Protected Government Killers: The Trincomalee Shootings of 2 January 2006

Rajan Hoole and Kopalasingam Sritharan, in Colombo Telegraph,  27 July 2022, …. where the title runs thus “Impunity in times of uncertainty – Part IV: Kapila Jayasekera: Killer-in-chief in both ACF and Five Students Cases”

As we have previously pointed out, one of the hazards of tracing killer operations is that lines of responsibility have been deliberately fuddled. Kapila Jayasekere in particular has spent considerable energy covering his racist and murderous tracks, setting a dangerous example to the men under him.

Regarding the Trinco Five case: In August 2008, SP Operations Kapila Jayasekere tried to refute Dr. Manoharan’s testimony that on 2nd Jan 2006 Jayasekere was already at the scene in his pickup when the shooting of the 5 students in Trincomalee took place at 7.35 PM. In his effort to cover his tracks, Jayasekere made claims before the Commission of Inquiry that were fatal to his denial. The same trend is evident in the ACF case. Jayasekera told the Commission in the Five Students case that he picked up ASP Serasinghe in his vehicle and reached the scene of crime at 8.20 PM.

But Police Sergeant Upali Gunawardene who had been at the UC Junction checkpoint at the time of the incident had already testified at the inquest in January 2006 that only two security officers were admitted to the scene of crime that had been sealed off, the first was an Inspector Zawahir, followed after a long time by ASP Serasinghe in his own vehicle. We conclude that Kapila Jayasekere lied to deny his presence at the scene at the time of the incident and that this was in fact his modus operandi in the Five Students killings and the later ACF case.

The fact that Kapila Jayasekere’s blatant lies have not been challenged or swayed investigators reveals how the authorities have cooperated in distorting the evidence in serious crimes, and why most violations in Lanka remain a closed book.

Another damning piece of evidence was presented in UTHR (J) Special Report 24, which quotes the testimony of Poongulalon, a survivor of the Trinco Five killings who told a hospital visitor that the boys were first beaten up in the back of a vehicle and thrown onto the road by STF men who were about to leave, when an officer seated in the vehicle barked out an order to kill the boys. Poongulalon who passed out after the beating was left for dead.

As in the ACF case, we believe the victims in Trincomalee may not have been killed had Kapila Jayasekere not been nearby to issue the fatal instructions.

Regarding Navy 11: Lt. Cdr. Sumith Ranasinghe was named in the planning stage. Vice Admiral Travis Sinniah explained to the CID that the cells in Gun Site at Trincomalee base where youths abducted for ransom were held had been controlled by Lt Cdr R.P. Sumith Ranasinghe and DKP Dassanayake, both under Navy Commander Karannagoda.

In the ACF Case: The ITJP report cited adds: “From June 2006 to April 2007 [4 days after the meeting above], RPS Ranasinghe was appointed to ‘Special Duties’ on the Staff of Eastern Commander, Thisara SG Samarasinghe, conducting covert operations in the east. RPS Ranasinghe was involved in at least two attacks on the LTTE in Muttur in July 2006, weeks before the killing in Muttur of 17 aid workers from NGO Action Contre la Faim on 4 August 2006.” This suggests that Ranasinghe knew about the ACF but it takes us no further. 

What we come back to is the Club of Impunity that was in evidence in the killing of five students. Not every Sinhalese joined that club, but all were mindful that it could punish them.

* In the five students’ case Dr. Gamini Gunatunge did an honest postmortem confirming bullet entry wounds, giving the lie to the Army’s statement that the deaths owed to accidental explosion of the grenades the boys were carrying.

* In the ACF case Dr. Waidyaratne gave his honest opinion of the time of death as 4th afternoon to Peter Apps of Reuters and later changed it to early morning in keeping with the Commission’s agenda.

In Travis Sinniah’s case, he was Tamil, but from a leading school and may have had the connections to survive the backlash for his testimony against his errant mates.

