Thursday, March 15, 2007

The safe house and the enemy within

"All further investigations into the Kandy Police raid on the Military Intelligence Safe House at Athurugiriya have been dropped since the authorities are now convinced it was used for legitimate purposes…"

Minister of Interior, John Amaratunga, in an exclusive interview with Anthony David, Deputy Editor (News) in The Sunday Times of May 26.

All further investigations have indeed been dropped. That is 144 days after then Superintendent of Police, Kulasiri Udugampola, Director (Operations), Kandy Division, raided house No: 844, Millennium Park, Athurugiriya - the Safe House run by Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).

During the 144 days, whilst the United National Front Government maintained a stoic silence, the country's national security interests were compromised, the Sri Lanka Army was grossly humiliated and the nation was made to believe this Safe House was nothing more than a hideout for a gang of marauding murderers in uniform.

The raid on the night of January 2, this year, led to the recovery of - ten (M4) anti tank mines (with two fuses), four light anti tank mines (thermobaric), a pair of goggles, three T-56 assault rifles, 66 sets of camouflage uniforms resembling those used by Tiger guerrillas, two water bottles, eight large claymore mines, eight small claymore mines, 17 exploders, nine rolls of 16 mm wire, eight rolls of 7.022 mm wire, three small antennas, 12 detonators and a cyanide capsule. An officer, four soldiers and a DMI informant (who was later recruited to Army ranks) were arrested.

The moment after the raid was most poignant. Inspector General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku, who had no prior knowledge, spoke on a mobile phone to Mr. Udugampola at Athurugiriya. He was to assert that Army Commander, (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle), had assured him the Safe House was used for legitimate purposes and the items found could be accounted for. Later, Lt. Gen. Balagalle himself spoke on a mobile phone to confirm to him the assurance given by his boss, the IGP. They were of no avail. For once, a Police Chief and an Army Commander found themselves hopeless and helpless.

In a lorry hired by the Athurugiriya Police, Mr. Udugampola, now an ASP (after a Supreme Court order invalidating the promotions of some to the rank of SPs) brought the weapons cache to Military Police Headquarters at Narahenpita. The six in custody followed in a Police vehicle. By then, the media had been tipped off. They arrived there but were disallowed entry by the Military Police.

The scene shifted to Cinnamon Gardens Police Station. The cache of weapons and other items were placed on display on tables and even on the floor. The media was allowed to freely photograph or video film them. After the officer protested, he and the men were allowed to remain in their vehicle.

The find and the men arrested, it was claimed, were all part of a sinister plot to assassinate Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe and other United Front Leaders. Lending credence to this claim was an earlier event - a letter then United National Party Chairman, Charitha Ratwatte, wrote to Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, during last December's polls campaign. He said thermobaric explosives had been brought from operational areas in the North to the Panaluwa Army Testing Range. Certain persons reportedly attached to a Northern Tamil political party were being trained in its use.

He alleged that Army deserters were flown from the North and training was being co-ordinated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). Mr. Ratwatte feared there might be an attempt to use these weapons on meetings held by the UNP leadership and the Leader's campaign trail. Lt. Gen. Balagalle replied there was "no substance" in the information.

Mr. Ratwatte cannot be faulted for acting promptly on what appeared then to be credible information about threats against the UNP leadership. A close confidant and loyalist of Premier Wickremesinghe, he took prompt action to avert any harm that might come against the UNP leader or other seniors.

But now, reports of threats to the lives of UNP leaders, like the allegations against the workings of the Safe House, appear to be baseless. Police investigations have revealed there is no shred of evidence. Yet a campaign of disinformation based on half-truths and untruths continued.

It was The Sunday Times (Situation Report - January 6) that exclusively revealed the fact that the Safe House was used by the Directorate of Military Intelligence to conduct counter terrorist operations. It gave details of how the Captain and five others, part of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) group, infiltrated areas controlled by guerrillas and carried out devastating attacks. Yet, the men were being detained as "terrorist suspects" under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The revelation had its repercussions. IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, summoned Mr. Udugampola to a conference of DIGs at Police Headquarters the very next day -January 7- (Situation Report - January 13) to brief them on events that led him to conduct the raid.

Mr. Udugampola disclosed the tip off came from a "very reliable informant." When Mr. Kodituwakku asked how it had happened, he replied he was in the Magistrate's Court in Teldeniya when he received a call on his cellular phone. The informant said a weapons cache was hidden in a private house at Athurugiriya. He had immediately written the details and obtained a Court Order from the Magistrate that very day.

