By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 11
Any suggestion that the investigation into the Vijaya Kumaratunge (VK) murder was ‘lacklustre’ (KPJ, see Sect.19.8.1) during the Jayewardene presidency is probably unfair. Until about the end of 1988, as the Commission has also recorded, the CID and CDB had regular conferences in which the progress on the VK investigation was among the subjects discussed. According to a senior official, these conferences may have lapsed for a number of reasons. They were waiting to see the intentions of the new government and foreign trips of senior officials too may have intervened. It is a fact that photographs and descriptions of Lionel and Tarzan were circulated, and it is these that helped Dias and Basil of the CDB to apprehend Lionel in March 1989. If there was interference, it started after Premadasa was made presidential candidate, besides being prime minister, so that the defence officials were bound to listen to him.
Lionel Ranasinghe alias Gamini upon arrest on 14th March 1989 was taken to VK’s area, questioned about the murder and the locations. SP Gamini Perera was immediately convinced that they got the right man. Lionel gave them a long list of persons whom he had killed – nearly 50. He also led them to an Uzi sub-machine gun, which he had apparently stolen from STF men travelling in a bus and hidden at Punchi (Small) Borella. The CDB was also convinced that Lionel was a straight JVP killer – an extra-ordinary marksman, but with no political sense. According to an officer then in the CDB, “When we take in a criminal element, we normally give him a beating. But with Gamini [Lionel] we did not so much as pinch him. He came out with everything quite spontaneously.”
This officer also deemed the transfer of the investigation to the CID quite legitimate, since the case was an important one, and because while the CDB is confined to the Colombo metropolis, the CID has greater resources and an island-wide coverage. As to the Commission’s charge that the CID conducted no serious inquiry, this too is defended by the CDB officer on the grounds that JVP names like Asoka and Jayantha (given by Lionel) are simply names which offer no further leads than LTTE names like Kumar and Visu.
The Commission seemed to lay great store by the disclosure that Ranjan Wijeratne interrogated Lionel – a dangerous criminal – on the grounds that the Law does not provide for such interrogation by a cabinet minister. The Police are clear that this was no isolated instance and there was nothing sinister about it. Ranjan Wijeratne, according to a contemporary senior CDB officer, dropped in at least 20 times on his way to Parliament during the insurgency. The CDB officer said they appreciated this, adding that at a time when work was hard and their lives were at risk, Wijeratne came to see what they were doing and kept up their morale.
As for getting rid of Lionel, police sources said that such things were not uncommon then, as it was difficult to get a conviction in Court. We learn that at the end of September 1989 Chandra Jayawardena was to go away for a few weeks, and Lionel disappeared around this time. Six years later Chandra Jayawardena told the Commission that Lionel had escaped during a shoot-out while the Police were taking him along in the Homagama area. The police team led by SSP Nimal Fernando that was helping the Commission found no evidence of the shoot-out and escape story, and the Commission did not accept it. According to a senior police officer in another unit, it was suggested to him that he should take Lionel and get rid of him. He added that the trip to Homagama had been arranged after he refused. Another officer said that had a report been filed with the Attorney General to say that Lionel had died in a shoot-out and that his body had been disposed of under Emergency Regulation 15A, the matter would have been closed. He added that it was the claim of an escape that made matters awkward.
We received further testimony from a police officer on the death of Lionel Ranasinghe (Jayatilleke) alias Gamini. He was an excellent marksman who had been trained by a former army sergeant in the Ratnapura jungles. Lionel was also the first JVP assassin – the JVP had used contract killers before. Lionel had murdered about 50 persons. About late 1987, a unit was formed under SSP Piyasena to comb out the JVP from an area which included Nugegoda, Mt Lavinia and a part of Colombo Division. It needed six inspectors and volunteers were called. They got only two inspectors and two sub-inspectors.
Subsequently one sub-inspector was shot and injured, while the other was shot dead by Lionel at his home in Maharagama. Then his stomach was cut open and his intestines were lifted and shown to his mother. Our source said that a principal interest in killing Lionel was to avenge the murder of this sub-inspector, and it had nothing to do with Ranjan Wijeratne. This source also said that it was made out to be an escape as the JVP was then strong and Lionel’s death becoming public would have put individual police officers under pressure.
We also received further confirmation that the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunge was a JVP operation. According to an activist source, a man from Galle had been sent to set up a trade in Vijaya Kumaratunge’s area and spy for the JVP. He was a respectable man, wearing national and travelling in a van.
So far the critique (by KPJ) cited has considerable merit. In killing Kumaratunge, as far as Lionel was concerned, he was following orders from the JVP. The cases against Ranjan Wijeratne and Premadasa seem very weak. What we object to, is a certain complacency in critiques which stop short of an interest in bringing out the truth. It is dangerous to argue that legal procedures were meaningless in those times, so that rough justice was the norm, “however deplorable it may seem from a human rights standpoint”.
It becomes an elitist self-serving argument to perpetuate repressive laws and oppressive social conditions. Does it not assume that no policemen care about integrity and high professional standards? What is the CID if its job is not that of investigating crime and getting a conviction in a court of law? Has there not been too much complacency about impunity and deteriorating standards of the Police for some decades? (Wijeweera himself did not want to protest when the PTA was introduced in 1979 supposing that it would apply only to the North- East!) In place of serious policing, we are today being treated to convenient confessions and drastic action based on these. After all Lionel was a person who could easily have been convicted in a court of law, since eyewitnesses to the VK assassination were available and the motor cycle and accomplices had been traced.
The failure of the CID to protect Premadasa is among its damning lapses. This failure is part and parcel of its way of functioning. There are concerns that are even more serious.
To be continued..