by Nirmala Kannangara
The Brigadier who has allegedly ordered the contingent of army personnel to fire live bullets to disperse the Rathupaswela peaceful demonstrators had been sent to the Sri Lankan mission in Turkey two months after the incident, as a reward for his ‘bravery’ in aiding and abetting the then administrators, it has been revealed.
Brigadier Suriya Arachchige Don Anura Deshapriya Gunawardena alias Deshapriya Gunawardena was sent to Turkey in October 2013 for two years in order to ‘protect’ him from the Rathupaswela shooting incident which killed three civilians including two school boys and caused grave injuries to more than fifteen including one retired army officer.
During the Rajapaksa regime, it became a trend to post those who helped the regime to suppress the parties that rose against them to Sri Lankan foreign missions abroad. To name a few, Warrant Officer 1, Premananda Udalagama from the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) who was accused in Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder was posted to the Sri Lankan Mission in Germany while army intelligence operative Major Bandara Bulathwatte was posted to the Sri Lankan mission in Bangkok in 2010 but was later withdrawn. Former IGP Mahinda Balsooriya who was accused in Katunayake Free Trade Zone shooting incident which killed Roshen Chanaka was posted to Brazil soon after the incident.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) re-opened the Rathupaswala case after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, took three army employees a sergeant, a corporal and a soldier – Dingiri Arunage Sirisena, Jayasundara Mudiyanselage Thillakaratne and Lalith Gray into custody in April for their alleged involvement in the Rathupaswela shooting. It is now learnt how a contingent of army personnel fired live bullets to disperse a crowd who demonstrated asking for pure drinking water and the closure of a factory that discharged untreated chemical waste which caused the contamination of the ground water. “The army cannot come to disperse a crowd unless there is a request from the Divisional Superintendent of Police (SP) or above that rank, the respective District Secretary or the President of the country. When the Divisional SP and his superiors and the Divisional Secretary says that they did not request the army to come to Weliweriya to disperse the Rathupaswela demonstrators then who had asked the army to come there?” defence sources who wished to remain anonymous queried.
Control a riot
According to the sources, although the suspects claim that they came to control a riot, there was no riot at Rathupaswela. “As claimed by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), if there was a riot the protestors should have caused damages to public property or killed civilians for the army to shoot at them. What the protestors did was to block the road but still allowed the vehicular traffic and demanded pure drinking water. Even if there was a riot, the army can only fire below the waist but not to the head. Two of the three that died had sustained injuries in their heads. The third victim died due to assault injuries. Who gave orders to Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardena to order his men to fire live bullets towards the demonstrators? If Brigadier Gunawardena really wanted to control the situation, he should have called the Weliweriya police that was only a few metres away from the area of incident to come with tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protestors. They should have used rubber bullets to scare the people but not live bullets. The army now claims that they took action against these protestors under Section 138 of the Penal Code. Section 138 of the Penal Code does not call a peaceful protest that did not carry any deadly weapons, a riot, but only an unlawful gathering that is not armed with deadly weapons or with anything which can be used as a weapon of offence that can cause death,” sources said.
Under Section 138 of the Penal Code, an assembly of five or more persons is designated an ‘unlawful assembly’ if the common object of the persons composing that assembly is –
(i) to overawe by criminal force or show of criminal force, the government of the republic or the parliament or any public servant in the exercise of the unlawful power of such public servant or
(ii) to resist the execution of any law or of any legal process or
(iii) to commit any mischief or criminal trespass or
(iv) by means of criminal force or show of criminal force to any person, t take or obtain of any possession of any property or to deprive any person or the public of the enjoyment of a right of way or of the use of water or other incorporeal right of which such person or public is in possession or enjoyment or to enforce any right of supposed right or
(v) by means of criminal force or show of criminal force to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do or
(vi) That the persons assembled or any of them may train or drill themselves or be trained or drilled to the use of arms or practicing military movements or evolutions without the consent of the President of the Republic.
It is alleged that the order to silence the protestors who protested against a rubber glove factory owned by the then Secretary Transport Ministry and Rajapaksa confidant Dhammika Perera was given by those who were ruling the country.
Dipped Products PLC a subsidiary of the Hayleys Group was accused of discharging their chemical waste to the trench untreated. As a result the ground water over the years became contaminated and according to the villagers, the area public health inspectors (PHI) have wanted the villagers not to use the well water as it causes many severe diseases. The water contamination deprived more than 10,000 families any access to clean drinking water.
Well water contaminated
“The area PHI warned the people not to use well water even for cleaning purposes. The PH level in water has dropped beyond 4.4 which are harmful to the body. When residents in and around Rathupaswela consumed this water the throat and the esophagus got irritated and when used for cleaning purposes the people got skin rashes s,” a resident in the area said.
Meanwhile Jayasuriya, another resident of Nendungamuwa said how the army arrived after dispersing the Belummahara protest and stated firing at them at Rathupaswela on August 1, 2017. “There were two large protests – one in Balummahara and the other at Rathupaswela in Weliweriya. The army had first gone to Balummahara protest that was blocking the Kandy Road. While we were protesting in Weliweriya, we came to know that the army was assaulting the protestors in Belummahara. It was around 5.30pm. A few army officers came in motor bikes and army vehicles. They were accompanied by a senior officer whom we did not identify at that time but later came to know that he was Brigadier Desahapriya Gunawardena. No sooner they came, they started firing into the air and without any warning started shooting at the street lamps to bring the entire area into darkness,” Jayasuriya a villager alleged.
