3rd February 2002

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"Long Ranger" goes to Supreme Court

By Laila Nasry

The Army Officer, who was arrested by the Kandy Police together with his soldier colleagues following the raid on the Army Safe House at Athurugiriya has filed a fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court.

The Sunday Times refrains from identifying him by name in view of threats to his personal safety. He is referred to as " Captain N".

The petitioner names seven respondents K. Udugampola , Superintendent of Police, Kandy (first), R.A.C. Dharmaratne, Sub- Inspector Police Division, Kandy (second), M.A.E. Mahendra, Headquarters Inspector of Police, Kandy (third), Ashoka Ratnaweera, Senior Superi-ntendent of Police, Kandy (fourth), M.M.M.B.J. Mohotti-gedera, Inspector of Police, Officer-in-Charge, Police Station, Katugastota (fifth), B.L.V. De S. Kodituwakku, Inspector General of Police, (sixth) and The Attorney-General (seventh).

"Captain N" was, the petition states, the leader of a team of soldiers attached to the Directorate of Military Intelligence which, with the assistance of certain civilians, conducted 'under cover' operations known as "Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols", in LTTE-controlled areas in the Eastern Province.

He said these operations were of an exceptionally hazardous and/or dangerous nature and were equally important in terms of the national interest. No person, whether a soldier or a civilian was 'ordered' to participate in these operations and all participants in such operations were those who had volunteered to participate therein while being fully aware of the nature of the dangers involved. He said the participants did so without any additional remuneration or reward purely through their patriotism and devotion to duty.

The Petitioner, Staff Sergeant, Sergeant, Corporal and Lance Corporal (all names withheld) all of whom were non-commissioned officers of the Sri Lanka Army attached to the Directorate of Military Intelligence were members of the team. These non-commissioned officers together with a civilian who accompanied and assisted them on operations and formed the 'said team', the petitioner said.

Shortly before the non-commissioned officers returned to the safe house, armed Police Officers led by SP Udugampola and included SI Dharmaratne, who were accompanied by Major A.C.A. de Soysa of the Sri Lanka Corp of Military Police had arrived there while only Staff Sergeant and the civilian member of the team were present, the petition said.

Thereafter the safe house was surrounded by some of the armed Police Personnel while SP Udugampola together with Major de Soysa and some other Police Officers entered the said safe house having asked the Staff Sergeant Jayamanne who was present whether it was the house of the Petitioner. Thereafter, the civilian was kept in a room under armed guard while Staff Sergeant Jayamanne remained with Major Soysa and other Police Officers inside the said safe house, the petition said.

It said the assistance of the Major de Soysa had been obtained for the raid by the 1st Respondent from the Military Police.

Shortly thereafter a lorry together with the Officer-in-Charge of the Athurugiriya Police arrived at the safe house.

Thereafter the 1st Respondent stepped out of the housed and took several telephone calls on his mobile telephone. From the content of the conversation the Petitioner became aware that the 1st Respondent was giving details of his raid and what he found at the safe house to the electronic and print media.

Having spoken to the media, the 1st Respondent directed the team to load all weapons, ammunition and explosives etc. except for the Thermobaric Flame Throwers into the vehicle brought by the Athurugiriya Police because such weapons might 'go off' while travelling and directed the team to load the Thermobaric Flame Throwers into the vehicle of the team and also directed them to get in the said vehicle.

The Petitioner and the other members of the team were then taken to the camp of the Sri Lanka Corp of Military Police at Narahenpita in their own vehicle. Upon approaching the camp the petitioner said he saw the van of Sirasa Television was already there. No media personnel were, however, permitted to enter the camp by the Military Police authorities.

The petition said: "Brigadier H.K.G. Hendavitharana and Major Sally arrived at the camp at about the same time the Petitioner and other members of the teams were brought there, and both of them explained to the 1st Respondent that the said team had been conducting official undercover Army operations and that the weapons, ammunition, explosives etc. in question had been duly issued to them for operations which had been approved of by the Army Commander. Brigadier Hendavitharana specifically requested the 1st Respondent to make whatever investigations he wanted to make to refrain from giving any publicity thereto as such publicity would endanger the lives of the men and the operations as well.

