Situation Report
By Iqbal Athas
13th January 2002
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The untold story of polls day terror in the hills

The unusual calm in the Muslim villages of Madawala and neighbouring Udatalawinna, barely half an hour's drive from the hill capital, Kandy, on polls day December 5, led to brisk polling.

Wanting to ensure intruders did not interfere with the smooth functioning of polling stations, supporters of United National Front candidates placed road blocks. Vehicles entering or leaving the area had to carefully negotiate sharp curves to avoid hitting large rocks, logs or other obstacles. Movement of traffic slowed down.

Groups also "patrolled" the area to prevent supporters of rival political groups, particularly from the People's Alliance, from trying to influence voters. These groups appeared to be conscious of events during the general election of October 10, 2000, where clashes between rival factions led to bloody violence.

Around 1.30 p.m. that day, a group of men in civilian clothes drove past the maze created by road blocks only to be stopped and queried by a Muslim vigilante group, said to be supporters of United National Front candidates Rauff Hakeem, Keheliya Rambukwella and M.H.M. Haleem. An argument ensued. The men in the van, allegedly underworld characters and Army deserters, carrying National Identity Cards giving addresses in Kelaniya and Rajagiriya, were assaulted and badly injured. Their van was burnt. A mobile patrol from Wattegama Police arrived at the scene and rushed them to Kandy General Hospital. They were warded there for treatment.

If the vigilantes thought they had successfully thwarted attempts to disrupt polls, worst things were to follow. Around 3.30 p.m. on the same day, they were to witness a frightening scene armed men in camouflage uniforms, resembling those worn by the Army, and wearing gas masks (used normally to counter chemical or gas attacks), walked into the polling booths, lifted the ballot boxes and walked away. Those who witnessed the event, including polls officials, stood frozen.

Sensing retaliation, some members of a group, 15 of them to be precise, got into a white Toyota Hi-Ace van bearing registration number 250-1655. From Madawala, they sped towards Udatalawinna, their village, when the driver saw dangerous signs in the rear through his mirror. Two Defender Jeeps were flashing their lights and speeding towards their van. The driver had noticed men in it carrying weapons. To avoid them, he thought he would take a short cut.

As he took a turn to a by road, men inside the first Defender Jeep had opened fire at the Hi-Ace van. A vigilante, who sat in the middle of the front seat was hit by gunfire and fell into the lap of the driver. The van went crashing into a telephone post at Palletalawinna and came to a halt. Men from the Defender Jeeps had begun spraying bullets at the occupants using Chinese made T-56 assault rifles. Ten died on the spot. Others were injured and rushed to the Kandy General Hospital.

The same evening, men suspected to be members of the underworld gang, warded for treatment, disappeared mysteriously from the Kandy General Hospital. Doctors who found them preparing to leave advised against it. But the men paid no heed. Did a vehicle belonging to a notorious VVIP protection unit whisk them away to a hideout ? Where are they hiding now? And why are they evading the law ?

These are some of the findings of joint investigations now under way by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Kandy Police. The CID team is led by SSP Sisira Mendis and the Kandy Police team by SSP Kulasiri Udugampola, who is in charge of Special Operations in the Kandy Division. These investigations are being personally supervised by Nimal Mediwaka, DIG (North Western Province).

This joint probe, The Sunday Times learnt, has led to several startling revelations that throw light on the terror and mayhem in the Kandy district during the election campaign and on polls day. It has also shed light on many other matters including two important things the extent to which politicization has set in the Army with top officials making their men pawns in political tussles and how political allegiances by senior Police officers have led to partisan measures.

On November 30, just four days before general election, Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, ordered his Director (Operations), Brigadier Nimal Jayasuriya, to locate Lieutenant R.D. Wijeratne (his name has transpired in Court) and send him together with a platoon of troops to be attached to the Army's Central Command Headquarters in Pallekele.

