How a 'top State secret' became public
After seven long years of "Eelam War Three," year
2002 dawned in Sri Lanka on a historic note.
Guns went silent in the battlefields as the security forces and Tiger
guerrillas continued to observe a truce which came into effect from midnight
December 24, or Christmas eve.
In terms of nomenclature, even if it was referred to as "cessation
of hostilities," the commencement of talks between the United National
Front (UNF) Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),
in the coming weeks and months will see this transform into a formal cease-fire.
The UNF Government does not want to take any chances or send any wrong
signal to the LTTE in the interim period. That has been made very clear
to those concerned.
One area where it was clearly reflected was in a directive Chief of
Defence Staff, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, sent out on December 23 last
year, to Commanders of the Army (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle), Navy (Vice
Admiral Daya Sandagiri), Air Force (Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody) and
Inspector General of Police (Lucky Kodituwakku). Also copied to commanders
in battle areas, the instructions were clear about the "cessation of hostilities."
This is what it says:
"Status quo with regard to ground deployment will remain.
Security forces and Police will not launch offensive operations. This
includes firing of direct and indirect weapons.
However, security forces and the Police have the right to defend the
Forward Defensive Zones up to a distance of 500 metres from the Forward
Defensive Line/bunker line by employing observation posts, listening posts,
patrols, ambushes, obstacle belts etc. The status quo should be maintained
by both parties in the area between the bunker lines. Should any activity
be conducted by the LTTE disturbing the status quo, such action should
immediately be reported to the respective Service Commanders/IGP and this
HQ (the JOH) also be informed accordingly.
Security forces and Police will continue to carry out operations in
the cleared areas as done previously.
The Air Force will refrain from aerial bombar-dment of ground targets.
Naval operations conducted at sea with a view to prevent the import
of arms, ammunition or other military equipment by the LTTE will continue
and the Air Force will support the Navy in the event of a confrontation
without any restrictions.
Should any situation arise, which the parties may consider to be a
violation of the declaration of the cessation of hostilities, otherwise
than by the use of force, the parties will endeavour to resolve such a
Any violation of cessation of hostilities in any form or nature must
be immediately brought to the notice of the Service Commanders/IGP and
this HQ (JOH) also informed accordingly."
Confrontations between the security forces and the Tiger guerrillas
have come to a halt with the cessation of hostilities. But, that is not
to say the war is over. Raging internecine wars have intensified in the
Army, Navy, Air Force and Police causing not only factionalism but low
morale and instability. Fuelling this situation almost every day is the
lack of any visible action by the United National Front leadership, in
the past four weeks, not only to arrest the disturbing trends but also
the dangers it poses to national security.
Whilst the three services have been the mainstay in the battle against
Tiger guerrillas and for the enforcement of the Government's writ in "controlled"
areas, the Police form the bulwark of the law and order machinery.
Nowhere is the phenomenon felt more acutely than in the Sri Lanka Army,
the largest security establishment in the country. Army Commander, Lt.
Gen. Balagalle, who offered jobs for his soldiers with United Nations troops
during PA's election campaign, received a strong rebuff from President
Kumaratunga, for trying to get rid of his number two, Chief of Staff, Maj.
Gen. Neil Dias. This was by using the very Regulations which the President
promulgated to keep Lt. Gen. Balagalle in office when he was to retire
at 55 years (on June 14, 2001). See box story on this page.
But a more shocking blow came when Police conducted a raid last Wednesday
night on a safe house at Athurugiriya, operated by the Directorate of Military
Intelligence, to conduct counter terrorist operations. Assisting in the
raid were men from the Army's Military Police (or CCMP Corps Ceylon Military
Police, as they are commonly referred to). That the Army leadership, pre-occupied
with their own problems, was unable to prevent a serious breach of national
security when this happened, could not avoid a dangerous situation developing
and allowed the LTTE to get to know state secrets, to say the least, is
The greatest irony of all this is the fact that an officer and five
men are now detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and are being
interrogated by a Police team led by SP Kulasiri Udugampola. Until last
night, they are all being held at a secret location in Kandy. All of them
are in one room and have to tolerate the ignominy of a stinking toilet
whilst they answer questions from their interrogators.
These very men were at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.
The Sunday Times has learnt since the Police raid, their
arrest and the resultant publicity, the LTTE has come to know details of
some matters that have remained a top state secret for security reasons.
