EDITORIAL, THE ISLAND
It is reported that the officer and the four soldiers, of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, arrested and detained for days by a special police team recently, are contemplating legal action against violation of their fundamental rights. Details of the would-be lawsuit are not yet known but many a human rights lawyer of eminence is said to have offered to help them with their case free of charge.
Deep penetration operations are a closely guarded secret. They are suicidal missions. It takes years for some of these operations to be planned and executed against numerous odds. Long rangers by taking the battle close to the Tigers’ den have proved the capability of the Sri Lankan army to beat Prabhakaran at his own game - guerrilla warfare.
These men are seldom seen but their missions much admired. The killing of the terrorist kingpin Shanker, described as Prabhakaran’s right hand man, was blamed by the LTTE on these deep penetration units. When Tamil Chelvam, the notorious terrorist masquerading as a politician, had a narrow escape some months ago, the mine attack was also blamed by the LTTE on these groups.
It is also said that by the time the LTTE declared its unilateral truce, the LTTE had been compelled to restrict the movements of its leaders due to the successful forays of Long Rangers of the army. Withdrawal of these units from their territory is also said to be one objective of the Tigers’ truce.
It was alleged that the widespread pre-election violence unleashed by powerful ministers of the previous regime was with the help of certain military personnel. Some of them have already been arrested. So, when a tip off was given, the police team that arrested the Long Rangers for want of information to the contrary and perhaps being innocent of their existence, may have plunged feet first into action not knowing what they were really doing or the gravity of it. There had been no communication, as reported, between this police team and the military high rankers about the Long Rangers and their safe house.
But these police officers should have known better in that such operations are usually done undercover. Identity of the suspects and the details of their arms and equipment are kept secret to facilitate investigations. On the other hand, the police were dealing with an officer and his soldiers and they should have been cautious and wise not to create a bull-in-a-china-shop scene.
Over-enthusiasm often takes precedence over senses but this must not be so with a special police team led by a senior officer. At least after the arrests, the police should have restrained themselves and checked with the military top brass whether the army officer was telling the truth without subjecting them to humiliating treatment.
These long rangers, the pride of the Sri Lankan army, had, according to press reports, been treated like common criminals. They had been languishing in a remand cell following arrest and some ‘brave’ policemen had heaped abuse and humility on them. Ironically, the detention of these men combating terrorism had been carried out on orders issued by an SSP under the very Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), introduced to enable those dealing with terrorists to do so effectively. It is unfortunate that the arrest of these deep penetration men should have come at a time when the real terrorists are moving about freely thanks to the on-going truce.
It is a matter for happiness that Defence Minister Tilak Marapana saw to it that the military personnel were released and their names cleared albeit late. He should be thanked for having made that bold decision given the political twist that was being given to the incident.
As for the police and all others, who had a hand in the arrest of these long rangers and exposing their identity and safe house, they well and truly kicked into our own goal.
It behoves the government to prevent repetition of such unfortunate incidents. A public apology must be tendered to the officer and the soldiers concerned.