Millennium safe house fiasco
By Frederica Jansz
The government is to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to evaluate the Athurugiriya presidential commission report concluded and handed over to President Chandrika Kumaratunga by retired judge D. Jayawickrema.
This means Jayawickrema can be summoned by parliament to explain why he has chosen to mitigate substantive evidence even by a military court of inquiry, which questioned the authenticity of the army safe house at Athurugiriya, which to date the army has failed to substantiate.
Sri Lanka’s greatest tragedy is the politicisation which corrupts every issue of national importance.The recent Athurugiriya commission report is just one more sorry example of individuals incapable of separating political prejudices and serving this country in an independent and impartial manner.
D. Jayawickrema, a retired judge and loyalist of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to head a special commission of inquiry “into the disclosure of the existence of and the raid on the safe house operated by the Sri Lanka Army at Athurugiriya.”
Kumaratunga had implicit faith in Jayawickrema given that following his retirement from the judicial service, Jayawickrema has addressed SLFP meetings while his father was a former SLFP member of parliament for Kundasale, Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne said in parliament last week.
Today, The Sunday Leader will detail vital evidence which disputes the presidential commission report that concludes the safe house at Athurugiriya was indeed a secret hideout for the military to carry out covert operations against the LTTE.
One important aspect which the commission for some reason appears to have missed is a copy of the IGP’s directive instructing ASP Kulasiri Udugampola to assist in the investigation into the Udathalawinna massacre.
Another is a document of the lease agreement of the Millennium City house violating army rules. The document is signed by Directorate for Military Intelligence (DMI) Chief, Brigadier Kapila Hendawitharane, leasing the house from Captain S, Nilam’s wife.Nilam was heading the team of intelligence officers who were staying at this house.
The commission has also not taken into consideration a copy of the order sent by the Teldeniya Magistrate to the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle. Jayawickrema in fact maintains the order is non existent.
The commission report specifically states that Udugampola had no court order whilst carrying out the raid and in fact asserts that Udugampola lied when he stated that he had the order.
We are reproducing elsewhere on this page a copy of that order which was signed by the registrar at Teldeniya on behalf of the magistrate and sent by registered post to the Army Commander.
The order was secured from the Teldeniya Magistrate on December 31, 2001, two days before Udugampola conducted the raid. It is addressed to the Army Commander and requests the commander to release Major Clifford Zoysa from the Military Police to assist Udugampola in the raid.
Army Chief Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle has told the commission that he never saw the letter before the raid was carried and so was completely unaware of its content. Given Balagalle’s previous track record to speak the truth we can only but hope that in this instance at least he is indeed being truthful.
The commission report further insinuates that Udugampola did not have the permission of his superiors to carry out this raid but acted on his own, which “clearly shows the sinister motives of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola.” This observation by the commission is also factually incorrect. Udugampola was acting on the basis of a tip off given with regard to a high level investigation in connection with the murder of 10 Muslim youth at Udathalawinna on December 5, 2001.An official communiqu dated December 17, 2001 issued by the IGP states, Kulasiri Udugampola had been assigned by none other than the IGP to assist DIG Nimal Mediwake in this investigation.
It was in this context that Udugampola while assisting with this investigation says he received a tip off that one of the chief suspects in this case, namely Chanuka Ratwatte, son of former Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, was visiting a house bearing address No. 844, at Millennium City, Athurugiriya. Chanuka Ratwatte following the Udathalawinna massacre on December 5, 2001 was at the time a fugitive on the run.
Carrying out his duties as an investigative officer in connection with this case, Udugampola before carrying out the raid at Athurugiriya secured the required court order.The order was sent directly to the Army Commander two days before Udugampola carried out the raid.
Jayawickrema’s report meantime has discounted the findings of the military court of inquiry on the basis that Major General Ivan Dassanayake who served as president on this inquiry is a close associate of both Kulasiri Udugampola and his brother Colonel Padmasiri Udugampola.
