In a thinly-veiled reference to Sri Lanka’s former first family — allegedly linked to the murder of a journalist and a rugby star — President Maithripala Sirisena said he would not protect “those who are guilty of killing media persons or sportsmen”.
He was speaking at a defence services school in Kurunegala, 100 km north-east of Colombo, and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s electoral district. While assuring soldiers that he would take “fullest responsibility on behalf of war heroes”, Mr. Sirisena said he was unable to protect those found guilty of acts that were not connected to national security.
He made the remarks even as investigation agencies probe the 2009 murder of well-known editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) told a magistrate court here that “top-secret death squads” linked to the defence establishment of the previous government had targeted dissident journalists. As many as 17 journalists and media workers were killed during Mr. Rajapaksa’s 10-year rule.
Rugby star’s death
In February, the CID questioned two high-ranking army officials from ex-leader Rajapaksa’s security detail, about the suspicious death of rugby star Wasim Thajudeen. When the national team player’s charred body was found inside a car in 2012, police recorded it as an accident. In August 2015, his body was exhumed after the case was reopened as a murder investigation. Ministers have in the past linked the former President’s two sons, Namal and Yositha, to the murder. Both cases were among those reopened after President Sirisena came to power in January 2015, ousting his former boss Mr. Rajapaksa.
Though in Opposition now, Rajapaksa remains popular among the country’s armed forces. The military is a core constituency for Sinhalese politicians, who defend their impunity from probes into war crimes.
President Sirisena’s reassurance to the military comes a week after the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in Geneva, granting Sri Lanka two more years to deliver on reconciliation and accountability.