According to Jaysuriya when the army started firing, most of the protestors had run to the nearby St Anthony’s Church where the army had followed the protestors and had started firing live ammunition to those who were taking refuge there. They threatened the people and forced the people to kneel down on the church grounds and started assaulting them with bicycle chains, clubs and rifle butts. Meanwhile the army had prevented the people from taking the injured to the hospital. “We have seen how military personnel attack people in films but saw a real military assault only on August 1, 2013,” Jayasuriya said.
According to the ‘B’ report the CID submitted to the Gampaha Magistrate Court, Koralagamage Melan Chinthaka Perera a retired army corporal in his statement given to the CID had stated as to how the then OIC Weliweriya and the other police officers wanted the demonstrators to hold the protest peacefully but not to disturb the traffic and the police officers bears testimony as to how they protested peacefully till afternoon.
Attack by the Army
Chinthaka Perera’s statement further stated as thus, ‘When we were protesting, few villagers came and said that the army was attacking the protesters near Belummahara Junction to which I said that it cannot happen as the army has no authority to assault peaceful protestors. Around 5.30pm an army platoon arrived with Brigadier Gunawardena and had threatened the journalists who were covering the incident to switch off the cameras. When the Brigadier asked the people to stop the protest the protestors had stated that they will not stop it unless a solution was given to the people. That made the army personnel to fire at a tiled roof in the close proximity. This prompted the people to stone the army and in return the army had fired towards lamp posts to bring the area into complete darkness. Since I assumed that army will never shoot unarmed men I went further ahead and raised my hands and wanted them not to shoot at us. When I was pleading with the army not to shoot us, I was shot at my right thigh. The people in the area took me to the Gampaha hospital and had to undergo an emergency operation. After five days I was transferred to the National Hospital and had to undergo a thigh bone transplant. I was hospitalised for four months. If the army goes to control a riot, they should take a doctor and a lawyer with them. Unless the army personnel are given approval, they never shoot at civilians and I believe these shooting took place on the instruction of the officer who accompanied the army. It is regrettable to say how the SLA on August 1, 2013 treated me. I am yet another army personnel on premature retirement due to injuries sustained in the battle field and the army made me a disabled person on that day ’.
Meanwhile Jayasuriya said as to how the army chased 17-year-old Akila Dinesh who was about 200 metres away from the main Kaduwela- Balummahara main road and shot at him.
“While they were chasing Akila they broke a CCTV camera fixed to a house knowing that their ‘brave’ actions would be recorded. After breaking the CCTV camera, they fired at the street lights and then chased away the people shooting all over,” Jayasuriya claimed. Shamil Ravishan Perera had been shot about one hour after the protestors were dispersed.
“Now the army claims that they used the minimum force to disperse the crowd. If so what would have been if they used the maximum force on that day,” Jayasuriya added. According to the ‘B’ report filed in courts, there was no evidence to prove Brigadier had ordered the army personnel to stop firing at the civilians.
The villagers meanwhile accused the army for attacking the unarmed villagers who were protesting for their rights but not taking any action against the Dipped Product PLC for releasing chemical waste from the factory. “Because it was owned by a Rajapaksa confidant the factory was given protection while the unarmed civilians were shot at,” he added.
Meanwhile in his statement, Romesh Sanjeewa Peiris had stated how the army was seen collecting the used cartridges the following morning to clear the area. “When I went towards Weliweriya around 7.30am, the following day I saw how the army personnel were collecting the used cartridges in shopping bags while another group was cleaning the blood stains that were all over the road. What made the army to remove the used cartridges and wash off the blood stains that were all over the area?” Peiris has said in his statement.
Sriyantha Udara Perera a former UPFA member of the Gampaha Pradeshiya Sabhawa and Nilantha Perera a former UNP member of the Gampaha Pradeshiya Sabahwa in their respective statements to the CID also had stated that it was Brigadier Desahpriya Gunawardena who ordered his men to shoot at the crowd when they asked time to leave the locale they were holding protest from morning.
Although the eyewitnesses say as such, Brigadier Gunawardena had told another media institution that he was not in the scene when the firing took place as he was at the Weliweriya police to get his mobile charged.
Signaled the Army to fire
“There is evidence to prove how Gunawardena received a call on his mobile a few minutes before the shooting started and how he signaled the army men who were carrying guns with live ammunition to fire. Now the army claims that the CID is carrying out witch hunting. If there is no evidence to prove how can the CID take action against the army officers or even against civilians. It was the army under Brigadier Gunawardena who had made a Rtd. Army personnel a disable on August 1, 2013 at Rathupaswela. If the CID are conducting investigations and arrest ‘war heroes’ on a personal agenda, why cannot the accused come and file action against the CID. Most of the suspects who were taken into custody by the CID in the recent past are now on bail. Why don’t they instigate legal action against the CID for arresting them for allegations in which they were not involved. They cannot do it as they know the CID is well armed with the necessary evidence against these ‘war heroes’ the defence sources said.
Courtesy:The Sunday Leader