President Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial Army Commander appointment is already causing reverberations in the security sector after he summarily dismissed the Director of Military Intelligence Chula Kodituwakku last week.
Fears are rampant that Lt. Gen Shavendra Silva who recently took over as Army Commander will appoint a pro-Rajapaksa Director to run the Directorate of Military Intelligence just ahead of the presidential election. The move could also result in intelligence agents accused of grave attacks on journalists and political opponents being brought out of cold storage for surveillance and intimidation on behalf of the SLPP candidate security experts have warned.
Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku’s tenure at the Directorate of Military Intelligence was different to that of his predecessors. Under his purview the Directorate of Military Intelligence tried to shed its past image of a shady intelligence agency that allowed its agents to operate death squads that took out political opponents and journalists critical of the Rajapaksa regime. “Between Mahesh Senanayake who was a different type of Army Commander and Kodituwakku they tried to reform Military Intelligence and turn it into a professional intelligence unit. Of course being part of the institution meant that they continued to suppress information about their operatives who had been involved with the Tripoli platoon accused of attacking journalists. But they also ensured those agents who were under a cloud of allegations were kept out of operational duty and far from any kind of assignment that could be abused to serve political agendas” a senior military officer who did not wish to be named told Colombo Telegraph. “It is telling that his first move as Army Commander was to remove the Military Intelligence Chief. There’s no doubt the officer appointed will be someone very much in step with Shavendra’s own political loyalties” the officer added.
But Sirisena refused to extend Lt. Gen. Senanayake’s tenure as head of the army and with three months to go to a crucial election in which former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is contesting, he appointed Major General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the Army. “Shavendra is Gota’s man through and through,” the military official told Colombo Telegraph adding that “we can no longer expect that the army will play a neutral role in the election. Shavendra will be expected to use intelligence agents and other units to tip the scales in favour of his former boss and Gajaba regiment commander”.
Shavendra Silva served in Matale when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Commanding Officer there in the late ‘80s, tasked with brutally crushing the JVP youth insurrection.
During Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure the Tripoli platoon was created using officers from the Directorate of Military Intelligence to spy on journalists and carry out deadly attacks. The Platoon operated out of Slave Island and was headed by Major Prabhath Bulathwatte. Tripoli Platoon officials have been implicated in several crimes against journalists including the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, the abduction and torture of Nation Deputy Editor Keith Noyahr and Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon. Military officials who applauded Commander Mahesh Senanayake’s efforts to rebuild the army’s image fear a return of these unsavoury characters back into active service under Shavendra Silva’s leadership.
In this backdrop Colombo Telegraph can now reveal shocking details about a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat soon after Shavendra Silva took over as Chief of Staff of the Army in January this year. The appointment came less than a month after the October 2018 coup ended with the reappointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister.
Participants included then Major General Silva, Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijeguneratne, Senior Presidential Advisor Shiral Lakthilaka, senior officials from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, Shamal Jayatillake who is the brother of UPFA National List MP and Sirisena confidant Malith Jayathilake and Sameeera who is a leading member of the President’s social media team. The latter is also a close associate of the President’s eldest daughter, Chaturika Sirisena.
The group held serious discussions about assigning two military intelligence corps to identify journalists and NGOs that were working against the President and his new found allies in the Rajapaksa faction. The TRC officials were important to the discussions because of its control over all mobile communications networks in the country. Sources told Colombo Telegraph that the preoccupation for the Presidential staff was to plug the leaks that were leading to articles highly damaging to President Sirisena being published on websites like Lankaenews which the Sirisena Regime banned in Colombo. However, the sources added that Silva’s aims were far more sinister and aimed at redeploying the military intelligence to ‘keep an eye’ on troublesome journalists critical of the Rajapaksas. The new Chief of Staff of the Army was also interested in stopping investigations into so-called emblematic cases in which military intelligence operatives were involved. The plan discussed that day was to begin the surveillance and intimidation with a relatively unknown person, who could not be viewed as a political target. Under discussion was the prospect of taking physical custody of digital equipment belonging to journalist and NGO activists by staging an accident or robbery.
Reliable sources in the military claim that even though Brigadier Kodituwakku was reportedly transferred due to his services being required elsewhere in the army, his new appointment is still pending.
Silva was particularly concerned about Brigadier Kodituwakku Colombo Telegraph reliably learns because he was instrumental in bringing intelligence and investigative agencies together after the Easter Sunday bombings. “Over the years with CID investigating MI officers for murder and abduction a massive trust deficit had grown between the CID and the DMI” said a senior law enforcement official. “Brigadier Kodituwakku did what he could to mitigate that trust gap that could have hampered the investigation into the bombings after April 21. He didn’t think that thousands of Military Intelligence personnel and 700 CID officers should be at loggerheads because 20 MI personnel had been suspected of grave crimes that the police detectives were investigating” the official added.
But military sources explained that this was exactly what Gotabaya Rajapaksa feared. Since CID and Commander Mahesh Senanayake had developed a strong working relationship, the former Defence Secretary feared that this would lead to MI officers cooperating with CID investigations and refusing to take the fall for orders given by Rajapaksa any longer.
“Recently President Sirisena made this claim that he had never fired a Government bullet at a political opponent. He didn’t have to. Appointing Shavendra Silva army commander before this election is more than enough to make sure that the white vans are back in service and ready to go the moment Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins the election” the military official quipped, “then there will be enough government bullets back in service against political opponents and whoever else decides to cross the Government”. (By TB Bambaradeniya)