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.


White House threatens to veto aid bill for migrant families

Updated 13 min 48 sec ago
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White House threatens to veto aid bill for migrant families

  • Hispanic and liberal Democrats press House leaders to add provisions to the legislation strengthening protections for migrant children
  • Many House Democrats say the Senate version’s provisions aimed at helping migrant children are not strong enough

WASHINGTON: The White House is threatening to veto a $4.5 billion House bill aimed at improving the treatment of migrant families detained after crossing the US southern border, saying the measure would hamstring the administration’s border security efforts and raising fresh questions about the legislation’s fate.
The warning came as Hispanic and liberal Democrats press House leaders to add provisions to the legislation strengthening protections for migrant children, changes that might make the measure even less palatable to President Donald Trump. Though revisions are possible, House leaders are still hoping for approval as early as Tuesday.
The Senate planned to vote this week on similar legislation that has bipartisan backing, but many House Democrats say the Senate version’s provisions aimed at helping migrant children are not strong enough. House Democrats seeking changes met late Monday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Right now, the goal is really to stop — one death is just too much,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., as he left that meeting.
Many children detained entering the US from Mexico have been held under harsh conditions, and Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press last week that children have died after being in the agency’s care. He said Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people — more than triple their maximum capacity of 4,000.
Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess. While lawmakers don’t want to depart without acting on the legislation for fear of being accused of not responding to humanitarian problems at the border, it seems unlikely that Congress would have time to send a House-Senate compromise to Trump by week’s end.
In a letter Monday threatening the veto, White House officials told lawmakers they objected that the House package lacked money for beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needs to let it detain more migrants. Officials also complained in the letter that the bill had no money to toughen border security, including funds for building Trump’s proposed border wall.
“Because this bill does not provide adequate funding to meet the current crisis, and because it contains partisan provisions designed to hamstring the Administration’s border enforcement efforts, the Administration opposes its passage,” the letter said.
Several Democrats said some language they were seeking could end up in separate legislation. Several said changes might include provisions aimed at ensuring that detained children are treated humanely.
“We’ve got lives at stake,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif. He said the US has been “the gold standard” for treating refugees fleeing dangerous countries, “and I don’t think we should compromise that at all.”
The meeting may have helped ease Democratic complaints. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told reporters before the meeting that she would oppose the bill but left the door open afterward, saying, “I oppose the situation we’re in, but my main goal is to keep kids from dying.”
Much of the legislation’s money would help care for migrants at a time when federal officials say their agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants and are running out of funds.
The back-and-forth on the spending measure came as Congress’ top Democrats criticized Trump for threatening coast-to-coast deportations of migrants.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that he would give Congress two weeks to solve “the Asylum and Loopholes problems” along the border with Mexico. “If not, Deportations start!” he tweeted.
The president had earlier warned that there would soon be a nationwide sweep aimed at “millions” of people living illegally in the US, including families. The sweeps were supposed to begin Sunday, but Trump said he postponed them.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the threatened raids were “appalling” when she was asked about them at an immigration event Monday in Queens, New York.
“It is outside the circle of civilized human behavior, just kicking down doors, splitting up families and the rest of that in addition to the injustices that are happening at the border,” she said.
On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described Trump’s “chilling, nasty, obnoxious threats” and said the president “seems far more comfortable terrorizing immigrant families” than addressing immigration problems.
“I mean, my God, to threaten separating children from their parents as a bargaining chip? That’s the very definition of callousness,” Schumer said.
It is not clear exactly what Trump, who has started his 2020 re-election bid, means regarding asylum and loophole changes. He’s long been trying to restrict the numbers of people being allowed to enter the US after claiming asylum and impose other restrictions, a path he’s followed since he began his quest for president years ago. His threatened deportations came as authorities have been overwhelmed by a huge increase of migrants crossing the border into the US in recent months.
For years, Democrats and Republicans have unable to find middle ground on immigration that can pass Congress. It seems unlikely they will suddenly find a solution within two weeks.