By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 2
An indication of the Commissioners’ reasoning is contained in the following on page 179 of the Report: “The Commission draws the irresistible inference after deliberation and consideration upon the evidence taken as a whole, that it is [the only one] consistent with the following:
– 2“Captain W.A.N.M. Weerasinghe was a member of the conspiracy with others in the Government and in the Army to assassinate General Kobbekaduwe and any others who may be present with him at that time…”
Among the reasons for holding that Weerasinghe was involved are:
1.) Military Intelligence had told Kobbekaduwe of an assassination attempt on him in the North in a marginal area,
2.) The fatal explosion was caused by a device attached to the vehicle,
3.) Weerasinghe was an explosives expert on the scene recently transferred into the area,
4.) Weerasinghe had been under an officer who had passed on government weapons to the LTTE upon President Premadasa’s bidding, which outraged Kobbekaduwe and
5.) Weerasinghe’s testimony before the various inquiries into the incident had been contradictory and misleading.
Another ‘irresistible inference’ concerns the complicity of Colonel Stephen who also died in the blast which killed Kobbekaduwe. The reader would note that the argument is shaky in several places. On the cause of the explosion, Wyatt has differed from another British expert, Radmore. Technical arguments based on minutely refining hypotheses regarding evidence that is largely lost, cannot be conclusive. All the factors concerning Weerasinghe may have a relatively innocent explanation. If Weerasinghe’s association with a superior officer who handed over weapons to the LTTE is being brought in to throw suspicion on his character, then why not suspect also Generals Ranatunge and Wanasinghe through whom the instruction to hand over weapons was passed down? Kobbekaduwe was known to have been a favourite of Ranatunge. As concerning Stephen, if he were part of the plot, would it not have occurred to him that as the officer commanding the area that was crucial to a major military plan, Kobbekaduwe would have asked him to board the same ill-fated vehicle in order to confer with him?
A short time after the incident, a journalist who was a friend of Kobbkaduewe’s sat down with some very senior army officers who were close to the deceased and rehearsed again the evidence of Kobbekaduwe’s movements minutely. They concluded that it was a landmine and no conspiracy was involved. This does not mean that the Commission’s work was a waste, although one may wish that the Commissioners had been kinder to the late Colonel Stephen’s family. There was a need for a commission because suspicion of an internal conspiracy has persisted. Much valuable evidence has been collected for anyone wanting to pursue the matter further. The danger of pushing a preferred line is inherent in examining events of a lawless era, and other commissions were not free of it.
We briefly go over the case. The officer in charge of the Islands was Brigadier Thillekaratne whose camp was at Velanai. He went away on leave on 6th August 1992. Thus, Colonel Stephen who was at Mandaitivu became acting commander of the Islands. On the 7th night, he attended a discussion in Karainagar naval base with Kobbekaduwe and others to finalise plans for a landing in Jaffna. To finalise the plan it was decided that they would all visit Araly Point overlooking Jaffna the following morning. It fell to Colonel Stephen to inform Major Rodrigo at Velanai to send vehicles to the Kayts pier the following morning to fetch the party.
Out of the 3 vehicles, Kobbekaduwe according to a witness chose the vehicle decorated with two stars for himself. The vehicles proceeded west. At one point the vehicles were stopped and Brigadier Wimalaratne asked Majors Rupasinghe and Induruwa to remain with the two vehicles while the rest proceeded in one vehicle so as not to attract the attention of the LTTE observing the area from Araly. Their visit was brief. In the meantime Rupasinghe and Induruwa had been joined by Captain Weerasinghe from Velanai. He is said to have been sent by Major Rodrigo, who wanted to pass on a radio message to Kobbekaduwe. While the returning party was 400 yards away from the party waiting with the two vehicles, they took a turn to the left. This they did as though to take a shorter route to the helicopter that had arrived at Velanai. They were then caught up in an explosion (Iqbal Athas, Sunday Times 16.8.92).