This is said to be on a request made to him by then Deputy Minister of Defence, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte's Co-ordinating Secretary, Brig. Keerthi Hulangamuwa. Since Gen. Ratwatte had curtailed his movements and even cast his vote from the confines of his house, why there was the urgent need for a platoon of troops with Lieutenant Wijeratne hand picked is still not clear. Nor is it clear why Lt. Gen. Balagalle acted only on the request of Brig. Hulangamuwa without verifying from Gen. Ratwatte. More so since the officer required had been named and the request, purportedly for Gen. Ratwatte's security, had been made just four days before polls. Moreover this is despite Gen. Ratwatte's security being further strengthened with Army commandos and others in the run up to the elections.

Lt Wijeratne had been attached to troops in the Jaffna peninsula. Brigader Jayasuriya, who was trying to track him down, found he had been sick and had gone to Warakapola. He ordered him to proceed with a platoon of troops from the Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) located at Boyagane in the Kurunegala district. He was told to report to the Central Command Headquarters.

Later, on the evening of November 30, Lt. Gen. Balagalle had telephoned Brigadier B.H.M.R. Tammita, General Officer Commanding the Central Command, to order him to assign Lt. Wijeratne and 15 soldiers from the platoon to Gen. Ratwatte. He had been told to inform Brigadier Hulangamuwa, who would give the officer and the men further instructions.

Investigations have revealed that Lt. Wijeratne had been assigned to Gen. Ratwatte in Kandy even during the Parliamentary general election in October, 2000. It has also been revealed that the officer in question was present when Lohan Ratwatte, son of Gen. Ratwatte, figured in an incident at the office of then DIG (Central Province-west), Sirisena Herath at his Kandy office. 

Lt Gen. Balagalle has figured in some political controversies in the run up to last month's polls. He is known to have given instructions to Major General Shantha Kottegoda, General Officer Commanding Wanni and Major General Nanda Mallawaratchci, GOC, 23 Division responsible for Batticaloa district, directing the closure of gateways on polls day. This prevented thousands of voters in uncleared areas crossing the gateways to cast their votes in areas held by the security forces. The two senior officers, The Sunday Times learnt, had logged the fact that the closures were made on the directive of Lt. Gen. Balagalle who had said it was a decision of the National Security Council. As a matter of fact, the NSC had made no such decision. Lt. Gen. Balagalle, however, told a polls monitoring group later that the order for the closure came from a civilian official, a reference to former Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva.

Lt. Wijeratne, the officer detailed by Lt. Gen. Balagalle, surrendered to the Teldeniya Magistrate C.V. Rajapakse, on December 17 with a sergeant and three soldiers and made a confession that he and his men were responsible for the shooting incident at Palletalawinna. He said they were on election duty in Wattegama during polls day. They had seen the suspicious movements of a van. In the evening, they had seen the same van at Polgolla. Later, when their Defender Jeep was on patrol, men in the van had fired shots at them and thrown a bomb. They had been compelled to return fire. According to Lt. Wijeratne, he and his men had arrived in Kandy on November 30. He and 15 soldiers had been assigned to Gen. Ratwatte's house at Mahaiyawa.

One cannot comment on any matter that transpired in the Magistrate's Court in Teldeniya. However, during a survey of polls incidents, The Sunday Times learnt that no major shooting incidents were reported to the Central Command in Kandy or Army Headquarters in Colombo by Army units assigned to help Police on that day. Ammunition issued to troops deployed on duties on polls day had been returned intact with no quantity expended.

After the surrender of the Lt. Wijeratne, the sergeant and three soldiers, Police arrested 22 others-remaining members of the platoon-and produced them in Teldeniya Magistrate's Courts. They were also remanded.

On December 4, just a day ahead of polls, DIG Central Province -(West) Mahinda Balasuriya, had assigned an Inspector to be attached to the Wattegama Police. His task was to carry out duties connected with the elections. The officer-in-charge had been told to attend to work inside the station. The same Inspector had been assigned in similar fashion during the October 2000 polls too.