This is not to fault the Police or Mr. Udugampola for carrying out the
An SP in the Kandy Division, Mr. Udugampola, had obtained a Court Order
to conduct a raid on a house at the Millennium City at Athurugiriya. Before
the raid, he had got in touch with the Army's Provost Marshal, Major General
Ivan Das-sanayake, and obtained the help of Military Police officials to
accompany him. Yet, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle was unaware that
one of the Army's top secret operations which had brought great success
and increased public confidence was going to be laid bare. Did Maj. Gen.
Dassanayake inform Lt. Gen. Balagalle ? The fact that Military Police help
was sought clearly indicated that the raid was on an Army establishment
or one connected with it.
Who are the five men now in custody of the Police under the Prevention
of Terrorism Act ? They are a Captain and four regular soldiers assigned
to the Directorate of Military Intelligence. The sixth is a former Tiger
guerrilla cadre, who surrendered to the security forces and later enlisted
as a soldier.
The LTTE is now aware that these men are part of a Long Range Reconnaissance
Patrol (LRRP) Group highly trained men who infiltrated Tiger guerrilla
controlled areas and carried out devastating attacks. Their area of activity
was the Batticaloa district and helping them to cross barriers was the
Special Task Force (STF), the commando arm of the Police.
The team's most prized accomplishments have been many. In the recent
past it was the attack on Thambirasa Kuhasanthan alias "Nizam," the LTTE
Military Intelligence Wing leader for Batticaloa. It was Nizam who was
in charge of all "suicide killer" and other attacks in the City. The Captain
and his men infiltrated Tiger guerrilla dominated territory on June 9 last
year, and carried out the attack on Nizam. He was killed. And now, the
LTTE has become privy not only to the identities of the Captain but also
the five others. This has been confirmed by intelligence channels. For
obvious reasons one cannot elaborate.
Why did Police raid the Athurugiriya residence ? Contrary to claims
that the investigations were a follow up of the killings at Udathala-winna
during election vio-lence, the probe is related to an entirely different
matter. It is an extension of the allegations United National Party Chairman
Charitha Ratwatte and Vice Chairman Daya Pelpola made to the Army Commander
on November 10, 2001.
They alleged that thermo-baric explosives had been brought from the
operational areas in the North to the Panaluwa Army Testing Range and that
certain persons alleged to be attached to a Northern Tamil Political Party
were being trained in its use. The training, they alleged, was being co-ordinated
by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) together with Army instructors
specially flown from the north. The UNP leaders said there may be an attempt
to use these weapons on the meetings held by the UNP leadership and the
Leader's campaign bus.
Lt. Gen. Balagalle in a letter to Mr. Ratwatte (and copy to Mr. Pelpola)
declared "there is no substance in the information" and referred their
letters to the Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku, for whatever action he deemed
necessary. Mr. Kodituwakku directed a CID team to investigate the matter
but they could not record any statements since those concerned were busy.
The Sunday Times learns that men who were trained at Panaluwa
were those engaged in the LRRP operations. They were taught the use of
thermobaric weapons for use in assault on Tiger guerrilla positions. However,
the Police in Kandy are learnt to have information from an informant that
the Athurugiriya Safe House was linked to attempts at possible harm to
Prime Minister Ranil Wickreme-singhe and to earlier claims of men being
trained at Panaluwa.
Police investigations are focused in this regard but The Sunday Times
has learnt no tangible evidence has been uncovered so far to establish
there was in fact a threat to Premier Wickremesinghe arising from the training
at Panaluwa or through the Athurugiriya Safe House. Hence, Police may be
compelled to release the Captain and the five men if they cannot establish
there was a plot of any kind. But some Police officials talk of attempts
to indict the men for the possession of a cache of weapons though Military
Intelligence officials insist there is official documentation for every
item the acquisition of the Safe House as well as every weapon found.
When Mr. Udugampola raided the Athurugiriya Safe House, in the company
of the Military Police and men from the Athurugiriya Police, among the
items found were: ten anti-personnel mines, 20 land mines, four Light Anti-Tank
Weapons (LAW), one pair of goggles, two T-56 rifles, 12 magazines, 418
rounds of ammunition, one AK 47 rifle, 66 Tiger guerrilla uniforms, seven
(ten kilogramme) claymore mines, one (eight kilogramme) claymore mine,
17 exploders, nine (50 metre) wire rolls, eight (100 metre wire rolls),
one cyanide capsule, three antennas, three remote control devices, three
detonators and thermobaric weapons.
