While the President did not refer to specific cases, the context of his remarks was clear.
Several military intelligence personnel have been arrested for involvement in a spate of attacks against journalists including Prageeth Ekneligoda, Lasantha Wickrematunge, Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennekoon. Multiple naval officers are under arrest on charges of abducting university students for ransom, who later disappeared.
The President’s remarks were made in a speech given to mark the opening ceremony of the Defence Services school in Kurunegala. Emphasising that the Government would do whatever was necessary to protect war heroes against accusations of war crimes committed against terrorists, the President stressed that these protections do not apply to those whose actions can in no way be attributed to fighting the LTTE.
Analysts said what was interesting is that President made this statement in Kurunegala, the seat of MP and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. His remarks are also a sharp turn from his October speech when he criticised police for holding army intelligent officers for long periods in custody.
Police officers, including retired Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police Anura Senanayake, are in remand for complicity in the murder of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen.
Former army commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka recently told the CID that the attacks by military intelligence personnel targeting media and civil society figures were carried out by a team operating directly under the Ministry of Defence, under the instructions of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Chief of National Intelligence Kapila Hendawitharana.
Hendawitharana denied the charges in an interview with The Sunday Leader published last week. Gotabaya Rajapaksa too denied the accusation through a letter sent by his attorney to the AFP wire service. In his letter, Rajapaksa had stressed that he had no authority to control the armed forces as Defence Secretary, as he was only a civilian.
In his speech at Kurunegala the President, pointed out that it was the responsibility and duty of the Government to protect war heroes who fought for Sri Lanka, said that he would always fulfil his responsibility as the President and Defence Minister.
While there was unprecedented goodwill for Sri Lanka among the international community today, many people question as to what benefit this brings to the country, President Sirisena said.
“We are utilising that goodwill and friendship for the protection of the honour and respect of our war heroes,” he said. He added that powerful world leaders had assured him that they would stand by Sri Lanka’s independence and democracy on issues pertaining to the members of Sri Lanka’s armed forces.
The President emphasised that he would always shoulder the fullest responsibility on behalf of any problem faced by the officers, staff members and war heroes who fought against the LTTE.
When President Sirisena arrived at the Defence Services School in Kurunegala, he was warmly received by the students. The President inaugurated the new building and presented prizes to outstanding students and those who excelled at the Year 5 Scholarship Examination. Later he inspected the building and its facilities.
The Defence Services School also offer courses in English for students selected to enter universities as well as receive vocational training. Ministers Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, S.B. Navinna, Dayasiri Jayasekera and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Wayamba Chief Minister Dharmasiri Dasanayake, Governor Amara Piyaseeli Ratnayake, the service chiefs, Inspector General of Police, Principal D.A. Ratnayake, teachers, staff members and parents were present at the ceremony.
(Except for the headline, this story, originally published by ft.lk has not been edited by SLM staff)