It has become clear that the working relationship between Mr.Balasuriya and Mr. Udugampola had not been so cordial. Mr. Udugampola's role in unravelling details in the Palletalawinna massacre with CID's SSP Sisira Mendis, an officer well respected for his impartiality, in the lead, has won commendations from their seniors. In keeping with the custom of providing a weekly diary to their superior officer, in this instance DIG Balasuriya, SSP Udugampola had asked that a group of policemen be assigned to him. In the diary, handed over before polls, he complained that teams of armed men were causing problems in the Kandy district and that he would put an immediate stop if the men were given. However, his wish did not materialise.

DIG Balasuriya appeared equally disappointed. He complained that SSP Udugampola, was not keeping him informed of developments in respect of investigations into the January 2 raid on the Safe House at Athurugiriya, run by the Directorate of Military Intelligence. This was despite the fact that he was his superior officer. He told last Monday's conference of DIGs and SSPs at Police Headquarters, chaired by Inspector General Lucky Kodituwakku, that Mr. Udugampola did not even inform him when he left his area of responsibility on duty in other divisions.

As exclusively reported in these columns last week, that hasty raid on a house at the Millennium City in Athurugiriya not only caused acute embarrassment to the Government but also laid bare a "top State secret" the activities of the Army's Long Range Reconnaisance Patrol (LRRP) groups which operated behind Tiger guerrilla lines. The widespread media exposure to the raid had helped the Tiger guerrillas to learn of details. Until yesterday, interrogation of an officer and five men held in custody have failed to disclose any incriminating evidence. (See box story on this page)

The joint investigators are up against a serious problem their inability to interview two sons of Gen. Ratwatte, Lohan and Chanuka. They want to ascertain the veracity of statements made by survivors of the massacre that Chanuka allegedly placed a T-56 rifle in the mouth of one of the victims and opened fire, thus blasting his skull and forcing blood to gush out. They also allege that Lohan placed live grenades near the victims after the shooting was over and before the attackers withdrew from the area. Investigators say these allegations and others can only be further verified by questioning both Lohan and Chanuka Ratwatte. They complain that the two brothers are not coming forward to explain their positions.

Their father, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, for seven long years the powerful Deputy Minister of Defence, has strongly denied the involvement of his children in the massacre.

Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, who opened the debate in Parliament last Tuesday on polls violence, on behalf of the Government, said those who had "vulgarised politics" should be "brought to book." The need, he said, was to re-instill the faith of the people in the law and order system, strengthen and rejuvenate their belief in democracy.

Referring to the Palletalawinna massacre, he said the " question that begs answer is what has happened to the two sons of the General. Where are they? Who is hiding them? The father begged at a press conference that he and his children were innocent. He also went to the extent of saying that the children had gone on a local trip. Why haven't they turned up yet to face the investigations ? That is what is being asked by the people. The whole country knows that the sons couldn't have acted the way they did without the father's blessings. Mr. Hakeem added: "They were mere instruments in the hands of the father who would do anything to stay in power. People today wonder whether some soldiers are being made sacrificial lambs in order to protect the General's children. Those who witnessed the incidents in Kandy saw a distinct nexus between this election and the general election of October, 2000.

"The vehicles used for election violence were those of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the Ceylon Electricity Board. Who was the Minister in charge of these institutions ? Why did the Ceylon Petrloleum Corporation hurriedly buy so many weapons ? In the guise of protecting politicians, servicemen were engaged in election rigging."

When Mr. Hakeem was making his statement, Gen. Ratwatte was in the Parliament lobby talking to his one time ministerial colleague, Nimal Siripala de Silva. Entering the well of the house after Mr. Hakeem had finished, his speech, Gen. Ratwatte sat next to Lakshman Kadirgamar, MP. "Should I reply," he asked. "Don't," was Mr. Kadirgamar's response. Then Gen. Ratwatte told him that Mr. de Silva had also advised that he should not respond.

Besides the ten who were killed in the massacre, there were six survivors including the driver. One of the survivors is still in a critical condition and is warded at the Intensive Care Unit of the Kandy General Hospital. He has already had one hand amputated.

