By Colombo Telegraph –
“Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accused Inspector General, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and former Air Force squadron leader Nishantha Gajanayake of direct responsibility for numerous disappearances in Colombo” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington. We publish below a few extracts from US embassy cables related to alleged abductor Nishantha Gajanayake and some exclusive photographs of him.
When Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister
Chief Justice Silva has generally been viewed as a reliable supporter of the Rajapaksa government. His decision to stay the removal of the Tamils is a welcome demonstration of judicial independence. President Rajapaksa’s expressed concern that the killing of two Tamil Red Cross employees was designed to discredit him before his speech to the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva on June 15 (ref B) now appears misplaced. The decision of his brother, Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, to proceed with the internal deportations has likely done far more damage to Sri Lanka’s image. Government claims that the movements were voluntary are inaccurate based on numerous eyewitness accounts. Inspector General Abeywardena’s comments suggesting that Tamils were removed in response to criticism against the Government for failing to control abductions seemed particularly tone-deaf just a day after opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accused him, Gothabaya Rajapaksa, and former Air Force squadron leader Nishantha Gajanayake of direct responsibility for numerous disappearances in Colombo (septel). Embassy will monitor closely over the coming weekend whether the GSL complies with the Supreme Court’s stay order. (Secret Cable dated June 8, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo Robert O. Blake.)
With the President Rajapaksa and Gotabaya
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ABDUCTIONS PLAGUE MUSLIM COMMUNITY
Muslim businessmen have been subjected to abductions for the first time in recent weeks, marking a new and disturbing trend. Following numerous complaints from Muslim community groups, Ambassador called on Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem (strictly protect), who stated that support for abductions of Muslim businessmen comes from “the very top.” Opposition United National Party legislator Lakshman Seneviratne, speaking in Parliament, accused Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, Colombo Deputy-Inspector General of Police Rohan Abeywardena and former Air Force Squadron Leader Nishantha Gajanayake of orchestrating abductions. Ambassador raised U.S. concerns about the new trend of Muslim abductions with Foreign Minister Bogollogama on June 13. (Secret Cable dated June 19, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo Robert O. Blake.)
With Shiranithi Rajapaksa
UNP CONNECTS ABDUCTIONS TO GOTHABAYA
On June 6, during an emergency session of Parliament, United National Party (UNP) parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne accused Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, Colombo Deputy-Inspector General of Police Rohan Abeywardena and former Air Force Squadron Leader Nishantha Gajanayake of orchestrating abductions. Seneviratne stated that Gajanayake, a retired Air Force officer whose last assignment was as Executive Assistant to former Sri Lanka Armed Forces Commander Donald Perera, was Gothabaya’s personal link to the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP, or “Karuna faction”) in Colombo. He added that Gajanayake arranged abductions using the TMVP on orders from Gothabaya and with the assistance of police officers acting under Abeywardena. Although Seneviratne did not differentiate between Muslim abductions and Tamil abductions during his condemnation of the Defense Secretary, he did lodge specific accusations concerning the abduction of a prominent Muslim COLOMBO 00000861 002 OF 002 businessman against Defense Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella’s security detail, leading to angry exchanges in Parliament. Seneviratne stated that a Muslim businessman’s brother told him that Rambukwella’s bodyguards lured the businessman to a hotel in Kandy and then held him for ransom, demanding a “colossal” sum of money. (Secret Cable dated June 8, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo Robert O. Blake.)
With Namal Rajapaksa
On June 21, a special unit of the Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Unit (CID) arrested former Air Force Squadron Leader Nishantha Gajanayake in connection with an ongoing probe into abductions, extortion and extra-judicial killings. Among other crimes, Gajanayake is alleged to have arranged the abduction and killing of two Tamil Red Cross employees on June 1 (ref A). However, Gajanayake’s arrest is mired in political controversy. On June 18, the United National Party (UNP) filed a no confidence motion with the Speaker of Parliament alleging that Defense Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella deliberately misled Parliament when he said that Tamils evicted from Colombo had left voluntarily (ref C, D). The ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) counter-attacked by filing its own no-confidence motion with the Speaker on June 20 against UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne, in part for his explosive allegations that Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa was organizing abductions and using Gajanayake as his point of contact with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-breakaway Karuna faction (ref B). Now that the CID has arrested Gajanayake on charges similar to Seneviratne’s allegations in Parliament, observers are waiting to see 1) whether Gajanayake will attempt to shield himself from prosecution by threatening to expose the Defense Secretary; 2) whether the UNP will release the information it alleges to have gathered that connects Gajanayake to Gothabaya; and 3) whether the UNP and SLFP will pursue their competing no-confidence motions.
