Army, Police claim ‘mistaken identity’ while victim insists he was target

Army supposedly on the lookout for deserters bungles alleged abduction while senior police officer releases suspects

The Army and the Police, conducting investigations into the alleged abduction attempt of a local politician in Kolonnawa last Saturday, said that it was a case of ‘mistaken identity’, adding that the men in the van were army officers tracking deserters, but the politico that the men were after him.

Army Spokesman, Brig. Ruwan Wanigasuriya told the Sunday Times that the men in the van belonged to a different unit assisting the Military Police (MP) in rounding up thousands of deserters throughout the country.

Udaya Shantha. Pic by Nissanka Meegoda

“This is because the MP is short of staff and is faced with an uphill task in rounding up deserters,” he said.“However, the MP has conducted an internal inquiry into the Kolonnawa incident, as there has been a dispute with civilians,” Brig Wanigasuriya said.

“Meanwhile, the police, for their part, have recorded statements from both the van’s occupants and villagers involved in the fracas”, Police spokesman Superintendent (SP) Ajith Rohana said. Investigations also revealed that no weapons were found in the vehicle or in the possession of the army officers in the van, as claimed by the villagers,” he added.

He said that further investigations were continuing into the incident. But, Chairman- Kolonnawa Urban Council, Ravindra Udaya Shantha told the Sunday Times that both the military and the police, along with top politicians, were trying to cover up the matter, after their goons were caught red handed.

He alleged that a politician was aiming to harm him over a disputed tender involving scrap iron, adding that, now they were trying to cover up the incident that took place last Saturday. “The men in the van were armed to the teeth and there was even a brief firefight since I opened fire with my official firearm. I was saved by my supporters who took on the van’s occupants until the police came in,” he said.

He added that his younger brother who was abducted on February 21, remains missing to date, and the so-called police investigations towards this end remains in limbo, while more attempted abductions are made in several parts of the country.

Explaining the incident, he said he was addressing a meeting at a playground when suspicious looking characters arrived in a van and positioned themselves in different locations. “We have been on the alert for such persons since my brother was abducted”, he added.

He said the villagers had ‘detained’ four persons and questioned them, when one of them claimed he had come to play in the grounds. “I immediately called Police Headquarters and the Wellampitiya Police. The local police arrived on the scene and took the four persons into custody. At the Police station they said they were from the army and showed their service identity cards,” he added.

“Villagers had surrounded the police station. After midnight, the villagers were told to disperse. However, DIG Anura Senanayake later visited the station and the army personnel were released,” he said.

LFD laments Law and Order breakdown, culture of impunity

Lawyers for Democracy’ (LFD) said they were concerned with the breakdown of law and order, and the rising cases of abductions in Sri Lanka.

Referring to the incident in Kolonnawa in the Wellampitiya police area, the LFD said the police have released the suspects at the order of a senior police officer, without producing them in a court of law.
The spate of recent abductions and disappearances is alarming. In January and February 2012 alone, 11 cases of abductions have been reported from across Sri Lanka, with at least seven of them linked to ‘white vans’.

These incidents have received attention as a result of the Government of Sri Lanka recently coming under increased scrutiny for their human rights record. According to a report issued in February 2012, by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, 5,671 cases of involuntary disappearances remain outstanding in Lanka.

The ongoing abductions including the failed attempt in Wellampitiya confirms a culture of impunity with which perpetrators operate, raising questions about the nexus with the Defence authorities, they said.
LFD said it sees this present incident as another that erodes the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka, and exacerbates the culture of impunity, and a further confirmation of the politicisation of the police in Sri Lanka.

“The continued practice of having the police and the military within the Ministry of Defence is a further worrying practice, and complete disregard of the recommendations made by the Government’s own Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC),” the statement said.

“In light of this dangerous situation, with the rising number of abductions and culture of impunity, LFD calls on the Government to immediately arrest this trend, and to prosecute those involved in such incidents,” the statement added.

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