Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena shocked his cabinet Tuesday by accusing neighbouring India of plotting to assassinate him on the eve of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi, a ministerial source said.
A visibly upset Sirisena accused his senior coalition partner, the United National Party (UNP), of not taking an alleged conspiracy to kill him as well as former secretary to the ministry of defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, seriously.
“The President said that RAW (India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing) was behind the plot,” a minister, who declined to be named, said.
Sirisena also said he was unhappy with the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) inquiry into the plot and faulted the law and order minister for what he called the “very slow progress of the inquiry.”
A ministerial source said the Prime Minister was unusually assertive at cabinet Tuesday and appeared to be irritated by Sirisena’s barrage against his government. The premier had also retorted in annoyance, much to the surprise of some of the juniors in cabinet.
The alleged plot was disclosed by a paid employee of the presidential secretariat earlier last month. He had also worked as an informant of the police. Based on his testimony, the police have suspended a Deputy Inspector-General Nalaka Silva who is said to have been involved in the alleged assassination plot.
Weeks after the so called whistle blower identified as Namal Kumara went public about the plot to kill Sirisena and Rajapaksa, the president’s office issued a statement denying he was in their pay and called for a separate investigation into his conduct.
However, media reports said the presidential secretariat had issued letters to Namal Kumara confirming his employment with an anti-narcotics task force directly under the president.
Official sources close to the investigation said they have not found any evidence to support Namal Kumara’s claims of a plot, which also involved an Indian national who is residing in Sri Lanka pending an asylum application with the UN agency for refugees.
The ministerial source said the President did not give details of how India was involved in the plot and several cabinet ministers were aghast at his claim. “I think it was uncalled for (to accuse India) because he did not provide any evidence to support his claim,” the source said.
“So far, what we have is the figment of someone’s imagination of an assassination plot,” the source said. “What can now be done is to look at the genesis of this story and how it came about.”
The Presidential Secretariat scheduled a press conference at noon Tuesday to disclose what it called the details of the assassination plot, but cancelled it at the eleventh hour. The President’s former Coordinating Officer and the current Senior Advisor Shiral Lakthilaka was to preside at the press conference.
In the meantime, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has lodged a formal complaint with the police over media reports of the twin assassination plot. When he was asked if he suspected any credible plan to kill him, the former official had said he was making the complaint to have the media reports investigated.
The atmosphere in cabinet had been unpleasant when they were discussing the awarding of the East Terminal of the Colombo port to India, those at the cabinet said. Sirisena is opposed to granting India access to develop the terminal just next to the China-run Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).
The CICT was at the centre of a diplomatic spat with India during the last year of the Rajapaksa administration when the then government allowed Chinese submarines to dock there without New Delhi being in the loop.
Wickremesinghe travels to New Delhi on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speed up Indian-backed projects in the island, including the East Terminal project.
On the cards is also the development of the currently unused oil tank farm at China Bay in Trincomalee.