We have identified some members of the informal club, starting with Chief Justice Sarath Silva who blocked the investigation into the murder of Fr. Jim Brown.

We can be sure that Kapila Jayasekera, Sumith Ranasinghe and Sarath Weerasekera, if not buddies, knew each other as comrades in arms. 

It is unlikely that there were well laid out plans much in advance to attack the ACF, that they knew exactly how the military operations begun on 27th July would progress, or that the LTTE would attack Mutur late on 1st August. But once the LTTE began pulling out on 3rd August, the Club found it opportune to put into operation a decision already taken – to eliminate a troublesome witness. Mutur Police Station had been under siege and Kapila Jayasekera fitted in as the right man for the job. As SSP Operations by then he had a duty to go to Mutur, but he went in such a way that if his plans were botched up, he could evade blame and his presence would be untraceable.

We refer to the Daily Mirror report of the Commission hearing of 23 Nov. 2008 by Sumaiya Rizwi. This was four days after Kodagoda had summarily dismissed PC Shanmugarajah’s affidavit. Rizwi refers to an unnamed very senior police officer who went to Mutur supposedly on 4th August 2006, accompanied by OIC Ranaweera of the Mutur Police. Their planned departure by sea from Trincomalee at 9.00 AM, the top officer said, had been delayed to 9.00 PM because of an LTTE artillery attack on the Mutur Jetty. The unnamed very senior police officer said he signed the logbook at the Mutur Police Station at 2400 hrs on the 4th (12.00 AM on the 5th) which he said they mistakenly entered as 1200 hrs (12.00 Noon) and later changed. We wonder why the Commission asked the Press to withhold Jayasekera’s name, but not OIC Ranaweera’s?

The very senior officer had uttered patent lies which the Commission failed to pick out in contrast to the short shrift Kodagoda gave Shanmugarajah. Rizwi reported the senior officer the following day:

“OIC Ranaweera (Mutur Police) and I left for Mutur on August 4 at 9.00 PM the Witness said. According to notes kept by the SSP Tricomalee Police Nihal Samarakoon, the witness and the Mutur Police OIC Ranaweera were in Muttur at 10.30 AM and travelled through the town, a fact the witness denies.”

On the other hand, we have from Shanmugarajah’s affidavit which Kodagoda threw out, the invaluable testimony:

“On the day after the big attack on the Main Police Station [2nd] the OIC Ranaweera returned from Trincomalee. The attack had gone quiet and there was no further shooting. They arrived on a gunboat and it came to the Lagoon; I could see it arrive from my post. He was with the ASP Mulleriya. The Commandos arrived at the Jetty, and they came in through the back door of the Police Station near guard post number 9. They brought with them a lot of ammunition as we had almost run out of it…” 

This statement is clarified by an earlier question put by Kodagoda to Naval Lt. Meepawala who had been at the Mutur Jetty on 26th August 2008:

Please consider this carefully. A number of witnesses stated that a group of Commandos had reached the Mutur Police Station on the 3rd at about 3 PM. This matched your statement. Also, those witnesses who had been at the Mutur Police Station said that the group that arrived at 3 PM was headed by a Captain called Siranjeeve.”

Meepawala however rejected the claim that Mutur Jetty came under fire on the 4th and was disabled. Kodagoda put to Meepawala the claimed arrival of the very senior police officer, “On the 4th night the Naval Boats carried a Police Officer from Trinco to the Naval Jetty Camp. The Police officer testified to having met a military officer from a Commandos regiment by the name of Pathirana. (He also testified to having met you Meepawala).” This was something Meepawala said he could not remember:

 The situation was such that I was not in a position to remember names. I recollect a Major because of his accolades which he was wearing on his shoulder and I couldn’t recall any names.”