"Thereafter the 1st Respondent gave a telephone call and from the tenor of what the 1st Respondent said the Petitioner gathered that he was speaking to the Minister of the Interior John Amaratunga. Thereafter, Deputy Inspector of Police, Nimal Gunatilleke, the Commandant of the Special Task Force arrived at the camp in Narahenpita together with an official of the Ministry of the Interior whom the Petitioner believes was Lal Ratnayake the Ministry Secretary.

"The Deputy Inspector of Police Nimal Gunatilleke, knew the Petitioner and the other members of the said team and the operations which they had been conducting inasmuchas the Officers of the Special Task Force stationed in the Eastern Province had been of assistance to the said team in conducting their operations.

"Brigadier Hendavitharane informed the Petitioner that the 1st Respondent had informed him that steps would be taken to record the statements of the Petitioner and the other members of the team and to produce them before the High Court of Kandy after which they would be released on the 3rd January 2002. Brig. Hendavitharane informed the 1st Respondent that the Legal Officer of the Army would come to Kandy around noon on the following day to take charge of the said team from the Courts.

"The petitioner and the other members of the said team were detained at the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station for about two hours during which time the stock of aforesaid weapons, ammunition explosives were unloaded and both photographed and video taped by the journalists.

"After their arrest on the night of 2nd January 2002, the Petitioner and the other members of the team were detained at the Police Station in Kandy from the early hours of the morning of the 3rd January 2002 until the afternoon of 5th January 2002 when they were taken to and detained at the Katugastota Police Station until the 13th January 2002, when they were released.

"At no time was the Petitioner informed of the reason for his arrest and/or his detention.

"At about 11.30am 5th January 2002, the Petitioner was served with a purported Detention Order signed by the 4th Respondent which purported to have authorized his detention for a period of 72 hours from the 2nd January 2002. The Detention Order merely states that there were reasons to suspect him of having committed or attempted or prepared to commit 'offences' under the Prevention of Terrorism Act."

The petitioner claimed the Detention Order was invalid, null and void and of no force or effect in law.

In the afternoon of the 6th January 2002, the Petitioner and other members of the team were produced before the Magistrate Kandy in Chambers. By letter dated the 12th January 2002 addressed to Mahinda Balasuriya, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Central Division (West), Kandy, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence stated, inter alia that while one detention order had been issued in respect of the civilian no detention orders had been issued in respect of the other five members of the team.

The Petition was filed by Attorneys -at-Law W.D.Weeraratne, and Settled by Attorneys-at-Law S.L.Gunasekera, Manohara de Silva, Dilshan Jayasuriya and Pasan Gunasena.

Police put in dark barracks

The Kandy police barracks which accommodate the largest number of personnel are plunged in darkness after the power line was disconnected due to failure to pay the bills amounting to over Rs.2 million, an official said.

He said although the bills had not been settled Rs. 100 a month had been collected from each inmate.

Vote on account on Tuesday

In view of the need for contingency finances, the UNF government will present a vote on account in parliament on Tuesday.

Finance Minister K. N. Choksy will present the vote on account and the debate will be held till Thursday, when the vote will be taken at 6 p.m.

Deputy Finance Minister Bandula Gunawardena said unlike the PA regime that made vote on accounts a tradition to avoid full budget presentations, the UNF vote on account was unique.

He said the mini-budget would seek to vote money only for one month to cover the expenses up to March while a comprehensive Budget announcing relief measures to the public and envisaging economic resurgence would be presented on March 19.

"That's the prerogative of any government. We will make it a people's Budget, one that aids growth and encourages investment. It is currently being prepared," he said.

Road closed for traffic

Vehicular traffic will be interrupted today and tomorrow on certain roads in the City of Colombo.

They are:Reid Avenue, Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, Independence Avenue and Maitland Place during the time of the rehearsal and the Inde-pendence day celebrations.

Vehicular traffic will be interrupted between 8 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. and 9.45 p.m. to 10.15 p.m. on the following roads today and tomorrow; Galle Face Center Road, Galle Road upto Kollupitiya junction, Dharmapala Mawatha, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Albert Crescent, Indepen-dence Avenue, Reid Avenue, Thurstan Road, and Cambridge Place.

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