a snail’s pace. As civil society organisations we thought that these problems would be solved once the regime changed. But still whatever that has been done so far has only been done to gain mere political advantage. There is no sign of a permanent solution. In my opinion, the time has come to take the struggle on to the streets once again.

We know that there are some difficulties in running the government. We are still patient considering the political differences between the former and present governments.

But the President and the Prime Minister must play a better role than this in solving issues. We have waited far too long. We must start urging the government to do its duty. The present situation is truly fragile.

 

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Military must admit faults and move on

Brito Fernando, Chairman, Association of the Disappeared

During the previous regime most of the wrong things that were committed under political directives were justified under national security. But they have always worked contrary to all accepted international humanitarian laws. When the orders come from the political leadership the military has no alternative but to obey. Eventually when it becomes clear how lucrative it could be when working for the political needs of the rulers, the military are prone towards doing more bad things. This was the attitude that prevailed for a long time.

It is said that many high-ranking officers in the military have been involved in these illegal activities, rather than ordinary soldiers. Now they think that by taking responsibility for their actions they might cause dishonour to the military. On the contrary, if there has been an error done by the military, the bravery to accept it shows character, which can only be described as an attempt made to preserve the military honour. It is only by acting inside the legal framework that a military can retain its good name.

By following the law any barbarous military could become a disciplined armed force in a country. We have seen how the army has committed themselves to save the helpless victims in natural disasters, without even considering their own safety. This generates a sense of appreciation towards the military in people’s minds. Since 1971, all the political leaders who ruled this country used the top leadership in the army for their narrow political games as pawns. Later they began breaking the law in broad daylight with the help of the army. It is now highly important to reject these practices.

We have embarked upon this venture. But still there is a group of officers in the military top brass who are against such norms.

Therefore we clearly say that the only way to save the military’s honour is to admit the faults and move forward. Up until recent times the military did not interact with civil society organisations. Secondly, the task force has sought the Army’s opinions as well. Previously there was no dialogue between the military and civil society organisations regarding disappearances. There were many proactive difficulties. On the other hand, the previous governments used the disappearances of military personnel only to cover up the disappearances of civilians. However, there is some progress at present in this dialogue.

Inside this framework, the role of the civil society organisation is to guide the military towards doing the right thing to save their honour, without shattering good relationships. Then there is something for the members of the disappeared to say. So we must take action to generate reconciliation. Still not much has been done on the matter. But we seek the initiation of the task force as a basic step towards reconciliation.

 

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Weed out those who are not ‘war heroes’

Gamini Viyangoda, Social Activist

The attitude of the people in an ordinary country towards its military after a long armed campaign is different to the attitude of people towards the army in peaceful countries such as France and Germany. The main issue is the inside conflict.

The attitudes we have towards our military have been formulated during the past 30 years. And after successfully finishing the war, the people in the south have a respect for the military.

It is normal human nature that bad things done by a person who had done something good for society is forgiven. Even in a personal matter we are forgiving these personal issues.

But now at a time when we must look back into our past in order to establish reconciliation, we must first try to weed out the persons who are not suitable to bear the honour of being war heroes. Only then can we save the honour of the military.

There are people in the armed forces who have understood this reality.  But due to the authority of the officials who are guided by outside political influences, this opinion has been suppressed. They are hung upon the idea that all these are insults to war heroes.

The catastrophe in Salawa is a good example of this. The majority of people living in the area are Sinhalese Buddhists. Then who made the decision to set up an unsafe armoury in such an area? So we can think how the Army may have operated in the north. There is a lot of baggage that we continue to carry forward. We must drop them. Otherwise we cannot think retrospectively to find out our faults. We hope our political leaders would understand this.

It is only by doing the right thing we could showcase ourselves as a civilised nation. Ultimately, the term ‘war hero’ is a conditional title that must only be given to worthy individuals.

 

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Don’t consider political agendas

Saman Rathnapriya, Chairman, Health Services Trade Union Alliance

During the previous years we saw a rise in murders, frauds and other forms of corruption in this country. Most of the political assassinations were carried out by using war as a scapegoat. The assassinations of PrageethEkneligoda, Nadaraja Ravi Raj, Joseph Pararajasingham and Sivaram are good examples of this. To go forward as a state, we must find out the truth behind these killings. We cannot prevent this from repeating in the future if we try to go forward by covering these things. That sort of bad example is not good for the country.

Our opinion is that basically there should be a political transition in this country. We must start afresh to rebuild the society that collapsed during the past few decades. For that everyone should play their part. One of the most important facts in such a change is punishing the culprits without considering personal political agendas. There are no problems about the faults that had been committed during the war. A war is not a civil action. Faults are bound to happen in a war. But still there is a serious problem regarding the political assassinations. Still the Army wants to sweep this under the rug. On the other hand some people may call this a political manhunt against war heroes. But if anyone had killed a journalist he cannot be a war hero. He is a political assassin. It’s a disgusting thing that must be punished. Even the military must take action against those who have done such things. If the Army thinks that this is something that has been placed upon them in general it is wrong. We must move away from such mentalities and try to take this country forward. We are not blaming the entire military. Only a few officials are acting in this manner.

On previous occasions military personnel were held accountable for the murder of Premawathi Manamperi and they were duly punished. But there was no objection from the Army. The same was reported in the case of Krishanthi Kumaraswami. So punishing those who have been involved in isolated incidents does not mean that the Army as a whole is blamed.

But some politicians are trying to use war veterans as cat’s paws. Some are insulting the war heroes. They are trying to provoke the military by making unsuitable statements. Therefore we must definitely investigate as to who has committed these crimes in order to save the military from further mudslinging.

If the former President is to be held responsible then he must suffer the consequences. He is but an ordinary citizen before the law. The same goes for any senior military or civil official. We urge the authorities to develop such a mentality to make a change. We are not letting these go under the rug once again due to undue influences. We are fighting against this, some tried to conceal facts in the Ekneligoda case but we stood firm against any obstacle that came up. We will do the same in the future.

In the Ekneligoda case there is clear evidence to prove that he was abducted and taken to the Giritale Army camp. Despite his alleged murder, the abduction alone is not something that is suitable for a war hero. There is evidence of military involvement in the assassination of Lasantha. These are hired killers, not war heroes.

But the genuine Sinhalese Buddhists think that these things cannot happen. For them all these are lies. This is just another political tactic by the politicians who are now trying to say that the war heroes are being hunted. Even those who are inside the Army think that they must save their own.

 

1 Comment for “Political Assassins Among War Heroes”

  1. jayantha

    Gota must be taken to custody without delay

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