We have from the above, Mutur OIC Ranaweera as duty demanded had reached Mutur Police Station at 3.00 PM on 3rd August, with his commanding officer, an ASP, with the incoming group of commandos the IGP had promised the previous day. As for the senior Trincomalee-based police officer’s identity, if we exclude SSP Samarakoon and Trinco DIG Abeywardene, it must be, and appropriately, SSP (Operations) Kapila Jayasekere. A witness he regularly met professionally, saw him at Mutur Police Station on the 5th morning and spoke to us.

 Then we have Samarakoon’s puzzling record that Jayasekere and Ranaweera were in Mutur Town at 10.30 AM on the 4th. We may conclude that Jayasekere did in fact come to Mutur as he claimed, with OIC Ranaweera, but a day earlier than he admitted. These considerations rubbish his story. This among other reasons made it necessary for Kodagoda to trash Shanmugarajah’s testimony.

We conclude that Kapila came to Mutur on 3rd afternoon with a purpose he could not reveal, which he had to keep hidden along with fiction about his arrival and movements.

To make the final connections we have to go back to Shanmugarajah’s testimony.

About afternoon on the 4th the Trincomalee ACF which had spoken to SSP Samarakoon in Trincomalee giving a list of their staff in Mutur, also called the Mutur Police Station and spoke to OIC Ranaweera, who in turn discussed it with ASP Mulleriya.

Whatever had been planned, there seemed some confusion after the ACF’s request of protection for its staff. A party of ten in Mutur left for the ACF office. Apart from commandos there were Home Guard Jehangir, who had been swearing to kill Tamils and two Police officers. One was a ‘bodyguard’ to OIC Ranaweera, named Susantha. The other was the assistant Weapons Manager Nilantha. Just after the group left the Station, Shanmugarajah continued with the most decisive part of his testimony:

“PC Punchinilame ran out of the Telephone Room. He started to say “Sir….”. The OIC at the same time received a call on his mobile telephone and was talking in Sinhala. I understood it appeared that the OIC was being told that not all LTTE cadres had left the town and that they were in the ACF office at that moment. I was near my bunker when this call came through and it is only about ten metres from the location where the OIC picked up this call. I do not know who called the OIC with this information.

“The OIC then got onto his radio handset. I heard the OIC say: ‘Susantha, I have received information that the LTTE may be in the ACF office, however I have also received information that it is ACF staff inside the ACF Office, approach carefully. If it is ACF people protect them and bring them back to the Police Station. If it is LTTE you can attack them. Do not be scared of anything if it is LTTE just give them the maximum you can, I will look after you.’” 

We consider this decisive, because the last call brings in Kapila Jayasekera. Ranaweera having been in Jayasekera’s company would have known the intentions of the senior officer then playing hide and seek as he had done in the killing of the five students. But the fact that the ACF had approached SSP Samarakoon and had called him would have made the OIC uncertain of how to deal with the situation. There was no LTTE in town as Shanmugarajah had verified from a local Muslim. He had got out on his bicycle. A heavily armed group with Jehangir and the OIC’s trigger-happy minions going to ‘rescue’ the ACF staff was incongruous. The last caller, who would have been an officer superior to the OIC and ASP and gave the final directions, which Ranaweera conveyed with the calculatedly ambivalent formula ‘I will look after you’ sealed the fate of the ACF staff. We quote from UTHR Sp. Rep. No.30:

“Led by the commandos, Jehangir and the rest of the party including policemen and home guards turned left from the main road past the Hospital, and went to the ACF. The commandos surrounded the place. Those at the ACF were drinking tea and eating biscuits, stuff they had bought a little while ago. The commandos called the ACF staff and asked them in Sinhalese what they were doing there after everyone else had left. The latter replied that their Trinco office had asked them to remain. Jehangir butted into the conversation and without giving the ACF staff a chance to explain, insisted that the staff were LTTE. Susantha and Nilantha, the two policemen with him said nothing. The commandos remained passive. Jehangir got the staff to kneel, and the victims were fired upon as they begged for mercy. It was all over within five minutes from the time they arrived.”

The final caller above, a policeman with authority intently watching the developments on the ground, could have been none other than Kapila Jayasekera, SSP Operations. 

