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27th August 2000

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New Army Commander Lionel Balagalle checks with his wrist watch for the auspicious time to occupy his official seat. Watching are Majors General Janaka Perera (extreme left) and Neil Dias (centre), who were reported to be unhappy over the process of succession. Pic by Gemunu Wellage

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PA politico forces OIC quit, flee

By Leon Berenger

The officer in charge of a police station in Kurunegala district fled his home with his family due to threats hours after he resigned in protest against political interference by a deputy minister.

A dispute between the police officer and the politician had been simmering since last year's presidential elections and Friday's resignation was a direct result of it, The Sunday Times learns.

SI BandaraSI Bandara

The officer's resignation came amidst a government plan to make a series of changes in the Police Department including new postings and promotions ahead of the parliamentary elections.

Sub Inspector Palitha Ranga Bandara, OIC of the Wellawa police station along with his wife and two children were forced to flee their private residence at Ibbagamuwa in the Kurunegala district, following threats after he refused to give into what he saw as the election interest of a local politician.

Refusing to accept an irregular transfer that was allegedly engineered by the politician, the officer fled the area.

"Unidentified persons gave me threatening phone calls, saying my family and I are in danger," SI Bandara told The Sunday Times.

He said his wife had also seen suspicious characters moving around there. 

SI Bandara who has made a complaint to the Gokaralla Police said he had been summoned to DIG Mahinda Balasooriya's office and told in the presence of several senior officers that he had been transferred following a complaint from the politician who had claimed that the SI was obstructing his election work.

The SI alleged that DIG Balasooriya told him that he could select a posting of his choice and return to Wellawa after the elections.

He said he told the DIG that the President and the IGP had told them not to take political orders and he was resigning because he was not prepared to take orders.

SI Bandara said he had also pointed out to the DIG that he had been reinstated at Wellawa on a court order, but the DIG had said he had the power to do anything. 

When contacted for comment DIG Balasooriya who heads the North-Western range said he was too busy to speak to the media, and when pressed added that he could not spare even one minute.

SI Bandara who has already won three fundamental right cases said he was now prepared for the fourth but would never give into politicians and their police lapdogs.

The inspector's clash with the deputy minister goes back to the Presidential elections last year when he arrested two PA activists who were allegedly involved in the burning of tyres on the streets.

The deputy minister had later telephoned him at the station and sought the release of the two men. When the request was turned down, the politician had allegedly berated the SI in foul language ending with a threat that he would be stripped of his uniform after the election.

Subsequently his house was also raided by police officers armed with a warrant in search of certain equipment which the SI is alleged to have obtained through public donations. However they found nothing. 

Meanwhile with nominations for the general election beginning tomorrow, the Police Department which will play a key role is facing a major shake-up amidst concern over political partisanship.

A senior police officer said ten new DIGs and 30 ASPs were to be appointed ahead of the October 10 general election.

The lists of 50 SSPs and 150 Chief Inspectors have already been drawn up and sent to the promotion boards. Of this list 10 SSPs will be promoted to the rank of DIG and 30 CIs will be promoted as ASPs. The SSP list meanwhile is being screened to ascertain their past records to check on any involvement in cases relating to human rights violations, corruption and similar offences. Police sources said the SSP list included some who were allegedly involved in human rights violations or corruption. A senior police officer said one of those on the SSP promotion list had been convicted in court. Opposition party sources said another irregularity in the Police was the confirmation of some 30,000 police reservists as pensionable officers. This amounted to their being absorbed into the regular force.

President warns troublemakers

With at least three election related deaths being reported even before nominations opened, President Kumaratunga on Thursday summoned PA election organisers and warned stern action would be taken against anyone found to be involved in violence.

The Sunday Times learns that the President had also appointed a three-member disciplinary committee to monitor the activities of PA members during the campaign. Meanwhile, officers in charge (OICs) of police stations throughout the country have been summoned to Police Headquarters in Colombo to discuss strategy in handling the general election campaign.

Deputy Inspector General A. Samar-asinghe said the police would move into top gear once nominations started tomorrow. 

He said the three deaths and other incidents reported upto now could not be categorised as election violence but as political violence. 

He said those incidents would be investigated by the local police stations while the police election secretariat would monitor election-related incidents.

Batalanda probe

UNP leaders to court arrest

UNP leaders have decided to court arrest over what they call a political witch-hunt linked to the alleged Batalanda torture chamber probe as the Government geared itself for a propaganda offensive on it.

UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times yesterday that neither party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe nor he would go to the CID headquarters or give a statement regarding the matter. 

"If they want, they could arrest me. But I will not cooperate with this propaganda probe," Mr. Atukorale said. 

Former SSP Douglas Peiris on Friday was taken to the Batalanda housing scheme accompanied by the state media including a television crew, apparently to prepare for the propaganda offensive.

A senior security officer of opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and UNP Colombo central organiser Mohamed Maharoof were among those questioned by the CID this week in connection with the Batalanda case.

Inspector Sugath Chandrasekera who was attached to Mr. Wickreme–singhe's security division since the time he was minister in the UNP government was questioned on the alleged torture house at Batalanda while Mr. Maharoof was questioned regarding his alleged involvement in helping Mr. Peiris to leave the country illegally, UNP sources said.

Mr. Maharoof told The Sunday Times the allegation against him was a politically motivated fabrication.

He also said state media reports that he had fled the country to avoid being questioned by the CID were untrue and that he had left the country on a pilgrimage to Mecca and returned last Sunday.

"As soon as I came back I telephoned the CID and told them I would like to make a statement as my name was mentioned in the affidavit," Mr. Maharoof said.

Meanwhile Police have so far failed to file charges against Mr. Peiris for allegedly violating immigration laws by using bogus passports to flee and return to the country.

Fowzie-Ashraff crisis hits the streets

The showdown between SLMC leader M.H.M. Ashraff and Minister A.H.M. Fowzie has spilled over with supporters of both sides taking to the streets, leaving the PA election campaign with extra question marks.

Protests were held in the eastern province in support of Mr. Ashraff while in Colombo a demonstration took place in favour of Mr. Fowzie.

The crisis blew up last Tuesday when Mr. Fowzie launched a scathing attack on Mr. Ashraff, accusing of being a cardboard kingmaker and humbug. Mr. Fowzie said he would quit politics if Mr. Ashraff on his own was able to win more than five seats at the general election. Mr. Ashraff reacted equally strongly, resigning from the cabinet and telling President Kumaratunga that he would not rejoin the cabinet or the PA until Mr. Fowzie was removed.

In the east, SLMC protests were held after Friday prayers with a crowd in Kalmunai burning an effigy of Mr. Fowzie as part of the unholy war.

As the crisis grew Mr. Fowzie told The Sunday Times Mr. Ashraff's demand for his removal was absurd. He said he could get more Muslim votes than the SLMC not only in Colombo but also in the east.

While Mr. Ashraff was in Mecca, party General Secretary Rauf Hakeem reiterated the demand for action against Mr. Fowzie, saying the PA statement dissociating itself from Mr. Fowzie's outburst did not go far enough. Meanwhile Minister and SLFP General Secretary S.B. Dissanayake said he believed Mr. Fowzie would not be removed despite pressure from various groups.

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