Tiger spy-hunt and chemical bombs
alias Ragu telephoned his handler at the Army's Directorate of Military
Intelligence (DMI) one day last week to issue a stark warning -
two killer squads of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
had infiltrated the City.
One was tasked
to kill him. The other was already on the prowl to kill those in
the DMI responsible for running the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols
(LRRPs), the group that wreaked havoc in guerrilla dominated east
eliminating its top leaders and posing threats to others. He wanted
them to beware.
With his voice
shaking with fear Ragu said he planned to go into hiding no sooner
he ensured his wife and two children, a son and daughter (six months),
were safe. There were a few other personal chores to attend to.
night 35 year old Ragu was returning to his rented abode at St Sylvester's
Road, Mount Lavinia. He was at the nearby Peiris Mawatha when two
men on a motorcycle drew close to him. One riding on the pillion
pulled out a pistol and fired at Ragu. He dropped dead. His ten
year-old son screamed helplessly.
an end to the life of the fourth informant of the DMI who had been
helping the long rangers to assassinate guerrilla leaders, thus
causing panic and uncertainty for the LTTE in the east. For more
than 15 months now, (during the casefire) Tiger guerrillas have
launched a bitter campaign to eliminate the informants and punish
civilians in the east who have been helping them. By abducting some
of the informants and subjecting them to painful torture, they had
partially bared the net-work that operated the long rangers attacks,
extracted the identities of informants as well as those who were
Even the identities
of the handlers and those directing the long ranger operations have
been found out. Since then, killer squads have been on a hunt.
All this became possible only because a Special Operations Division
of the Kandy Police led by then Superitendent of Police (and now
Assistant Superintendent) Kulasiri Udugampola raided the DMI Safe
House at Athurugirya from which the LRRP operations were directed
and controlled. The raid on January 2, 2002, led to the arrest of
an Army Captain and five soldiers (including an informant, a former
guerrilla cadre, who had been enlisted).
of the raid, Police officials who conducted it, exposed their find
at the Athurugiriya Safe House (or Int Cell as the DMI called it)
to the print and electronic media from the Cinnamon Gardens Police
Station. The items included anti-personnel mines, land mines, anti-tank
weapons, assault rifles, Claymore mines, exploders and remote control
devices. Reports suggested that the Safe House had been used for
sinister purposes including alleged plots to assassinate UNF leaders.
It was The
Sunday Times (Situation Report -
January 6, 2002) that exclusively revealed that the Safe House was
in fact a forward base for groups of DMI's Long Range Reconnaisance
Patrols that operated in the east. The Army explained that a top
secret forward base was located in Athurugiriya for logistical reasons
though the group operated with the help of the Police Special Task
Force (STF) from the frontlines in the east.
official inquiries ordered by the Ministry of Defence proved beyond
any doubt that the Safe House was used to conduct legitimate military
operations. This is despite a vicious propaganda campaign by a retired
group of military officials, interested groups and a section of
the media to make out that activities at the Safe House were not
only illegal but also politically motivated.
When the truth
eventually emerged, national security interests were not only compromised
but those men who helped the Army were being killed one by one.
And now the Army men who were involved in LRRP operations, part
of the Government’s counter terrorism drive then, have become
targets of assassination. All this notwithstanding, the Police,
in a historically unprecedented move, went ahead and filed action
against the Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, Director
of Military Intelligence Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana and other
Army personnel. This was under the Penal Code, among other matters,
for their negligence in storing explosive and flammable material
in the Safe House.
that ASP Udugampola had filed this Court action without recourse
to his superior officers or to the Attorney General's Department.
The case before the Chief Magistrate Court in Kandy was later withdrawn
on the directions of Solicitor General, C.R. de Silva.
And now, a
one man Presidential Commission of Inquiry, a former High Court
Judge, Dharmasiri Jayawickrema, is probing how the Athurugiriya
Safe House fiasco occurred. The Commission has complained that Police
Headquarters have still not heeded their request to assign an investigating
officer as is the practice when such inquiries are held. The Army
officer and men involved in the Police arrest have also filed a
fundamental rights violation application in the Supreme Court. Their
case is now being heard.
assassination of a DMI informant had led to other disturbing revelations.
Early last week, Tiger guerrillas who were hunting another informant,
one whom Ragu worked with and described as "a very key figure,"
had handed over a letter to his family in Batticaloa. This came
about when the guerrillas found it difficult to track him down.
The informant in question had gone missing after learning that a
massive manhunt was on for him.
It was only
after the assassination of Ragu that family members of the informant
decided to open the letter. When they did, the brother of this most
wanted informant received burn injuries over his face. A suspected
chemical inside the letter is said to have caused the face injuries.
The matter had then been reported to the Police.
After the killing of Ragu, Army officials brought the brother of
this most sought after informant to Colombo. He is now being held
under tight security in a Colombo hospital where doctors are conducting
a full examination of his medical condition.
The idea is
to ascertain whether a chemical, like anthrax, could have caused
the burn in his face. The Army is also attempting to obtain the
help of the Government Analyst to see whether there are traces of
chemicals. The help of a foreign agency is also likely to be sought
by the police to ascertain whether chemicals were in fact used.
