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.


Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

Updated 35 min 42 sec ago

Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

  • Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the Malay-Muslim population
  • Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states

BANGKOK: A Thai Muslim student group Wednesday called for police to drop an order requesting universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in the Buddhist-majority state.
Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states, which since 2004 have been in the grip of a conflict between Malay-Muslim separatist rebels and Thai authorities.
Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the majority Malay-Muslim population in that region — which is under martial law.
Last week the Special Branch Bureau issued a nationwide order to universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in school, police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen told AFP Tuesday, citing “security” concerns.
The news sparked immediate outrage from the community, and the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand on Wednesday called for parliament to “cancel” the request.
The Special Branch’s order “is also a form of discrimination that breaches the constitution,” president Ashraf Awae said, speaking outside parliament.
Such “groundless accusations... could create divisions among the Muslim students and others in the university and society,” he said.
He added the federation had already heard of police requesting information on Muslim student groups from at least three major universities.
Junta chief-turned-prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday defended the Special Branch, and denied creating a “database” would be a violation of people’s rights.
“We can’t arrest anyone if they don’t do anything wrong,” he told reporters.
Prayut’s backing shows an “alarming trend of growing Islamophobia in Thailand,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk.
“This is state-sanctioned discrimination,” he told AFP, adding that the Thai constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination toward different religions and ethnic groups.
“It could feed into radicalization of Muslims in the deep south and worsen the conflict,” Sunai said.
The ex-general had masterminded a coup in 2014, leading a five-year junta regime before elections in March formally installed him as a civilian premier thanks to a new constitution tilted to the military.
Under Prayut’s tenure as junta head, police had rounded up at least 50 Thai Muslims, mostly university students, in a dragnet operation in October 2016 that authorities justified was necessary to stop a suspected car bomb plot.