Tiger spy-hunt and chemical bombs
Kadirgamanathan Ragupathi 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.

Last Tuesday 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.

That brought 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 helping them.

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).

Within hours 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.

Subsequent 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.

It transpired 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.

The latest 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.

A paradoxical 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.

The Government 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 under way.

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.

On December 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.

However, the 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…"

The determination 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.

Should these 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.

Thankfully, 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.

2. Defence Secretary denies any such leaking of information to the media as stated.

Mr Fernando 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 said:
"Within hours Defence Secretary Austin Fernando ensured the information was leaked to the media."

The 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.

For obvious 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.

The latest 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.

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