The commission report states that the other members of the military court of inquiry namely, Brigadier M. R. W. de Zoysa and Colonel Kaniska Dharmaratne together with Major General Ivan Dassanayake were all aware of the raid to be carried out by Udugampola and directly or indirectly assisted the police. Major Clifford Zoysa has also been named as an accomplice by the commission.
The fact is that Major Clifford Zoysa had from the beginning of the Udathalawinna investigation been commissioned to assist the police, which is why when Udugampola secured the necessary court order he requested that Zoysa be included in the raid party.
Surely this cannot mean the Military Police were “in” with Udugampola on some kind of a conspiracy to ridicule the army.
The fact is the military court of inquiry was appointed by none other than the Army Commander himself.Surely, Balagalle would have been the best judge to determine any special relationship between the court officers and Kulasiri Udugampola that could bias the court findings.
Now let us for the record, place extracts of the evidence gathered by the military court of inquiry.
This court opined that Captain Shahul Nilam’s explanation under oath that the safe house at Athurugiriya was necessary in order to maintain top secrecy of their covert operations in the East has been in the same statement contradicted by Nilam himself.
The court report has pointed out that Nilam visited the Army Headquarters at Valachchenai in relation to administration matters before launching any covert operation in Batticaloa.The court has maintained that the DMI has not looked into this angle as a possible leakage of information could have taken place through those living in the Valachchenai camp. Therefore the military court has stated that it does not agree in toto with the explanation given regarding the requirement for the safe house as being to maintain secrecy.
Furthermore, there is evidence that unclassified letters have been prepared from the Athurugiriya safe house disclosing its exact location and the originator’s address. There was also an occasion where a hired lorry, driven by a civilian was used for transporting of stores from the Kohuwela army detachment camp to the Athurugiriya safe house.
The report by the military court of inquiry has stated clearly that the intelligence team headed by Capt. Nilam had inadvertently failed to maintain the secrecy required in relation to the safe house, in its correct perspective, thereby making the occupants (in this case the intelligence persons) and the property, vulnerable to enemy surveillance or attack.
According to statements made by Capt. Nilam to the military court, he has admitted that on January 1, 2002, an unauthorised person had visited the safe house on that day while some other persons had been inquiring the address of its location some two weeks prior to the police raid.
Capt. Nilam has said that a military intelligence person whose name was unknown to him had visited the safe house on January 1, 2002. Subsequent inquiries have revealed that one Corporal Silva, at the time attached to the Kohuwela military intelligence cell had visited the house.The bottom line is that Corporal Silva had no official approval to visit this house while Capt. Nilam who was in charge of the intelligence team at the house has admitted he did not know who Silva was, at the time he visited the house.
Another point of dispute was the storing of thermobaric weapons in a residential neighbourhood. Lt. Col. S. D. K. Wijesekara, a qualified ammunition technical officer, when summoned by the court and asked the question, “do you advice keeping thermobarics in a safe house?” had replied, “definitely no.”
Wijesekera has further explained in his statement that a thermobaric weapon is extremely lethal, used to destroy personnel inside a bunker by way of generating heat. The weapon is rated as being highly dangerous because of its chemical component.There is also a possibility of the weapon activating while being transported since the launcher and the rocket is fitted together and this can in some instances activate the explosive and chemical component.
The court has in its report recommended that for future operations of this nature it would be advisable for intelligence teams to collect the necessary weapons from the nearest army installation where the operation is to be conducted or hand over these weapons to such army locations whenever there is a requirement.
This, the court has stated would prevent any mishaps during frequent transportation and also prevent any danger occurring to those living in the safe house.
The military court has further drawn attention to the danger to life and property in the neighbourhood where the safe house was maintained.In this case it was located within a crowded residential housing complex at Millennium City, Athurugiriya. At the time of the police raid, two thermobaric weapons were found inside the safe house.
Capt. Nilam has told this court that he used one thermobaric weapon to destroy an LTTE bunker in the Batticaloa District.What is amusing is that Nilam by his own testimony says that while on an offensive to get another target they spied a bunker and destroyed it by using thermobaric weapons. Some five persons were killed. He then states that he checked with “people in the area” who said the persons inside the bunker were members of the LTTE.