The Commission concluded that Captain Weerasinghe had in advance fitted a radio operated explosive device to the vehicle and had operated it at the fatal moment. Among the reasons adduced are:
- He had no excuse for going personally to deliver a message since Kobbekaduwe had a secure Sabre communication set.
- A subsequent photograph taken by the Wimalaratnes showed the spare wheel and the antenna removed, that were later put back, suggesting a link with the exploding mechanism.
- At an earlier inquiry, Weerasinghe had withheld his presence at the scene.
- At an earlier inquiry, Weerasinghe had withheld his presence at the scene.
The facts adduced to suggest Colonel Stephen’s complicity are:
- He was the officer then in charge and an assassination plot emanating supposedly from President Premadasa or his agent through presumably the Army Commander, required a chain of command.
- He possibly suggested Kobbekaduwe’s visit to the area at the previous evening’s meeting.
- Although he got into the same vehicle with Kobbekaduwe in Kayts, he later allegedly tried to get out of it, but was recalled. (This allegation is said to be based on a letter written home by a lieutenant who later died.)
- He transferred property in Katugastota to his wife two weeks before the incident.
Taking all these together, the case is very weak. Almost the whole itinerary was unpredictable. Stephen did not know that they would all get into the same vehicle at some point. Had they all travelled as they had begun at Kayts – Stephen with Kobbekaduwe and others in one vehicle, naval officers in the second and some other army personnel in the third – one would have expected Stephen to remain with Kobbekaduwe until they all returned to Kayts. The argument that Kobbekaduwe’s choice of the ill-fated vehicle was secured by decorating it with two stars is far from foolproof. Indeed, a man living in fear of foul play is unlikely to have been taken in by such a ruse.
Moreover, one does not expect a young captain in his twenties to be economical in his actions. He would have been bored sitting in camp. If there was a message to be passed on, he may have preferred the means of conveying it that also gave him a joy ride. He had apparently no way of knowing where he would meet Kobbekaduwe’s party in advance. His meeting the two majors waiting with the two vehicles was unplanned. Had the location of the explosion been elsewhere, it may have made putting it on the LTTE even more awkward. There is not necessarily anything sinister in removing the aerial and spare-wheel from an unusable vehicle and putting it back when it was becoming as issue. Weerasinghe could have withheld his presence at an earlier inquiry because he did not want to answer disciplinary questions about having a joy ride. His presence could not have been a crucial secret as it was revealed at a later inquiry by a major whom he was waiting with.
Again Stephen’s camp was located further west in a separate island – Mandativu. If there were a conspiracy, would it not have been awkward for Brigadier Thillekeratne who was from Velanai itself to pass on the dirty job to Stephen and go on leave? There is nothing unusual in a colonel about to take part in offensive operations transferring property to his wife. Such a transfer does not suggest a suicidal intention.
The case presented by the Commission hinges on a series of technicalities, irregularities and inexact testimony by witnesses, which need not suggest a murder plan. The Commission’s case would of course command merit if the key claim had been established – a bomb in the vehicle rather than a landmine. But on this two experts, Wyatt and Radmore, have disagreed. By minutely following the technical arguments the Commissioners, we take it, have convinced themselves of the first option. But then they were going into the matter after much information was lost.
Many officers went to the scene immediately after the explosion, and since there was much suspicion and division within the Army, they would have looked for tell-tale signs of a device fixed to the vehicle. It would not have been difficult for them to spot such signs. Except for suspicion and speculation, there did not at that time emerge a decisive picture in favour of an internal job. Even several officers who had been close to Kobbekaduwe had evidently been prepared to accept a land mine explosion caused by the weight of the vehicle. Barring a confession by someone, it is unlikely that decisive evidence will turn up later.
The military intelligence officer who warned Kobbekaduwe of an assassination plan too could not come up with anything more specific. When there was so much bitterness between senior officers, such stories were bound to float around and it was legitimate to caution Kobbekaduwe. Here again we are not presented with anything remotely decisive.
We now go into the assassination of President Premadasa, which tells us something about the atmosphere and how the Police at the highest levels were functioning at that time.
To be continued..