Senior DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, raised objections. He said it would be inappropriate to call upon Mr. Udugampola to reveal details at the DIGs conference. But the Police Chief, he explained, was free to privately ask for details if he so wished. The reason - Interior Minister John Amaratunga, had directed Mr. Kotakadeniya to obtain help of CID officers and supervise the inquiry launched by Mr. Udugampola. He flaunted Mr. Amaratunga's letter and argued any statement by Mr. Udugampola could be prejudicial to the probe under his supervision.

If Mr. Udugampola told the DIGs conference the tip off for the raid came "from an informant" who called on his cellullar phone, he was to later declare he received information that Chanuka Ratwatte, (son of former Deputy Defence Minister, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte), then wanted in connection with the Udatalawinna massacre, was visiting a house in Athurugiriya. Before his briefing ended abruptly in view of objections raised, Mr. Udugampola, admitted he conducted the raid without the knowledge of his own superior officers, SSP Kandy, Ashoka Ratnaweera, then DIG Central Range, Mahinda Balasuriya or the IGP himself.

And now, investigations personally supervised by senior DIG Kotakadeniya are over. He has declared that correct procedures have been used to procure the weapons found in the Safe House. Police have found no evidence of any conspiracy or plot to assassinate any UNF leader - allegations that led to the raid by Mr. Udugampola and the subsequent inquiry under the supervision of Mr. Kotakadeniya assisted by a CID team. Nor was there any shred of evidence, or even a slight hint, that Chanuka Ratwatte had visited the Safe House. First to extracts of a report on the findings of the inquiry supervised by DIG Kotakadeniya, sent to M.N. Junaid, Secretary to the Ministry of Interior, dated January 29, this year:

"On 31.12.2001, Mr. K. Udugampola, SP, Operations Kandy, whilst conducting inquiries into the Udatalawinna Massacre in Kandy, had received information that one of the suspects in that case namely, Chanuka Ratwatte was visiting a house at Athurugiriya. The information further alleged that this house belonged to an Army officer.

"Thereafter Mr. Udugampola had obtained Magistrate's directions to conduct further inquiries and thereafter Mr. Udugampola had informed Major General Ivan Dassanayake (Provost Marshal) and on the instructions of the latter, Major Clifford Soysa had been released to go with the Police to check on the information at the house concerned.

"The Police visited the scene along with the Army personnel….…. arms and explosives were taken into custody by Mr. Udugampola. The following persons who were in that house were also taken into custody. (Note: the names and addresses of the officer, four men and informant are withheld).

Action taken by SP Mr. Udugampola

"The suspects and the productions were taken into custody and were taken to Kandy to facilitate further inquiries. The suspects were detained on a detention order issued by the SP Kandy for 03 days and thereafter an application made to the Ministry of Defence for authority to detain them for a further 90 days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

"On 5.1.2001 I received instructions from the Hon. Minister of Interior that a team of officers be directed to assist Mr. Udugampola in conducting inquiries under my personal direction. Thereupon a team of officers from the CID headed by SSP D.S.Y. Samaratunga conducted inquiries both in Kandy and in Colombo.

Evidence Available
"Capt. N (Name withheld) is the most senior officer who had been taken into custody by the Police in consequence of the inquiries conducted by Mr. Udugampola. He stated in his statement that he had functioned in the Directorate of Military Intelligence since 1991. From 14th July 2001 up to 19th December, 2001, certain military equipment was procured by him with the approval of the Director/DMI and the Director/Ops. having made applications through proper channels to conduct undercover operations in Batticaloa with the active participation of informants deployed by the DMI.

"On 19.12.2001 he went into occupation of the Athurugiriya Millennium Park house with due permission from the authority concerned. The rent for this house was paid by the Army on a signed agreement. On 21.12.2001 the party went to Batticaloa to conduct their operations and returned to Athurugiriya Safe House on 27.12.2001.

"Their decision to suspend operations was the result of the cease-fire with the LTTE which was announced. The arms and ammunition kept at Millennium house were the weaponry, which were in the possession of this team to conduct these operations. They were to be returned to the respective Armouries and Stores of the Army in due course and in fact preparations were being made on 28.12.2001 to return them to stores. As a matter of fact on 2.1.2002 a part of the stock had been handed over to the Army stores.

"Brigadier Kapila Hendavitharana corroborated the facts contained in the statement given by Captain N….. and stated that the arms referred were issued following procedures laid down by the Army and after having recorded them in the relevant documents. The Safe House at Athurugiriya was established and operated with the express permission of the Army Commander.

"The statements of the suspect Army officers and the Army informant were recorded in detail by Mr. Udugampola and these statements generally corroborate the statement made by Captain N…..