Nilam in his statement refers to another instance whereby he claims that while on yet another offensive they spied a Canter truck the army hit squad believed was transporting LTTE cadres. He states they destroyed this truck by activating a claymore mine resulting in the vehicle overturning and all those inside being killed.Nilam asserts that he on this occasion too checked “with people in the area” who confirmed that those killed in the truck were LTTE cadres.
What is ludicrous in this instance is Nilam’s explanation of how these attacks were carried out by his team. A senior army officer asserted that Special Forces units are trained in the army to carry out a planned offensive only on the selected target and not in an ad hoc manner as displayed by Nilam and his unit on both these occasions.
The military court report reiterates that a ‘safe house’ as defined by the US Military Intelligence is a secret refuge for spies engaging in covert operations.The CIA glossary of intelligence trade idioms defines a ‘safe house’ as a seemingly innocent house or premise established by an intelligence organisation for conducting clandestine activities in relative security. A definition of a ‘safe house’ as defined in the military intelligence pamphlet of the Bangladesh Army means a shelter and base for agent handlers or agents provided for covert operations or as a temporary accommodation.Also, that it must be a house or premise controlled by an intelligence organisation that affords at least temporary security for individuals involved or equipment used in clandestine operations. The ‘safe house’ at Athurugiriya the court maintains is in contrast to all these definitions.
Another important point observed by the court is that the DMI should in future seek the approval of the Defence Ministry Secretary before establishing and maintaining safe houses of this nature.It was not done in this case.
As per operation systems and procedures, the court has observed that no such standard operational procedures (SOPs) have been formulated nor published. Furthermore, that in spite of the fact that there are records of items drawn, the court has observed that there had been no proper inventory of weapons, explosives and other equipment held by this intelligence cell. It was also revealed that no log books had been maintained by this same intelligence team.
There is no documentary evidence available detailing the period when the weapons were held at Kohuwela and Athurugiriya. During his raid on this house, Udugampola has stated he came across a lethal cache of weapons. He found 66 LTTE camouflage uniforms, 10 anti tank mines, four thermobaric weapons, three T 56 weapons, 418 rounds of ammunition, 17 bomb exploders, three remote control small antennas, 12 detonators and one cyanide capsule among other items.
The military court of inquiry has asserted that the said intelligence team commenced covert offensive operations in Batticaloa in the first week of June 2001, achieving success by eliminating the LTTE military intelligence leader for the east and the Tiger’s special suicide missions leader for Colombo. The men were killed on June 9, 2001.This achievement has been disclaimed by another senior army officer, Colonel Sumith Manawaduwa who has asserted that it was he who supervised this hit together with Tamil intelligence spies.
What is at issue here is, is not so much the conduct of this team before December 2001, but during the month of December 2001. In fact, before December 2001, this team operated from Chenkalady and Vavunathivu camps.
It was decided to rent a private house in Colombo after Capt. Nilam had maintained it would be safer to communicate with informants in a private place and not in an army camp.
When making this decision Capt. Nilam violating army rules and regulations together with his boss at the DMI, Brigadier Hendawitharane hired the house at No. 844, Millennium City, Athurugiriya which belongs to Nilam’s wife. She had won this house as the first prize in the Seylan Bank Rewards Plus lottery draw.
An agreement for the leasing of this house was personally signed by Brigadier Hendawitharane on December 7, 2001, released a sum of Rs. 50,000 to Nizam’s wife as an advance payment for four months.The agreed rent was set at Rs. 12,500 per month.
Contrary to procedure, Hendawitharane as DMI Chief never visited this house on any single day to ensure that such a vital intelligence unit was indeed secure. The first time he did visit the house was on January 2, 2002, after Kulasiri Udugampola had carried out a raid on the premises. Even then, Hendawitharane was spotted asking for the way from residents in the area. Captain Nilam’s brother-in-law also benefited from this operation.He was contracted to stitch 209 sets of Tiger uniforms for the army at a cost of Rs. 250,000. His vehicle too, was regularly hired by the army for Rs. 2000 per day.
