The bloody politics behind the Katuwana attack

= Rivalry among JVP factions on the increase; Amare has grudge against JVP, say police investigators
= Main suspect's affiliation to powerful Government politicians raises fearful questions

Geeganagamage Amarasiri Alias Julampitiye Amare, a man charged with a series of crimes was on stage at a musical show in Katuwana in the Hambantota district to mark the National New Year. He was dressed in military fatigues.As many as five warrants for his arrest has been issued on him by the Tangalle High Court for his involvement in two attempted murders, an abduction and a prison riot in 2002 . He has more than 30 other cases of murder, rape and robberies pending against him.

The man at the centre of the two killings at Katuwana: Julampitiye Amare surrendering to police. Pix by Krishan Jeevaka Jayaruk

‘Amare’, had been seen by villagers in Walasmulla, Weeraketiya, Middeniya, Tangalle and Julampitiya dressed in military fatigues and moving around with a T56 weapon. But no attempt had been made to arrest him over the past few years, mainly due to his political affiliations.
Many of the criminal activities of ‘Amare’ were known to the residents of the areas he frequented. Many of them were reluctant to speak or act against him with some of the witnesses in the murder cases reportedly killed, maimed or assaulted.

An exposure of his criminal activities in the May 13 issue of the JVP backed ‘Lanka’ newspaper had apparently infuriated ‘Amare’ provoking him to look out for villagers who had reportedly provided information to the newspaper. The exposure was a result of a three-month investigation carried out by ‘Lanka’, the newspaper claimed.

It was against this backdrop that at least 10 armed men stormed the residence of a JVP activist at Hendiwatte in Katuwana around 7.20 p.m. on Friday June 15. They opened fire killing two people, injuring another and causing damage to at least seven vehicles while a pocket meeting was in progress.

JVP Central Committee member Nalinda Jayatissa was addressing the gathering of 80-100 party members on the subject of the increasing incidence of treasure hunting when the gunmen stormed the premises.

“Around 7.20 p.m. four men on two motorbikes came along the road and opened fire, first at the ground and then at the crowd who were sitting on the back rows. Then, the gunmen were joined by six others in three motorbikes,” Dr Jayatissa said. He himself narrowly escaped injury.
“A woman and a boy seated at the rear of the meeting were shot at. The woman tried to support her head on the chair in front of her. The gunman also tried to kill a war-wounded ex-soldier who was in a three-wheeler.

“I heard some eyewitnesses say that the youth who was killed was shot at again even after he had fallen on the ground.
“Then the gunmen approached the house. As they began shooting indiscriminately, the people ran for cover. I was taken to safety by party members,” he said.

Dr. Jayatissa said he was told that the group was on the lookout for the owner of the house.
The raiding party had attacked women and several others including youths. They also grabbed the video camera which had been used to record the speeches. They remained at the scene for more than 30 minutes.

“The police response to the incident was slow. Some of us tried to call the Katuwana Police and some tried calling 119, the Police hotline. It took 30 more minutes for the police to arrive,” Dr. Jayatissa said.

After the arrival of the Police the injured, JVP memmbers wanted to take the wounded to hospital. “There were however no vehicles to send them to hospital. The three-wheelers and a small lorry were badly damaged,” he added.
Another eyewitness, R.L. Sarath, 45, in statements to the Police and CID claimed he identified ‘Amare’ as one of those involved in the killing of two people – Edirimannage Malani, 51, and Nimantha Heshan, 18.

The suspect who surrendered to the Tangalle High Court Thursday on a previous warrant issued on him had been remanded until July 11. He was also named a suspect in the Katuwana attack.On Friday ‘Amare’ was produced before the Walasmulla Magistrate Courts for an identification parade and three of the witnesses identified him as one of those who attacked the Katuwana meeting.
The Katuwana attack on the meeting sparked off countrywide reactions and condemnation with the JVP blaming the attack on the Government. But the Government denied it.

Soon after the attack Lakshman Hulugalla, Director General of the Media Centre for National Security, claimed that the attack was a result of a conflict between the JVP and a breakaway faction.

Ten days prior to the Katuwana attack, JVP MP, Ajith Kumara who is now with the breakaway faction now known as the Peratugami Smajavadi Party or the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) had lodged a complaint with the Inspector General of Police claiming that the JVP was responsible for a series of attacks on FSP members.

Mr. Kumara claimed there was an attempt to kill some of their party members in the Hambantota area.

He accused JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva of instigating attacks on FSP members, a claim strongly denied by Mr. Silva (See box story).
Earlier this year an attempt by Kumar Gunaratnam, a former JVPer domiciled in Australia to take over the leadership of FSP was embroiled in controversy when he was abducted while he was in Sri Lanka. He was deported to Australia forcing the party to go ahead with its first convention without him.

Police investigators probing the Katuwana attack are not only looking into the rivalry within the JVP factions, but also into the rivalary between Amare and the JVP – a dispute which runs back into the 1987-1988 insurrection.

“Two of Amare’s brothers were killed during the JVP violence leading to a rivalry with the JVP. Since then Amare’s rivalry with the party has been intense,” a senior Police officer said.

He said there was also rivalry between an underworld criminal with links to the JVP and Amare after the brother of the criminal was shot dead last year.The criminal known as Madhushka who is in custody had reportedly organised an attack on ‘Amare’, but the attempt on his life had failed.

However, the failure of the Police to arrest ‘Amare’ during all these years has been the most controversial factor in this drama.
“We could not identify ‘Amare’ as the local police did not have his details or pictures,”, Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
This was contrary to claims by villagers that ‘Amare’ frequented several areas in the Southern Province.

Police probing in several directions

Police investigations into the Katuwana attack are being directed along several fronts including the rivalry between JVP factions and a grudge held by Geeganagamage Amarasiri alias Julampitiye Amare after two of his family members were gunned down by the JVP during the 1987-88 insurrection.

A senior intelligence official who did not want to be identified said the rivalry among the JVP factions had been on the increase and this prompted a breakaway group member to officially lodge a complaint with the Inspector General of Police about death threats to his party members from the JVP. (See details of the complaint on this page).

“There is a possibility that such rivalry could be made use of by other interested groups. This is a matter under investigation,” the detective said.
He said the JVP had currently broken up into three groups due to ideological differences and at least 10 attacks had been carried out on the members of the breakaway Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) by JVP activists in various parts of the country, particularly Gampaha, Colombo and the Southern Province.

He said a March 7 incident in Angunukolapellassa where JVP and FSP members clashed was also under investigation with reports saying that an FSP supporter known as Sudu Aiyya had close links with ‘Amare’ after he had associated with him in prison.
At least eight FSP members were injured in that attack while three JVP members who surrendered to the Police or Court had been granted bail with the case continuing in the Angunukolapellessa Magistrate’s Court.

The fateful meeting at Katuwana was part of a 45 day recruitment drive of the JVP in the south.
The rivalry between ‘Amare’ and the JVP was aggravated after an attempt was made on Amare’s life by an underworld gangster known as Neluwe Priyantha last year on the directions of Madhushka, a suspect who is already in custody for the killing of former Southern Development Authority Chairman Dennie Hiththetiye.

The officer said the ongoing investigations were being directed in several angles and they were confident of finding out the motive for the Katuwana attack.

(Additional reporting by Krishan Jeewaka Jayaruk)

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