The discovery was to create more confusion. Learning of the raid, Lt.
Gen. Balagalle telephoned Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku to plead with
him to sort out the matter. Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI)
Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana was rushed by him to Athurugiriya. When the
DGMI spoke on the phone to Mr. Kodituwakku from the scene to say he could
account for all the finds, the latter had wanted to speak to Mr. Udugampola.
That conversation was to take a bad turn. Mr. Udugampola was to later
telephone Interior Minister John Amaratunga, to complain of pressures on
him. Interior Ministry officials were to soon assume that Police were trying
to suppress matters relating to the raid. The media was tipped off and
there was wide publicity. Minister Amaratu-nga despatched his relative
and now a senior official, Lal Ratnayake, a former DIG, to Athurugiriya
to make sure nothing was done to suppress matters. The Captain and the
five men were bundled up and driven first to Military Police Headquarters
in Narahenpita and then to Kandy where Detention Orders were served on
them under the PTA. Their statements are now being recorded. They were
taken to some places in Katugastota yesterday and no visitors were allowed
to see them.
Internal Army investigations have raised some intriguing questions.
It was only on December 15 last year, the Athurugiriya Safe House had been
obtained on rent by the Directorate of Military Intelligence for a period
of six months. It has been standard practice for DMI to operate Safe Houses
for secret operations. Some months ago, one in fact functioned in close
proximity to the Kotte-Sri Jayawardhanapura Parliamentary complex. The
address of the house was such a closely guarded secret that only one or
two DMI officials knew it.
Yet, the Court Order Mr. Udugampola obtained contai-ned the exact address
of the house. Did a rival group within DMI surreptitiously obtain the address
from an official in question and leak it ?
Did a close relative of a senior police official involved in the investigations,
now attached to the Military Police, play a role in obtaining the address
and facilitate the raid? Inquiries have not only raised this aspect but
many other sensitive matters which show that a group within the DMI has
been working against the leadership. They have now been identified and
disciplinary action is to follow.
The last LRRP operation from the Safe House at Athurugirya had been
prematurely concluded on December 21. This was after it became difficult
to execute a "highly classified" and sensitive operation when it became
clear there would be a cessation of hostilities. The men who came back
to the Safe House had later returned some equipment including a Global
Positioning System and encrypted communication sets to a camp in Kohuwala.
The balance equipment was to be returned to a camp in Kosgama when the
raid took place. DMI officials are now ready with documentation relating
to weapons and other equipment.
Whatever the outcome of the Police investigation, the identities of
some brave men who have risked their lives to attack the guerrillas is
now public. So are their operations. All because of the callous inaction
on the part of some of those responsible.
All is not well in the Sri Lanka Navy too. The leadership has been the
subject of strong criticism for their inability to stall Tiger guerrillas
from inducting weapons supplies through the north eastern seas. The Government
last week ordered a full inquiry after The Sunday Island revealed that
a large haul of weapons had been smuggled by the LTTE and the Navy had
failed to intercept it.
Chairing a meeting of principal Staff Officers and Area Commanders at
Navy Headquarters last Thursday, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri
devoted considerable time to the media. He said he was not worried about
media criticism or care about it. He said the media did not determine the
destinies of people. They were born with it. He said the Government was
aware of those leaking information to the media.
Vice Admiral Sandagiri has been at the end of criticism after ordering
a Mercedes Benz worth Rs. 8.5 million as his official car during the general
election period. This is despite the Navy possessing a number of Benz vehicles.
In addition, he had also ordered the conversion of a Navy Pajero jeep by
installing an intercooler engine at a cost of over Rs. 600,000. This was
despite the Pajero jeep being in good condition with its original engine.