After moving into this house Capt. Nilam and his team had conducted one more operation in Batticaloa on December 21, 2001 before the house was raided by the police. The outcry by the army and the President including interested parties that the security of the army men in this house had been seriously jeopardised when they were placed in police remand is completely false.According to an official extract by DIG Mahinda Balasuriya, he had ordered that one army captain and four other army personnel held in custody at the Kandy police station must at all times be under a tight security blanket. He ordered for “all necessary precautions to be taken by the HQI Kandy regarding the security of the suspects.” He further ordered that “no unauthorised persons to be allowed to visit them.”
A subsequent examination and report by the judicial medical officer of the army personnel while in police remand proved that not a single had been physically ill-treated in any manner.
How is it possible for the presidential commission to ignore the fact that while former Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and President Chandrika Kumaratunga had been aware of this house, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and then Defence Minister Tilak Marapone knew nothing, even a month after it was established.
If after all, the purpose of this operation was to protect national security and safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka why was the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister kept in the dark? That is not all.Even the then Joint Operations Commanding Chief, Lt. Gen. Rohan De S. Daluwatte did not know anything about this so-called safe house. Neither did the Army’s Operations Commander in Batticaloa.
If indeed these men were carrying out special offensive deep penetration operations in Batticaloa surely the army’s commanding officer in the east should have been notified.And why was Daluwatte also kept in the dark?
In the dark
Even Director Operations, Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH), Brigadier Sumith Balasuriya was completely in the dark about the house at Athurugiriya and the soldiers that operated out of this house until the police raid. This is despite the fact that it is the JOH that is responsible for planning and coordinating all operations in the east.
Following the raid, Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle claimed this outfit was part of the Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP). He has in his statement to the commission said that they were not members of the LRRP, but LRP maintaining there are two such units in the Sri Lanka Army. Senior army officers scoffed at this statement asserting they have never heard of an LRP unit to date.
In fact, it has been revealed that there is a very distinct difference between the activities of the DMI and its teams, to that of the LRRP.
The LRRP is operated by commandos together with other special forces. Military intelligence units do not play any role in respect of these patrols other than to provide whatever information they might gather. It is completely and factually incorrect to connect these two arms of the army together as stated in the commission report.The presidential commission has also surmised that service personnel who are engaged in these activities have recently become victims consequent to these investigations and the raid on the safe house at Athurugiriya.
According to Brigadier Hendawitharane’s own statement to the military court of inquiry in November 2001, a little more than a month before the house at Athurugiriya was discovered, five intelligence officers were killed in the East.
This means that the army’s intelligence officers have at all times been a prime target for the LTTE and recent killings do not prove that the discovery of the Athurugiriya safe house initiated a spate of murders of intelligence agents. If this was supposed to be a safe house for the army, they failed miserably to maintain it as such. Even the private security employed by the management of the Millennium City housing complex have stated that they kept a regular check on the army vehicles which arrived to and from this house.
The commission report has also not been able to establish why the stock of arms, ammunition and explosives found at Athurugiriya was not subjected to the daily inspection of duty officers. The military court of inquiry has pointed out that no records exist pertaining to the movements of these weapons. Captain Nilam or any other responsible officer in the army has so far failed to produce any documentation regarding the transportation of these weapons between Kohuwela Army Camp, Millennium City and Batticaloa.This is in complete contravention of the Army Act. From statements made to police it has been revealed that Captain Nilam kept these weapons and explosives in his room when he served at the Army’s Forward Headquarters MIC at Kohuwela instead of in the armoury in the same camp.As a result, these weapons were not subjected to the daily inspection of duty officers, which is a requirement in terms of the Army Standing Orders.
No entries made
Furthermore, he has not made any entries in the records when these weapons were being taken out of the army camp. This fact was established from statements made by M. D. Sunil and Sgt. Munidasa, the armourers attached to the Forward Headquarters MIC at Kohuwela.
Major Najith Karunaratne has in his statement said that it was only after this so called safe house was exposed that Brigadier Hendawitharane ordered him to issue a movement order in respect of three ex-LTTE men enlisted by this team for intelligence gathering.