Law Enforcement a Prisoner of State Ideology of Racism and Terror

We have fundamentally two testimonies, unsupported except by our own judgment, to get at important truths behind the ACF killings. Why does our system of law enforcement fail so miserably, and the Sinhalese largely either do not care or dodge responsibility by associating all ills with Tamil or Muslim perfidy? Our signal cases are notorious for the lack of public-spirited witnesses coming forward. The politics of the Sinhalese has driven them to feel so weak and vulnerable, that the clarion call of the Weerasekeras not to let the side down has become part of the Sinhalese psyche.

More recently in 2018, Rear Admiral Weerasekera attacked Dr. Deepika Udagama then Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, over the HRC’s involvement in the commonly agreed vetting of Lankan troops sent abroad on UN Peace-keeping missions. In an article published in Sinhalese, he accused Dr. Udagama of working with NGOs to treacherously further the interests of the Tigers, and in an article in July 2018 Weerasekera called for the death penalty for all traitors under the rule of a patriotic Government (Daily Ft, 17 Jul.2018). (Notable here is the role of Sinhalese and Tamil ideologues, for their different reasons, keeping the LTTE notionally alive after their complete physical extermination.) Although Dr. Udagama was unshaken and the demand itself was silly – it was to protect the country’s name – to others hearing it, it would have reinforced the message that letting the side down is dangerous.

The Sansoni Commission looking into the 1977 communal violence ignored the immediate cause, which involved a Tamil police officer at Jaffna police station being ordered by his Sinhalese superiors to issue a false message over police radio that Sinhalese were being attacked in Jaffna. No Sinhalese officers spoke up for him and the Tamil officer, Inspector Gurusamy, was later murdered by Tamil insurgents. The radio provocation to riot was officially covered up. No Sinhalese testified to it. That illustrates PC Shanmugarajah’s dilemma in the ACF case when he was under an official death threat – to be a Tamil traitor or a patriotic Sri Lankan? Our post-independence politics has made Lankan identity a figment of the imagination – that is one dilemma concerning the current protests urging national unity.

An alternative provenance of silence was the paucity of Tamil witnesses in the five students’ case even though there were hundreds of them. They were terrorised and the Sinhalese in uniform ensured their lips were sealed. In the ACF case the local Muslim civilians who were bound to have seen the executioners were terrorized, and the one Tamil police witness was threatened.

In the Navy’s abduction for ransom scandal, Vice Admiral Sinniah gave his testimony to the Police and left the country to avoid the backlash where his heroism in military action may not have saved him from killers like the Cdr. Ranasinghes who had official blessings.

Even Sinhalese with good connections are not safe in this dispensation. It is this state apparatus developed to protect this dispensation of terror that killed Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in 2009. Given the long history of impunity in Sri Lanka, it is not right to only single out the Rajapaksas, although their culpability its clear – Mahinda had charm; he could tell Tamil political leaders that Kapila Jayasekera was behind the killing of the five students and then appoint an ‘international commission’ to cover it up.

His brother Gotabaya, just as ruthless, lacks Mahinda’s charm. In the wake of Lasantha Wickrematunge murder on 8th Jan.2009, when Gotabaya asked Chris Morris of the BBC, ‘Who is Lasantha?’ and moved to ridicule him, the menace against dissent was palpable. Morris too was disturbed when on this question of a straightforward murder, Gotabaya kept returning to the theme of fighting terrorism. The law did not exist for him.

It is a tragic comment on our state of affairs that Shani Abeysekera and Nishantha Silva, our exceptional police officers uncovering the legacy of impunity, both faced persecution: one was arrested and the other had to flee the country after Gotabaya became president.

This disease of impunity could not have been sustained if our Judiciary had avoided becoming compromised in the State’s ideology and what it demanded. The Supreme Court’s upholding the disenfranchisement of Plantation Workers marked its surrender to the executive. The power the executive wielded over the Judiciary was demonstrated in Prime Minister Kotalawala forcing the resignation of Chief Justice Alan Rose when in 1954 he failed to convict the socialist woman activist Theja Gunawardana, who wrote about high level corruption in foreign loans, on charges of defamation. Rose was the AG who argued to make the Plantation Tamils stateless.