An action of Vice Admiral Sandagiri which is likely to pose an irritant
in the upcoming peace process is his decision to construct a temple at
Madagal one of two vows he has kept, of all things at state expense,
upon becoming Commander of the Navy. A small temple has been built and
he is making arrangements to fly senior officers and their spouses to Jaffna
for a ceremony on January 21. Two engineers sent from Colombo for the construction
of the temple died in an accident in Jaffna. The second vow, a ban on the
consumption of beef in the Navy, has come into effect from January 1, this
year. The ban is despite objections from four of five Area Commanders of
In the Sri Lanka Air Force, both infighting and campaigns have reached
a high pitch. Some of those affected by the Court of Inquiry into last
July's Tiger guerrilla attack on the SLAF base and the Bandaranaike International
Airport have launched a vicious campaign against its Commander, Air Marshal
Jayalath Weerakkody. One of the major allegations was that he transported
illegal weapons to Kandy during the election campaign. Another is that
he evacuated former Deputy Defence Minister, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte and
his family, by an Air Force helicopter after he ceased to be a minister.
Both allegations are being flatly denied by senior Air Force officials.
A strong campaign, these officials say, is not only creating dissension
but also disciplinary problems.
The infighting in the Police has become so acute that the Inspector
General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku, who had been at the centre of controversy
during the election campaign and his own son, Ranmal Kodituwakku, are now
at the centre of widespread allegations and a strong campaign.
Mr Kodituwakku, now 61, received a year long extension of service from
the PA Government and some sections of the United National Front want to
see him removed. He has, however, been asked to continue to function as
Police Chief by the UNF leadership. Other likely aspirants are making their
own pitch for the post.
An anonymous petition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of
Bribery or Corruption about the quali-fications of Mr. Koditu-wakku's son,
Ranmal Koditu-wakku, is now under inves-tigation. It centres over his qualifications
to be an Assistant Superintendent of Police.
However, senior Police officials backing Mr. Kodituwakku say Ranmal,
spent 11 years in California. He has been a product of Redlands University
with qualifications in Maths and Economics. They say he was recruited after
his credentials were verified from the United States Embassy in Colombo.
Divisions have become so sharp at Police Headquarters with at least
one senior DIG staking strong claims to the post of IGP. These developments
have pre-occupied the Police hierarchy so much that the pace of normal
work is not only slowing down but the malaise is spreading to the provinces
too. One of the reasons often attributed for the UNF Government's inaction
is a reported assurance it had given President Kumaratunga that no top
level changes in the security forces or the Police would be made for three
months. That is said to be the basis on which she parted with the Ministry
of Defence portfolio.
But, if the existing situation in the security forces and the Police
are allowed to deteriorate, particularly due to no action of any sort being
taken by the new Government, its priority will become peace talks on two
fronts one with the Tiger guerrillas and the other with those in the
country's security establish-ment. The writing is clearly on the wall.
President rebuffs Army Commander
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, has rejected a recommendation
by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, to retire his deputy, Chief
of Staff, Major General Neil Dias, from December 31, last year.
She has approved the extension of his tenure of office until April 12,
2002 and pointed out that the services of experienced officers like Maj.
Gen. Dias should be retained.
Paradoxically enough, the regulations which Lt. Gen. Balagalle, used
to seek the exit of Maj. Gen. Dias, are the very same ones specifically
introduced to retain him in office, when he turned 55 years on June 14,
2000, and was to retire as Chief of Staff. He had to make way for Major
General Janaka Perera, who assumed that office on June 15, 2000. The tailor
made regulations, promulgated by President Kumaratunga, allowed then Major
General Balagalle, to hold a non-existent office of "Deputy Commander"
of the Army until he was made Commander.
Documents containing Maj. Gen. Dias' latest extension of service was
sent by the Presidential Secretariat to the Ministry of Defence early this
week. The matter is now before the United National Front's Defence Minister,
Tilak Janaka Marapane. Since the UNF, as a matter of policy, does not favour
extension of services of security forces officers beyond their age of retirement
at 55 years, how Mr. Marapane would react next week remains to be seen.
The case of Maj. Gen. Neil Dias, a soldier with considerable battlefield
experience, a phenomenon acutely lacking in some colleagues of his own
rank or above, has become significant for many reasons. He reached the
retirement age of 55 years on April 12, 2001 and had his term extended
until December 31, 2001, by a special gazette notification. He was then
groomed by the previous Government as the next Army Commander and was hurriedly
sent for a defence management course at the United States Post Naval Graduate
School in California. The course is tailor made for those aspiring to hold
command positions. When he returned in the first week of December last
year, he found he had less than three weeks to serve. President Kumaratunga's
move to extend his term will now allow him to remain in office until April
12 this year. That is if nothing stands in the way.