This is whilst a number of other counter measures have been put
into operation to prevent any other attempts.
twist to these developments came at the latest round of peace talks
between the Government and LTTE delegations in Hakone in Japan.
Tiger guerrilla Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham, is learnt to
have raised issue over tighter security measures that have been
enforced in the City and suburbs. What gave cause for the LTTE to
raise the matter was the fact that their team members had been stopped
at two different checkpoints when they were on their way to the
airport from the hotel where they were staying. This was to board
the flight to Tokyo.
delegation had to remind him that the security measures came into
force in view of the tense situation prevailing after the March
10 incident where the LTTE cargo ship carrying military hardware
was sunk by the Navy. In fact these measures were in operation both
in the City and suburbs with sporadic check-points springing up
in many strategic locations. The LTTE delegation was also then told
about how Ragu's killing had taken place whilst peace talks were
Ragu was the
fourth DMI informant to be killed by Tiger guerrilla killer squads
since the Police raid on the Athurugiriya Safe House. The first
was V. Vidyarthan who was abducted and killed on January 16 in Ariyampathi
in Batticaloa. It was followed by the abduction and killing of Lance
Corporal Savundrarajan who was abducted in Batticaloa town on July
3, last year. He was found dead in Vakarai on July 27.
11, 2002, Ganeshamoorthy Tillekerajah alias Samy was shot dead in
Bambalapitiya by guerrilla gunmen. There have also been at least
three informants who had been abducted and their whereabouts not
known. These developments come just when tensions between the Government
and the LTTE over the March 10 incident have been ironed out in
Japan. This is in the aftermath of the determination issued by the
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) over the incident on March 10.
determination does raise some pertinent questions for the Government
and underscores the absence of a quick reaction mechanism in the
defence establishment during a crisis situation like when the Navy
sank the guerrilla cargo vessel carrying military hardware.
The SLMM determination
points out that it received information "from the
Sri Lanka Government's Secretariat Co-ordinating the Peace Process,
that the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) was engaged in a sea incident around
240 nautical miles off the East Coast of Sri Lanka…"
notes that the Navy Commander, members of the Eastern Naval Command
and the Captain of SLNS Sayura have stated "they
did not know it was a LTTE vessel but were only informed about a
'suspicious gun running vessel." The SLMM said "this is
contradictory to the initial press release from the Ministry of
Defence and also the SLN report on the incident…"
How did the
SCOPP come to the conclusion that the encounter at sea was 240 nautical
miles off the East Coast of Sri Lanka? How was anyone at SCOPP authorised
to convey this information when there was no official record of
any sort with the Navy of such a location? Why was the Navy Commander
and his senior men forced to say "it was only a suspicious
gun-running vessel…" One Navy source explained the Navy
did not want to name the LTTE and thus embarrass the Government.
matters not be the responsibility of the Secretary to the Ministry
of Defence, in this instance, Austin Fernando? The question is being
raised in the national interest. Should there be a similar incident
in the future, should not this senior-most official in the Ministry
of Defence who should be liaising with the SLMM and speaking with
one voice? Would that not have saved embarrassment to the Government
caused by contradictory statements? Mr. Fernando was very much in
Sri Lanka when the incident occurred.
though outside Sri Lanka, Mr. Fernando, is still a keen follower
of this column. Comments made last week over the March 10 episode
has drawn his attention. Amidst all his onerous duties, he has found
the time to telephone and direct Military Spokesman Brigaider Sanath
Karunaratne to write to The Sunday Times. The letter is dated March
20 - a day after the government and LTTE delegations had discussed
the Navy sinking of the LTTE cargo vessel with military hardware.
This is what he said:
1. Your kind
attention is drawn to the Situation Report of 16 March which stated
that Defence Secretary has leaked information to the media.
Secretary denies any such leaking of information to the media
cannot be faulted for mistakenly stating in his letter that The
Sunday Times had reported that Defence Secretary was
directly leaking such information. Being in Tokyo, he has perhaps
not read the report himself. Evidently he has also not been briefed
properly from Colombo. This is what the relevant part of the report
"Within hours Defence Secretary Austin Fernando
ensured the information was leaked to the media."
Sunday Times stands by the report. He did ensure the
information contained in a list (from a foreign source) of items
purportedly found on board the LTTE cargo vessel, said to include
130 mm artillery guns, was leaked to the media.
reasons of national interest The Sunday Times will not identify
the foreign source, that has since been asked to provide a verification
and an appreciation of the information provided. It would suffice
to say a senior Navy officer, closely associated with Mr. Fernando,
failed in his efforts to have a formal press release issued on the
matter. Thereafter, an official (identity withheld) "leaked"
the information. This aired on television networks and the radio
on the night of Wednesday, March 12 and appeared in many print media
the next day.
killing of a DMI informant, senior security officials say, is because
no regular checks are now being carried out for infiltration of
guerrilla cadres, not to mention smuggling of military hardware,
into the city. They say infiltration of killer squads can be kept
under check only through such checks and increased surveillance
- part of measures necessary in security preparedness to meet any
threat. Here again, the preparedness is not to harm the peace talks
in any way but to ensure there are no security breaches.