Two Defender jeeps said to have been used in the attack were found abandoned near Eden Grove Estate, Udispattuwa, in the Rangala Police area.

GOC Central Command, Brigadier Tammita, is learnt to have told Police that a member of the platoon assigned to his Command, had caused disciplinary problems. He had been forced to lock up the soldier after a complaint that he had demanded fuel from the Army camp in Gannoruwa. However, an Assistant Superintendent of Police attached to Gen. Ratwatte's security unit had intervened and the soldier was released.

On the evening of December 5, there had been reports of an explosion in Kotmale. He had checked up whether anything had gone wrong. Sometime later, Gen. Ratwatte had telephoned him and asked whether he (Brig. Tammita) had sent out any Army teams.

When he said "no," Gen. Ratwatte had asked that no Army teams be deployed that evening. Brig. Tammita had told investigators he had difficulties in dealing with certain situations due to official and political pressure.

On Thursday, SSP Udugampola and Inspector Shani Abeysekera from the CID, visited Army Headquarters and recorded a statement from Brigadier Nimal Jayasuriya, Director (Operations). On Friday, the duo recorded a statement from Lt. Gen. Balagalle. He has admitted that Lt. Wijeratne and the platoon of soldiers were assigned to Kandy at the request of Brig. Hulangamuwa.

For obvious reasons, it is premature to reveal some of the findings the investigations have laid bare. Suffice to say it has sparked off a string of top level parallel investigations. The outcome of all this will, undoubtedly, lead to some dramatic developments in the coming weeks and months.

Raid on Army's Athurugiriya safe house- the confusion continues

Police Chief, Lucky Kodituwakku, is a man who usually kept his cool. Instead of anger, he used his charming smile to disarm both friends and foes.

But last Monday was different. Even he lost his cool during a conference of Deputy Inspectors General of Police (DIGs) and Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) at Police Headquarters.

With routine business over, he had turned to Kulasiri Udugampola SSP, Director (Special Operations), Kandy Division and asked him to brief those present on the events that led to the January 2 raid on a house at the Millennium City in Athurugiriya a safe house for counter terrorist operations run by the Directorate of Military Intelligence. What followed further highlights the confusion prevailing in the nation's security establishment, and more particularly, over Police inquiries into this raid.

Mr Kodituwakku thought, in the wake of The Sunday Times exclusive account (in the Situation Report) that a "top State secret" involving national security that Long Range Reconnaisance Patrols (LRRP) operated behind enemy lines and took valuable targets was now common knowledge and known even by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he should ask Mr. Udugampola to explain to the senior men in the Police why the raid was conducted.

Mr. Udugampola disclosed that the information to conduct the raid had come from a very reliable informant who had on previous occasions given him valuable tip off. Mr Kodituwakku asked how it had happened. Mr Udugampola said he was in the Magistrate's Court in Teldeniya when he received a call from the informant on his cellular phone that a weapons cache was hidden in a private house at Athurugiriya. He had immediately written that down on a white piece of paper that was in his pocket and had obtained a Court Order from the Magistrate the same day.

Just then, Senior DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, intervened to raise objections. He said it would be inappropriate to call upon Mr. Udugampola to give information at the conference but the IGP was free to privately ask him for details. The reason Interior Minister John Amaratunga, had asked Mr. Kotakadeniya to obtain the help of CID officers and conduct his own inquiry to ascertain the truth behind the raid. He flaunted Mr. Amaratunga's letter and argued any statement by Mr Udugampola could be prejudicial to his own probe. In fact, SSP in the CID D.S.Y. Samaratunga, and a group of sub-inspectors, are already recording statements in Kandy under Mr. Kotakadeniya's supervision.

Mr Kodituwakku was to explain that he was not in the picture and had not been informed about that new investigation. He also expressed concern over the leak of information to the media. The arguments that ensued saw an angry Mr. Kodituwakku threatening not to hold any conferences like the one on Monday. In turn, Mr. Kotakadeniya was demanding that leaks to the media be probed.

