CID takes over probe; remains of charred bodies sent to Govt. Analyst; more arrests likely Victims allegedly involved in drugs and arms business; family members have criminal cases Disquiet prevails over parts of Rathgama from where two young “businessmen” went missing last month and whose charred remains are now believed to have been found inside [...]


On the trail of Rathgama ‘custodial killings’


  • CID takes over probe; remains of charred bodies sent to Govt. Analyst; more arrests likely
  • Victims allegedly involved in drugs and arms business; family members have criminal cases

Inspector Prabath Vithanage

Disquiet prevails over parts of Rathgama from where two young “businessmen” went missing last month and whose charred remains are now believed to have been found inside a forest reserve.

The abductions of 31-year-old Kosma Rasin Lasith Chinthaka and 33-year-old Manjula Asela Kumara on January 23 caused turmoil in the small village of Rathnaudanagama at Rathgama in Galle. There were protests–including one yesterday that blocked the Galle Road–demanding a full investigation.

The victims’ family members claimed that policemen from Galle had threatened them to stop the protests.

An anonymous letter received by Manjula’s wife claimed that his abduction was, in fact, an arrest by the Southern Province Special Crimes Unit and that both had been killed in custody. The writer claimed he was a police source who did not want to reveal his name but who was against the custodial deaths of the suspects.

Family friend M. Edwin

Many residents were reluctant to comment on the murders. Few offered information. Even fewer wanted to venture an opinion on the abductions. A monk claimed not to have known the two men. “They’re from this village,” he told the Sunday Times. “That’s all I know.”

Yet, one villager, requesting us not to use her name said she believed that both businessmen were involved in drug dealing. “It is hard for two young men without any inheritance to buy that many properties and vehicles in a short time frame. Everyone knows that they are violent and deal in drugs.” Another villager said he feared retaliation if he spoke.

But family members and friends insisted the two men were model members of society. “This is a good example of a breakdown of law and order,” said M. Edwin, a family friend of Rasin Chinthaka. “Why didn’t the police respond quickly? And how can they kill someone whom they arrest?”

On Friday, at Walasmulla in the Madagangoda Forest Reserve, Criminal Investigation Department detective found charred remains of two persons. They are believed to belong to Manjula Kumara and Rasin Chinthaka. The CID unravelled details of the crime after questioning several police officers allegedly involved in the abductions.

CID detectives believe Manjula and Rasin were taken by Southern Province Special Crimes Unit (SPSCU) officers and tortured and killed in an unoccupied property at Gonamulla in Akmeemana. The bodies are reported to have been transported to Walasmulla and set on fire in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

Manjula's Father G.Somadasa

The CID has requested the assistance of the Government Analyst and the Walasmulla Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) to identify the remains.

The extrajudicial killings of suspects in custody are an alarming development.

Both victims were married. Manjula Kumara lives adjacent to his father’s home with his wife and three children, all of whom are still in school. Rasin Chinthaka resides with his wife and child, not far from Manjula Kumara. His pregnant wife Dipani Priyanka called his phone at 10.35 a.m. when she learned police had arrested him. The call was answered but no one spoke, she said, adding that it had been switched off since then. Manjula’s phone had been unresponsive since his arrest.

His son and Rasin Chinthaka were at his residence at 10.15 in the morning of January 23 when they were taken by 13 men who came in two vehicles, said Manjula’s 58-year-old father G. Somadasa.


Manjula's two sons with a copy of the anonymous letter the famil received

Rasin reportedly came to meet Manjula on his way to the Galle Fisheries Harbour to make a payment for a stock of fish he had ordered. His wife, Deepani Priyanka, said he had around Rs 100,000 on him at the time of arrest.

The arrest was witnessed by several neighbours, Mr Somadasa told the Sunday Times. But he would not let us speak with them. “They (men) came in a white car and a dark blue van,” he recounted. “There were five uniformed officers in the car and eight persons in civvies arrived in the van. They were armed with T-56 rifles.”

The van belonged to a sand-mining businessman in Matara, known to many by his alias ‘Pas Anura’, Mr Somadasa claimed. But Manjula had no dealings with Pas Anura and they were not enemies, he said.

Police took his son, Mr. Somadasa reiterated, and their efforts to lodge a complaint at the Rathgama Police Station were first rejected and then delayed. “We were kept waiting till 7 p.m. to lodge the complaint,” he said. “At the protest held by family members and friends, a police officer named Gamage from the Galle Division told us to give him seven days to find our children. But when we inquired from him three days later, he claimed he didn’t make such a promise. He said he didn’t know where our children were.”

Family members and villagers block the Galle Road and main railway line (inset) and stage a protest against the alleged custodial killings. Pix by Gamini Mahadura and Sirangika Lokukarawita

Inspector Prabath Vithanage, Officer-in-Charge of the Rathgama Police, denied Somadasa’s allegation. Speaking to the Sunday Times, he said, “They wanted to check with the Galle Police first and returned later on. Our records show that the complaint was lodged at 4.15 p.m.” The Police did not refuse to take the complaint, he said, but declined to comment further, in view of the ongoing investigation. “The matter is in the capable hands of the CID, they will get to the bottom of it,” he said.

According to police, Manjula and Rasin were suspects in several ongoing court cases. Manjula was charged with involvement in a murder in Anamaduwa in 2010. He is suspected to be an army deserter and his bail conditions require him to appear before the CID on the last Sunday of each month.

Rasin has three cases in the Galle Magistrate Court on attempted robbery, possession of illegal firearms, and possession of ammunition. Several of his family members also have an extensive criminal history. Rasin’s father, an Island Reconvicted Criminal, is in remand and has 13 ongoing court cases. His mother is also a suspect in two court cases on drug-related charges. His brothers are in custody for conspiracy to murder and on other illegal firearms charges.

Manjula and Rasin have had close affiliations with ‘Makandure Madush’ and were suspected to have been concealing a firearm used in a crime by one of his aides. They were also allegedly renting out weapons to different criminal groups, senior police sources claimed, on condition of anonymity.

Rasin's pregnant wife Dipani: She unsuccessfully tried to call her husband on his mobile phone after he was taken away. Pix by Ishanka Sunimal

It is suspected that one of the victims had been tortured during questioning, leading to his death. The other’s murder was a possible attempt to cover up this custodial incident, a senior police source said. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) last week interviewed the families of the victims.

In connection with the abductions, the police have arrested Hawissagamage Viraj Madushanka, a 26-year-old sub-inspector of the SPSCU. The Unit’s OIC, Inspector Kapila Nishantha de Silva, was also arrested and remanded till February 27. Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) for the Southern Range Ravi Wijegunewardene was transferred to the Police Headquarters.

Several other police officers were questioned by the CID who took over investigations on February 13 on the IGP’s instructions. Up to 15 SPSCU officers have also been transferred on the police chief’s orders, it is reported.

Four policemen are being questioned, a CID official said, on condition of anonymity. More arrests are likely. “We are awaiting reports on evidence which we have sent to the Government Analyst to proceed,” he said.

Crime scene investigation: The magisterial inquiry in progress at Walasmulla where charred remains were found. Pic by Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi

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