President Maithripala Sirisena today accused a group of retired army officers politically linked to former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of causing friction between disabled soldiers and the authorities.
In an unusual move, the President made references to statements by retired army major general Kamal Gunaratne regarding the November clash between disabled soldiers and police outside the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.
“Those who criticise the government today are the very same people who brought outsiders to a demonstration by disabled soldiers, created a tense situation that led to clashes and then blamed the government,” the President said.
He recalled Gunaratne’s criticism of the government following reports that police attacked disabled soldiers. Police clashed with able bodied men who had been brought to take part in the protest. He accused the retired officer and his group of creating tension between disabled troops and the authorities.
Several members among genuine protestors also suffered collateral damage when police tried to prevent the marchers storming the President’s office, according to police.
President Sirisena reiterated his commitment to protect war heroes.
Retired major general Gunaratne is a key member of a group promoting Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as a potential opposition presidential candidate, although constitutionally he cannot run for office while retaining US citizenship.
Gunaratne was a key speaker at Rajapaksa’s latest venture known as “Eliya” (light), which is agitating against proposed constitutional reforms.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera has said that Gunaratne’s book published a day after he retired from the army last year provided “evidence” of war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces while battling separatist Tamil Tigers.
The 741-page “Road to Nandikadal” was a catalogue of atrocities committed by government forces since early 1980s, Samaraweera had said. Setting fire to homes of Tamil civilians, killing innocent civilians and plundering valuables from homes under the guise of cordon-and-search operations have been listed by Gunaratne in minute detail.
The minister said the language used by Gunaratne also indicated that he derived pleasure from seeing the death and destruction around him, and in his own words he had admitted that as an officer, he did nothing to discipline soldiers under his command.
Gunaratne’s original army unit, the Rajarata Rifles, was disbanded for indiscipline and excesses, but Gunaratne himself escapes punishment according to his book and the unit emerges as the “mighty Gajaba Regiment.”