Thursday, March 15, 2007

Long Rangers' detention illegal

The long term detention of an officer and four soldiers — all members of the once top-secret Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol — after the Police raid on an Army Safe House at Athurugiriya has turned out to be illegal.

After their arrest on January 2, they had been detained in a remand cell, normally used to house criminals and drug addicts, for three days. This was on a Detention Order for three days issued by the Senior Superintendent of Police of the Kandy Division under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). That is the maximum period an SSP is empowered to issue a Detention Order under the PTA. Thereafter, the detaining authority is required to obtain a Detention Order from the Ministry of Defence.

Mahinda Balasuriya, until last Friday DIG in charge of Central Province West, which covers the Kandy Division, wrote to Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, that a Detention Order be issued for the period January 5 to 10 to cover the further period of detention. But Mr. Marapana has refused to do so. Hence, the arrest of the Officer and four soldiers and their detention after January 5 have turned out to be illegal.

The officer and the soldiers are to file a fundamental rights violation petition before the Supreme Court, citing their illegal detention and many other reasons. The country's leading lawyers have offered to appear free of charge for them.

A Police party led by Kulasiri Udugampola, Superintendent of Police, (Special Operations), Kandy Division, conducted the raid on the Army Safe House at Millennium Park in Athurugiriya. It transpired at a top level conference at Police Headquarters on January 7 that Mr. Udugampola had neither briefed his immediate superior, DIG Balasuriya nor obtained his clearance to carry out the raid outside his division.

Last Sunday, Mr. Marapana ordered the immediate release of the Officer and soldiers. All of them barring one, a former Tiger guerrilla who surrendered and became an Army soldier, were handed over to Brigadier B.H.M.R. Tammita, General Officer Commanding the Army's Central Command. The former guerrilla was held back for what was described as "further interrogation." Last Tuesday night, Mr. Marapana ordered his release, too, after reports that he was to be moved to another location.

The Sunday Times has learnt that no incriminating evidence whatsoever about any illegal activity or conspiracy was found during investigations into the safe house. All weaponry found inside the safe house has been accounted for. Army authorities have also explained that they had arranged to stitch a set of Tiger guerrilla uniforms. Though Mr. Udugampola had contended the funds used were not approved, they explained that expenses in instances like this were secret and not accounted for. As a result of the raid and a massive propaganda blitz, the LTTE became aware of the operations of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol and the men involved. Intelligence services were not only able to confirm this but also learnt of witch hunts Tiger guerrillas had launched to punish civilians in areas they dominate in the Batticaloa district for helping LRRP teams.


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