Major Karunaratne in his statement to police on February 15, 2002, has maintained that he kept the Thalangama police informed of the safe house which he conducted and managed in the Battaramulla area. If this is so, why then did Captain Nilam keep the Athurugiriya police in the dark about the “safe house” maintained at his personal residence at Millennium City? This aspect too, Jayawickrema has chosen to ignore.
On May 29, 2002, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle was questioned and his statement recorded by police.He stated that he has authorised the issue of arms for operations. He was asked the question as to whether he authorised the issue of weapons and explosives to be kept at the Millennium City house. It transpired that although Balagalle has authorised the issue of arms for operations he had not given any permission to transport weapons from the Kohuwela Army Camp to the Millennium City house.He further states that this type of authority is not normally granted by the army commander.
This means that in this particular instance, these lethal weapons were kept in a private home other than in an army camp without the knowledge of the Army Commander.Balagalle has further stated that once a weapon is issued to an army officer there is no bar from him taking that weapon anywhere he wished.
Surely, such a practice will only contribute to the increasing crime wave in this country apart from the fact that there must be a code of discipline for all army officers to adhere to when issued with a weapon or weapons?
Brigadier Hendawitharane in his statement to police has admitted that he did not keep the police, Defence Ministry or any other authority informed of the existence of a safe house at Athurugiriya with lethal weapons and explosives.
One can only conclude that it is time this government takes stock and realises that in order to establish an intelligence service that will serve as the cornerstone towards stability for the security of this nation, Sri Lanka requires more than mere cardboard heroes.
But what better can be expected from an army that is led by a commander whom the judiciary has held personally responsible for preventing the freedom of movement and expression of the people in Batticaloa and in the Wanni?
How can we forget Balagalle’s contribution to ensuring the People’s Alliance would be voted back into power when during the 2001 general election he dispatched more than 100,000 leaflets to Jaffna which were from President Chandrika Kumaratunga telling the troops why they should vote for the PA. Along with this leaflet Balagalle sent instructions to the commanding officers in the north that every soldier before casting his vote be instructed by non commissioned officers in the army as to what exactly the leaflet from the President was all about. In other words, he became the chief organiser for the PA in the army.
And last but not least, Balagalle should be remanded for his culpability in the Udathalawinna massacre – the worst Sri Lanka has witnessed in its entire history of holding elections.The Army Chief has already admitted to police that he released by name Lt. Wijeyratne together with a platoon of 28 men on the instructions of Brigadier Keerthi Hulangamuwa who in turn was passing on orders from former Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte. The rest of the tale is part of Sri Lanka’s gory history of blood and guts, as members of this platoon are believed to have been involved in the massacre of 10 Muslim youth at Udathalawinna.
The Sunday Leader called to testify
The Sunday Leader was also called upon to give evidence before the presidential commission headed by Justice Jayawickrema.The latter displayed clear bias as the newspaper was not questioned in an impartial and independent manner, but in a manner that was one-sided where the judge’s observations were already predetermined.
The commission in fact revealed that another Sunday newspaper, which had written extensively in support of the “safe house” had also been summoned to appear before the commission the following day. Not, we were told to be questioned but to give “advice” to the commission. This after all is Sri Lanka – and in Justice Jayawickrema’s book of ethics this must be how justice is meted out – fair and square.
* * *
“I have acted impartially”
Questioned on his view of the possibility of being summoned before a parliamentary select committee, Justice Jayawickrema said, “this commission was a legal proceeding.Only the superior court can find fault with the commission members. To my knowledge, there is no other provision where any other committee can question me or any of the witnesses.”
Jayawickrema maintained that Kulasiri Udugampola never had a court order. “What he had was a letter signed by someone else and not the Teldeniya Magistrate. The letter was not a court order. Also, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said he had never seen it prior to the raid.”
Jayawickrema maintained that he had acted impartially and independently. “What I have expressed in the report is not my own view but that of the witnesses.As a judge I knew nothing of this case. I only went by the evidence placed before me.”
Originally Published at http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20031221/spotlight-more.htm