DIG Central Province (West) Mahinda Balasuriya, said he was the DIG responsible for the Kandy Division. Although he was Mr. Udugampola's superior officer, the former had not kept him briefed on matters relating to the investigation. Nor has he obtained permission to go outside the Division and carry out investigations a remark which clearly showed that Mr. Udugampola conducted the raid at Athurugiriya without even informing his DIG. However, Mr. Balasuriya was to praise Mr. Udugampola for his investigations into the Palletalawinna massacre.

Mr Udugampola could not conclude his briefing. So ended the conference that Monday.

In another development, also arising from The Sunday Times disclosure, Minister of Defence Tilak Marapana called for a report from the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle. It was the latter who had during security conferences under the tenure of the People's Alliance, prided himself claiming to be the sole architect of the LRRP operations though, pathetically enough, he has not been able to secure the release of his men.

Lt. Gen. Balagalle appointed a Court of Inquiry comprising Major General Ivan Dassanayake (Provost Marshal), Soysa (Director, Engineering Services), Col. Sunil Dharmaratne (Centre Commandant, CCMP) and Col. Jayantha Pathiratne (Centre Commandant, Sri Lanka Engineers). After hurried sittings and meetings in Kandy with the officer and men now in custody, the Court forwarded a preliminary report to Lt. Gen. Balagalle. This has in turn been handed over to Mr. Marapana on Friday. The Court has established, among other matters, that there has been no illegal actions carried out from the DMI Safe House.

Mr. Marapana is learnt to have told a security conference this week that investigations were now trying to establish whether weapons or persons connected with the Safe House were involved in any political activity. A high ranking United National Front source told The Sunday Times "we are not on a witch hunt. There have been some costly mistakes. But we want to make absolutely sure nothing of a political nature was carried out at the Safe House."

If the raid itself has caused acute embarrassment to the Government, the subsequent events appear to be only compounding the situation. The officer and five men, who are among the real heroes of the separatist war because of the daring operations they carried out behind their enemy lines, are now being held at a Police Station in the Kandy Division on Detention Orders made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They are confined to two rooms where drug addicts and common criminals are normally held. The officer had suffered back pains during the very last LRRP operation they carried out. But an Army request to provide a foam rubber mattress to him has been refused by the Police.

The fact that such a courtesy, which the Police have even allowed the underworld characters or common criminals on humanitarian grounds, has been denied to men who are classed as national heroes, to say the least, is unforgivable. The worst is that no one in authority appears to be aware of what is going on.

The Sunday Times has learnt that investigations conducted so far have failed to reveal any incriminating evidence. The weapons found in the Safe House have all been accounted for except in one instance. Whilst the quantity of ammunition found had totaled 407, the authorized issue, according to the records had been 360. However, the difference of 47 had been explained. The officer has obtained the 47 rounds to be given to a soldier who was given a task. But the issue from a camp in the East had been made by an officer unofficially. He has testified to this effect. 

Army's Director of Operations, Brigadier Nimal Jayasuriya, had authorized the issue of the weapons that were found in the Safe House. The statements of the officer and men have corroborated this and all other matters.

The movement of the officer and men have been after they had obtained "Q" Authority or Movement Orders, a requirement when they travel beyond 20 miles of the City in official vehicles.

Nimal Gunatilleke DIG who is Commandant of the Police Special Task Force (STF) is learnt to have confirmed to authorities that the men in custody, like other members of the LRRP, stayed in STF camps in the East. They also crossed STF controlled areas and ventured into Tiger guerrilla dominated territory with the help of these Police commandos. Whilst the men who fought terrorism are being held as terrorist suspects in sub human conditions at a Police Station, the dilemma for those who arrested them appears to be increasing. If they are released, how does one justify the arrest, the damage done to the nation's national security and above all, the harm to the dignity and honour of men who form part of the nation's Army. That includes an officer who is wearing the Commission of the President and Commander-in-Chief.

"It's a case of climbing a tall coconut tree and now not being able to climb down," says an Army officer who is conversant with the developments.

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