With the former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
ABDUCTIONS “MASTERMIND” ARRESTED
¶2. (C) On June 21, the CID arrested Nishantha Gajanayake, a retired Air Force Squadron Leader whose last assignment was as Executive Assistant to a former Sri Lanka Armed Forces Commander, on charges of masterminding abductions, extortions and extra-judicial killings. Among other crimes, Gajanayake is alleged to have personally carried out the abduction and killing of two Tamil Red Cross employees on June 1 (ref A). According to several Embassy sources, including Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Member of Parliament Suresh Premachandran (strictly protect), the two Tamil Red Cross employees were abducted and killed because Gajanayake recognized one of them as a former Tiger operative. Gajanayake apparently thought that the Red Cross employee also recognized him as he was talking to Karuna cadres in the lobby of a Colombo hotel. Gajanayake panicked and immediately orchestrated the abduction, which was carried out during the daytime at the Colombo main train station. Witnesses were able to record the license plate of the white van used in the abduction and provide descriptions of the abductors, including Gajanayake, who were posing as police officers.
¶3. (SBU) The GSL has publicly touted Gajanayake’s arrest as evidence that it is serious about prosecuting human rights offenses. Defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella stated: “This clearly shows the bona fides of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration.” The Daily Mirror quoted an anonymous CID investigator stating that they had arrested Gajanayake — the COLOMBO 00000899 002 OF 003 “mastermind” behind the “spate” of abductions, extortions and killings after collecting “enough evidence.” The same CID investigator stated that Gajanayake worked in concert with a “terrorist group” to carry out the abductions, but failed to elaborate on which terrorist group was involved or on any additional suspects CID is investigating. UNP
ALLEGATIONS PARTIALLY VERIFIED
¶4. (C) On June 6, during an emergency session of Parliament to discuss the GSL’s forced transport of hundreds of Tamils from Colombo, United National Party (UNP) parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne accused Gajanayake of working on behalf of Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa and in concert with Colombo Deputy-Inspector General of Police Rohan Abeywardene to orchestrate abductions (ref B). Seneviratne stated that Gajanayake arranged abductions and extra-judicial killings using Karuna cadres on orders from Gothabaya and with the assistance of police officers acting under Abeywardene’s instructions. Although Seneviratne alleged that he has evidence to verify his accusations, the link between Gothabaya, Abeywardene and Gajanayake has not been verified. Likewise, the CID has not implicated the Karuna faction in Gajanayake’s arrest, instead referring to a “terrorist group.” Despite this, Seneviratne confided to us on June 21, shortly after news of Gajanayake’s arrest was announced, that he is prepared to verify all of his allegations.
COMPETING NO-CONFIDENCE MOTIONS
¶5. (SBU) On June 18, the UNP filed a formal motion with the Speaker of Parliament seeking a vote of no confidence against defense spokesman and Minister of Foreign Employment, Promotion and Welfare Keheliya Rambukwella. The basis of the UNP’s motion rests upon Rambukwella’s statements to Parliament on June 7 that Tamils evicted from Colombo lodges left voluntarily. Two days later on June 9, Rambukwella sat with Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as he publicly apologized on behalf of the GSL and acknowledged that Tamils were removed from Colombo against their will (ref E). The UNP hopes to capitalized on Rambukwella’s contradictions to force him from his ministerial position. Additionally, the UNP seeks to deal a political blow to the Rajapaksa administration after 17 UNP parliamentarians, including Rambukwella, crossed over to join the SLFP (ref F).
¶6. (C) On June 20, the SLFP counter-attacked by filing its own petition seeking a vote of no confidence against Seneviratne for allegedly distorting the truth about Gothabaya Rajapaksa’s involvement with Gajanayake, Abeywardene, Karuna and abductions. Seneviratne confided to us on June 21 that he does not believe the SLFP will press forward with its no confidence motion against him. Instead, Seneviratne sees the SLFP’s motion as a ploy to force the UNP to drop its motion against Rambukwella. Unlike Minister Rambukwella, Seneviratne has no official position to lose, even if the no confidence motion is sustained. He would still remain a member of Parliament.