A largely unwritten instance of judicial interference with justice concerns the 1983 Welikade Prison Massacre and the judicial censorship of the conscientious Prison Superintendent Alexis Leo de Silva who wanted the truth on record. The testimony was given to us by his son Lalanath de Silva (UTHR (J) Supplement to Special Report No.25, 2007):

“If there was one thing [my father] was ever so clear about – it was his duty as a Prison official with respect to all … committed to [his] ‘safe custody’ … That is why the [Colombo Chief] Magistrate [Keerthi Wijewardene] at the first inquest refused to record his full story – abridged what he said, taking down only what he wanted. At one point my father refused to continue unless his evidence was accurately recorded.”  The Magistrate became angry and stopped taking any more evidence from my father.

In any event, my father told me that the AG’s department counsel [C.R. de Silva]

called my father outside the room where the inquest was being held and had attempted to persuade my father to go along – his plea was that the truth would place Sri Lanka in a very adverse position internationally. My father refused to cooperate. He wanted it recorded that the Army had been complicit (by commission and omission) in the whole affair, that there were prisoners still alive after the massacre that he wanted sent immediately to the accident service for emergency treatment and that the army had blocked this and that his pleas to higher authorities to move the Tamil detainees away from Welikadeeven before the massacres had fallen on deaf ears. Of course, none of this was recorded!”

“At the second inquest, he did not take my father’s evidence because he knew my father insisted on speaking the truth and instead selected some junior officers.  It was clear to my father that both the AG’s department personnel and the Magistrate had one clear objective – to cover up the incident and return a finding where no one could be identified and prosecuted for the massacre.  My father paid for his stance.”

Kishali Pinto Jayawadene’s column in the Sunday Times of 1st Jan.2017 reflected on this theme beginning with the acquittals over MP Raviraj’s murder.

“There is a long string of such cases, including the Mylanthanai Case where the accused Sinhalese soldiers opted for a jury trial with a Sinhala speaking jury. Witnesses were brought all the way from Trincomalee in the Eastern province to the capital Colombo for the trial. The accused were acquitted on 25 November 2002.

“The acquittal occurred despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary as buttressed by (then) High Court Judge, the late S. Sriskandarajah’s observations urging the jury to reconsider its decision in the light of several factors in the evidence placed before it. However, the same verdict was returned by the jury.

“More recently we had the acquittals of the accused in the mass murder of twenty-four Tamil villagers including women and children of the Kumarapuram village in Trincomalee in the same circumstances. So there is a pattern which cannot be airily brushed aside on the assumption that these acquittals were right and proper because they were arrived at through a legal process.”

We have recorded above Chief Justice Sarath Silva blocking in 2005 AG Kamalasabayson’s move to remove the illegal Buddha statue in Trincomalee and, in 2006, his personally blocking magistrate Srinithy Nandasekaran’s investigation into Fr. Jim Brown’s disappearance.

In October 1982 the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, with Justices Wimalaratne and Colin-Thome found Judge K.C.E. de Alwis guilty of ‘conduct unbecoming of a judicial officer.’ De Alwis petitioned Parliament, which formed an ad hoc select committee which summoned Justices Wimalaratne and Colin-Thome for an inquiry.

Justice Wimalaratne responded, “I think a case has been made to review all judgments by this judge [de Alwis] in his wayward career.” The public would be fully justified in making a similar demand with regard to the career of Chief Justice Sarath Silva.

A NOTE: the dark underlining emphasis is that prevailing within the original presentation in the Colombo Telegraph …. ………….. The comments attrscted thus far are interesting and I note esepecially those by Manel Fonseka of Bambalapitiya Colombo (ex-Peradeniya)

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