Top Sri Lankan military official detained over mass murder cover-up

A court on August 29 ordered the arrest of Sri Lanka's top military officer, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, in connection with the abduction and murder of 11 people during the island's civil war. (File/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)
Updated 28 November 2018
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Top Sri Lankan military official detained over mass murder cover-up

  • Defendent denied bail after he tried to abduct a key witness over the weekend
  • Three warrants for Wijegunaratne’s arrest were issued earlier this month

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s highest-ranking military officer was remanded by a court Wednesday after weeks evading arrest for allegedly protecting the chief suspect in the murder of 11 people during the civil war.
The Colombo Fort magistrate ordered that Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, the country’s military chief, be held in custody for a week pending investigations into the abduction and murder of the young men between 2008 and 2009.
The magistrate denied bail for Wijegunaratne after it emerged he tried to abduct a key witness over the weekend, and sought to have an investigator removed from the case.
“I am denying bail because in your position you are able to influence witnesses and disrupt the investigations,” Magistrate Ranga Dassanayake told a packed courthouse.
Wijegunaratne, who appeared in full military regalia, has denied any connection to the murders.
Wijegunaratne’s bodyguards earlier shoved journalists trying to photograph the chief of defense staff as he entered the courtroom.
Earlier in the day, Wijegunaratne surrendered after weeks of ignoring court summons.
Investigators told the court that Wijegunaratne protected the main accused in the high-profile murders, naval intelligence officer Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi.
He was arrested in August over the killings in the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody separatist war that ended in May 2009.
Three warrants for Wijegunaratne’s arrest were issued earlier this month but he ignored them, even traveling to Mexico while investigators were seeking a statement from him.
Police believe the 11 victims were killed while in the illegal custody of the navy. Their bodies were never found.
Military figures were accused of abductions and extrajudicial killings during the 37-year war against the Tamil Tiger separatist movement.
Several intelligence officers are facing prosecution over the murder of journalists critical of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former president whose tenure was marred by allegations of war crimes and grave rights abuses.
His recent controversial appointment as prime minister by Sri Lanka’s president has plunged the country into crisis, with parliament twice voting against the war-era strongman ruler taking over government.
Rajapaksa, who has refused to step aside as Sri Lanka drifts in a power vacuum, and several members of his family are being investigated for fraud and murder during his 10-year presidency.
But those inquiries were thrown into doubt after his surprise return to the helm of government in an alliance with President Maithripala Sirisena.
Rajapaksa lead Sri Lanka as government troops defeated the Tamil insurgency in May 2009, ending years of bitter and brutal fighting.
The final days of the offensive were marked by major abuses, according to rights groups. A UN panel has said 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final stages of the war.


Thousands of protesters try to storm Georgia parliament

Updated 4 min 22 sec ago
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Thousands of protesters try to storm Georgia parliament

  • Tens of thousands rallied in Tbilisi, demanding speaker Irakli Kobakhidze step down after a Russian lawmaker addressed the country’s parliament from the speaker’s seat
  • The Russian MP’s presence in Georgia’s parliament prompted outrage in the ex-Soviet nation which in 2008 fought and lost a brief but bloody war with Moscow

TBILISI: Thousands of protesters attempted Thursday to storm the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi, furious that a Russian lawmaker addressed the assembly from the speaker’s seat during an international event.
Demanding that the parliamentary speaker resign, about 10,000 protesters broke riot police cordons to enter the parliament courtyard, an AFP reporter witnessed. Police pushed them back, but several protesters continued trying to enter the building.
Earlier, tens of thousands rallied in central Tbilisi, demanding speaker Irakli Kobakhidze step down after a Russian lawmaker controversially addressed the country’s parliament from the speaker’s seat.
Russian Communist lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov was speaking during an annual meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), a forum of lawmakers from predominantly Orthodox countries.
The Russian MP’s presence in fiercely pro-Western Georgia’s parliament prompted outrage in the ex-Soviet nation which in 2008 fought and lost a brief but bloody war with Moscow over breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A group of Georgian opposition lawmakers demanded the Russian delegation leave the parliament’s plenary chamber.
Many protesters held Georgian and EU flags and placards that read “Russia is an occupier.”
“This is a spontaneous protest by ordinary Georgians, it has not been organized by any political party,” an MP from opposition European Georgia party, Giga Bokeria, told AFP at the rally.
Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili — widely believed to be calling the shots in Georgia as the leader of his ruling Georgian Dream party — said in a statement that he “fully shares the sincere outrage of the Georgian citizens.”
He added that he told the speaker to suspend the session.
“It is unacceptable that a representative of the occupier country chairs a forum in the Georgian parliament,” Ivanishvili said.