Gajanayake’s arrest represents both a significant step forward in the administration’s attempt to improve its human rights record and a potentially dangerous political move that could backfire on those closest to the President. If Gajanayake is indeed behind some of the abductions in Colombo, his arrest represents a strong move towards GSL transparency and accountability for human rights violations. However, if Seneviratne’s allegations of COLOMBO 00000899 003 OF 003 Gajanayake’s ties to the Rajapaksa administration are accurate, Gajanayake could seek to shield himself by revealing the culpability of those above him. Likewise, Seneviratne and the UNP find themselves in dangerous waters. Now that Gajanayake has been arrested on grounds that mirror Seneviratne’s explosive allegations, the UNP will be pressured to prove that Gajanayake was working in concert with Gothabaya and Abeywardene. Although failure to do so would not carry any formal penalties against Seneviratne, it would discredit the UNP’s increasingly aggressive criticism of the Rajapaksa administration. (CONFIDENTIAL Cable dated June 22, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo Robert O. Blake.)
¶25. (C) Embassy has examined the lists Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernard Goonetilleke turned over to SCA PDAS Steven Mann on August 8. It is difficult to assess the status of indictments returned against 90 persons in 2004 to 2007 in the absence of further information identifying those cases and without access to court records. The few such cases that ever reach the trial stage may take a decade to do so; the courts are now dealing with cases from the mid-1990s. If the historical pattern continues, it is unlikely that many of these will result in convictions, let alone significant sentences for the perpetrators. It is highly probable that none of them will come to trial within the term of the current Sri Lankan administration, which runs until
¶26. (C) According to an RSO police contact, all six names on the list of recent arrestees are related to the case of retired Air Force Wing Commander Nishantha Gajanayake (ref m), which has received wide media coverage and has been the subject of parliamentary debate. Gajanayake’s last position before his retirement was that of executive officer to then-Air Force Commander Donald Perera, now Chief of Defense Staff. According to accusations leveled in Parliament in early June by the opposition UNP, Gajanayake ran an abduction, murder and extortion ring under the direction of senior officials, including Colombo Criminal Investigation Division Deputy Inspector General Rohan Abeywardene, that ultimately reported to the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government. If there is any truth to this, Embassy considers it improbable that charges will be filed against Gajanayake (ref n).
¶27. (C) There are, however, similar cases from the mid-1990s now working their way through the courts involving officials who have since been promoted and are now in key positions in MoD. We are following a case dating from 1996 involving the disappearance of 25 villagers from the Jaffna peninsula in which Lt. Col. Duminda Keppetiwalana, now the executive assistant of Army Commander Fonseka, is implicated. (Keppetiwalana has been denied U.S.-funded training under the Leahy Amendment because of pending charges against him, ref o.) The magistrate who was handling the case has since been transferred from Jaffna to Colombo and demoted to juvenile court. If the 1996 case is quashed, it will be an indication that Sri Lanka is making little headway on accountability.
¶28. (C) The handling of more recent cases, such as the massacre of 13 residents of Allaipity (Kayts island) allegedlly at the hands of Navy personnel on May 13, 2006, and the killing of five students at a Vavuniya agricultural college on November 18, 2006, apparently by army and STF personnel, will also reveal whether Sri Lanka has developed the political will to enforce discipline, apply the rules of war, and hold its servicemen and police accountable for abuses. (CONFIDENTIAL Cable dated September 6, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo Robert O. Blake.)
¶9. (C) Ambassador then inquired about the recent release on bail and dismissal of most charges against former Air Force Group Captain Nishantha Gajanayake and others who had been arrested for involvement in the abduction and murder of two Sri Lankan Red Cross workers and other “disappearances,” noting that a senior military official had appeared to post bail for Gajanakaye. Samarasinghe appeared deeply embarrassed, only saying, “I don’t know” and suggesting that we ask the Attorney General about the status of the case.
¶10. (C) COMMENT: Samarasinghe is an important interlocutor, especially in the conext of the Consultative Committee on Humanitaria Access (CCHA), which he chairs. Our recent intractions with him on human rights issues have beenless productive, with Samarasinghe often appearing to be engaged in simple damage control efforts. Defending Sri Lanka’s spotty human rights record is a difficult task, and Samarasinghe in this meeting appeared uncharacteristically nonplussed. The upcoming UPR will constitute a major opportunity for member states to question Sri Lanka on its failure to address human rights concerns. Samarasinghe is well aware of this and is seeking to use this to prod action on the Constitutional Council and perhaps other concerns. (CONFIDENTIAL Cable dated February 11, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo Robert O. Blake.)
Brig. Manjula Manatunga, Brig. Athula Kodippily, Lasantha Samarakoon, Wg Cdr Nishantha Gajanayake, Maj. Athulathmudali, Col. Tuan Nisham Muthalif(KIA), Maj. Devamitta Dissanayake(KIA)during JVP Insurrection (88′-90′) on a hunting mission — at Welimada – Nuwaraeliya area.