Lt. Gen. Balagalle's recommendation to retire Maj. Gen. Dias on December
31, last year, comes at a time when there is a serious dearth of senior
officers in the Army. Such a shortage is not only in the rank of Majors
General but also in the rank of Brigadiers. As a result, some Majors General
have been compelled to hold more than one appointment whilst Colonels and
Lieutenant Colonels have been called upon to hold positions held by Brigadiers.
The present Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Lohan Gunawardena,
also holds the post of Director-General, General Staff (DGGS). Maj. Gen.
Gunawardena, also an experienced, battle hardened officer, who reached
the mandatory maximum in the rank, was given an extended term upon a recommendation
made by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle. He was confirmed in the rank
of Maj. Gen. on December 4, 1997 and reached the maximum in the rank in
2000. He was granted a further extension, also on the recommendation of
Lt. Gen. Balagalle. He is widely regarded as the key figure running day
to day operations at Army Headquarters. Major General H.B. Tibbotumunuwe,
Military Secretary, is also the Quarter Master General (QMG).
On December 21, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, recommended to President Kumaratunga
that Maj. Gen. Dias, who was groomed to replace him, be retired from the
Regular Force of the Army with effect from December 31, 2001, in terms
of the gazette notification (No: 1179/21) of April 12, 2001. It was his
contention that Maj. Gen. Dias' date of retirement is December 31, 2001,
in terms of regulations gazetted in the notification in question.
However, President Kumaratunga, has disagreed with this interpretation.
She has held the view that the Gazette Extraordinary (No: 1179/21),
does in fact confer powers on her to extend Maj. Gen. Dias' service until
April 12, 2002. This is in accordance with the notification whose validity
only expired on December 31, 2001.
The gazette notification in question was in effect an amendment to the
Army Pensions and Gratuities Code, 1981, (under the Army Act and the Constitution)
published in the Gazette Extraordinary (562/11) of June 15, 1989. It was
specifically brought in to accommodate Lt. Gen. Balagalle, when he reached
55 years and was due to retire on June 14, 2000. Thereafter it was renewed
to accommodate Maj. Gen. Dias. This is what it said:
"3A. (1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in sub-paragraphs
(a) and (b) of paragraph (1) of regulation 3 above, the President may,
retain in the same rank, the service of an officer presently holding the
rank of a Brigadier or Major-General, by extending the services of the
officer in, or by re-appointing him in, his substantive rank, at the time
of his retirement, beyond the age of fifty-five years or beyond the period
stipulated in respect of such rank, as set out in the aforesaid regulation,
if in the opinion of the President, it is essential in the interest of
the Army so to do.
(2) The services of an officer may, at the discretion of the President,
be retained in terms of paragraph (1), if the officer concerned holds an
unblemished record of service and good conduct for a period of ten years
immediately preceding such extension or re-appointment: Provided however
that services of an officer should not be retained beyond a period of twelve
months from his reaching the age of fifty-five years or exceeding a period
of twelve months from the date of such extension or re-appointment, whichever
(3) Every officer whose services have been retained in terms of this
regulation shall be placed in a Supernumerary Post and such post shall
be deemed to be suppressed upon such officer ceasing to function in such
The provisions of this regulation shall continue to be in force till
31st December, 2001."
Apart from Maj. Gen. Dias' case, the Ministry of Defence last year endorsed
the retirement of three Brigadiers Palitha Fernando, a former Military
Spokesman (Director, Sports), Bandula Ranasinghe (Director, Movement) and
P.G. Charles (Director, Welfare) from December 31, last year. Brigadier
Priyantha Samaratunga (Director, Army Quartering) has also retired.
The dearth of Brigadiers has led to several positions Including Brigade
Commanders being held by Colonels or Lieutenant Colonels.
The absence of a uniform policy with regard to those retiring or reaching
the mandatory maximum service in the rank, during the tenure of the People's
Alliance, caused a great deal of heartburn among the officers in the security
forces. Those who had the backing of their superiors or wielded political
clout were the ones who succeeded, they complained.
It is no secret that these ranks, who were hoping for a change in policy,
where merit and other professional considerations are among the criteria,
are both disappointed and dejected. They complain that cunning manipulators
are still at play to secure their own positions and eliminate anyone posing
a threat. A pithy remark by a UNF politico, very familiar with the security
apparatus, succinctly sums up the situation. He says "those who were Robin
Blue then are all Bottle Green now."