President Ranil Wickremesinghe will appoint a retired judge to probe controversial revelations made by Britain’s Channel 4 television,: a fresh Parliamentary Select Committee Probe is also likely but President will not heed calls for an international investigation.

By the “Sunday Times” Political Editor

President Ranil Wickremesinghe will appoint a retired judge, possibly from the Supreme Court, to probe controversial revelations made by Britain’s Channel 4 television.

The Sunday Times learns that it will be a prelude to the appointment of another Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) if it is found that the matter requires further investigation.

Already, a Parliamentary Select Committee and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry have probed the incidents. However, this makes clear that President Wickremesinghe will not heed calls for an international investigation.

Nevertheless, it acknowledges the need for a deeper probe despite vehement denials of those principally implicated in the disputed disclosures.

An indication of a proposed appointment of a PSC came early this week when Minister Manusha Nanayakkara declared that the Cabinet of Ministers had decided on such an appointment.

However, his remarks were contested by government spokesperson and media minister Bandula Gunawardena. He declared that no matter outside the agenda was discussed at last week’s ministerial meeting. Nanayakkara also issued a statement together with his ministerial colleague Harin Fernando to say they had spoken much earlier about the revelations in the Channel 4 broadcast. That appears to be an endorsement of the report.

Both Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa have called for an international investigation. The prelate said in a three-page statement that “all those officials who are in the police and intelligence services coming under investigation on this matter (the massacres) and who hold positions presently should be suspended forthwith.” Premadasa made the call when he spoke in Parliament. He held the view that previous probes had not been adequate.

In its regular series titled Dispatches aired on September 5, the television channel claimed that Sri Lanka’s national intelligence chief was complicit in the 2019 Easter Sunday massacres. The killings left 269 men, women and children dead including 45 foreign nationals. Eight among them were British citizens.

Hanzeer Azad Mowlana, claimed in an interview with Dispatches that he set up a meeting in 2018 with the head of national intelligence and Islamic State-affiliated bombers to hatch a plot “to destabilise Sri Lanka and facilitate the return to power of the Rajapaksas.

” It was a time when the yahapalana (or good governance) government under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was in office. The Supreme Court has ordered Sirisena to pay Rs 100 million in compensation to the fund for victims. Only a small part of the payment has been made.

Mowlana was one-time private secretary to Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, better known as Pillayan, a former Tiger guerrilla frontliner in the east and now State Minister. Mowlana lives in Switzerland and is known to have claimed asylum. The accusations have been made against retired Major General Tuan Suresh Salley, once Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) and thereafter Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), the national intelligence organisation.

He retired from the Army months earlier but remains head of the SIS under a “pay and pension scheme.” This scheme entitles military officials to receive their pensions and serve in a government position with pay. He was appointed to the two positions by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who first served as Defence Secretary and later as President. Other than under Gotaba Rajapaksa, he served a stint under the yahapalana government.

According to sources in London, a camera crew from a production house was in Colombo to film part of the footage for Channel 4 including interviews. They are said to have re-enacted some scenes to back up their report. Their presence, however, had not come to the notice of any state agencies, including intelligence.

One is not wrong in asking whether there was a considerable overreaction to the latest Channel 4 disclosures. Were the responses overhyped? Wouldn’t a brief statement after the broadcast have served the purpose?

Cannot one argue that the Channel 4 disclosures shook those concerned prompting widely publicised responses locally?

Responses at first came only from ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Major General (retd) Salley and not from any single state agency. Why?
It was only on Friday that the Ministry of Defence issued a three-page statement rejecting the Channel 4 claims.

This is not the first time Channel 4 has been critical. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was President, there had been several controversial accounts during the separatist war. Yet, on this week’s disclosures, opinion is sharply divided with some wholly debunking them and others claiming they merited further investigation.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country and later resigned as President, broke silence to issue a three-page statement. Calling the broadcast, a “tissue of lies,” he said, retired Major General Salley is a “career officer who has served many presidents and all military officers are loyal to the state and not private individuals.” Gotabaya Rajapaksa added that “the latest film by Channel 4 is mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade aimed at blackening the Rajapaksa name from 2005 onwards……” Maj. Gen. (retd.) Salley vigorously denied the accusations and declared the time references for his actions were wrong. He was not in Sri Lanka during those periods.

Protagonists included Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who led troops to victory against the Tiger guerrillas in 2009. He told Parliament on Thursday, “There should be an international investigation into the Easter Sunday incidents. There is no use going before Select Committees…… He (Salley) says he did not come to the country during that period. He could change his passport as he was in the intelligence service. He can change immigration reports …These are things that could be done over the phone. Though he says they could not get in touch with senior intelligence officers, Salley is a…….” (There were highly critical references to Rajapaksas).

He was also bitterly critical of Maj. Gen. (retd.) Salley though his outstanding military victory came under the Rajapaksa administration. He was decorated to the highest military rank thereafter by President Sirisena.

In the social media there were claims that long before last week’s Channel 4 revelations, they had made similar disclosures. That included one from journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrema who uploads to the YouTube a programme titled “The truth with Chamuditha”.

The appointment of a retired judge, the Sunday Times learns, will be made when President Wickremesinghe returns after his visit to Cuba and the United States. He leaves on Wednesday for Cuba on an invitation from that country’s President, Miguel Diaz-Canel. He will address the G-77 and China Leaders’ summit.

Courtesy:Sunday Times