"The inquiries conducted so far have established that the arms and ammunition that were found in the Safe House had been procured by the team of officers concerned by following the correct procedures that are followed by the Army. The statement made by Brigadier Hendavitharana and the documents that were subsequently checked by the inquiring officers confirmed the stance taken by Captain N…. that the stock of weapons were in fact procured after following due process stipulated in the Army rules and regulations

"The investigations conducted so far by the Police have not been able to clearly establish the bona-fides of the alleged claim made by the suspects that the stock was kept in the house to conduct undercover operations in the East. It has to be stated clearly that the Police have no clues to affirm or deny such a claim. But it cannot be gainsaid that this team has in fact in the past been involved in such undercover operations, which has had a positive destabilizing impact on the morale of the LTTE operatives in the East.

"Undercover operations in their very essence are conducted secretively and only those who have to be necessarily kept informed are privy to these secret operations. The Army Commander and the Director of Military Intelligence are two persons who should necessarily and inexorably possess this information and both of them have confirmed that they were kept informed and their specific permission obtained for the operation.

"One necessary area where further probes may be necessary is to elicit from the Army Commander whether it is incumbent on him to keep the political authorities informed of such operations. For instance whether the Army Commander was duty bound to inform the Hon. Minister of Defence that such operations are being conducted. If such a practice had in fact been followed in the past the Army Commander would have kept the Minister of Defence informed of such operations. Conceding that such a procedure had been followed in the past and if it is now admitted that was not followed in the present case, the Army Commander would have to give a reasonable explanation as to why his superiors were not kept informed in relation to this particular operation.

"Another sticking point that may have to be clarified is as to why a Safe House for an operation to be done in the East, be established at such a great distance from the intended theatre of operations. In fact the investigating officers have attempted to elicit a cogent explanation from Brigadier Hendavitharana, but the reply has not been comprehensive and convincing. Perhaps it is believed that the Commander of the Army may be able to provide plausible reasons.

Position vis-à-vis the detention of the suspects

"As mentioned in a foregoing Para the suspects were detained under the 6(1) of the PTA for 03 days and thereafter an application was made to the Hon. Minister of Defence for obtaining a Detention Order under 9 (1) of PTA for further 90 days. On 12.1.2002 orders were received from the Ministry of Defence to hand the suspects over to the Army, which order, was duly complied with. It has been expressly indicated that the Hon. Minister has not agreed to issue this detention order on the suspects.

(Note: Defence Minister Marapana declared that the material the Police submitted to him to justify the Detention Order was "hopelessly inadequate" - See Situation Report - January 27).

Consequently further inquiries into this issue will have to be conducted under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.

"SP Udugampola has now been instructed by me that if the need arises to question Army officers, he should inform me that the officers concerned will be informed through the Army Commander to appear before the Police. This was done in order to minimize any irritant that may arise between the Army and the Police. "

Mr. Kotakadeniya's assertion that "…. this team has in fact in the past been involved in such undercover operations which has had a positive destabilizing impact on the morale of the LTTE operatives in the East" is official confirmation that the DMI did in fact conduct Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP). If there were allegations that the Safe House was used, as a "base for political conspiracies or assassination plots," as claimed, why could not the investigators find any clues at all? Would those suspected of "political conspiracies or assassination plots" follow correct, laid down Army procedures to procure weapons to indulge in something sinister like assassinating UNF leaders?

On the other hand, those making a serious allegation should have had more than a mere claim as to who was hatching a plot to kill whom? If they did, why was such information not given to the Police? Evidently, there was not even a clue in this regard for the Police to chase. That is not all. Those responsible had also launched a nation-wide propaganda campaign, easily convincing gullible sections of the media, and the public, that DMI did not carry out any Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) in any part of the country!

There were loud claims that LRRP operations were done by only other units of the Security Forces. Since there were no Long Rangers, even an interview with one of them in The Sunday Times (Situation Report - February 10) was debunked. Was this not a feeble attempt to cover up the truth? The report of Senior DIG Kotakadeniya, a veteran Police officer, has now exposed the futility of a campaign of disinformation.

The Sunday Times has learnt some disgruntled sections in the Directorate of Military Intelligence, backed by retired Army officers, some of them high ranking, were behind the campaign. During elections, which leads to a change of Government, the involvement of retired Security Forces and Police officers in campaigns for rival factions is now common practice. Those on the winning side mount pressure on the newly elected leadership to settle scores with their former colleagues, or superiors, over past rivalries. This has become all too common. But the UNF Government's continued silence, in the wake of the obvious embarrassment, made matters worse in the case of the Athurugiriya Safe House fiasco.

The saga has not ended there. Even after Mr. Kotakadeniya's report, ASP Udugampola continued with his own inquiries, ignoring instructions given to him to seek prior permission before interviewing Army personnel. Moreover, this is despite the Army officer and the four soldiers, who were detained, filing a Fundamental Rights application before the Supreme Court where Mr. Udugampola is listed as the First Respondent.

He interviewed other officers in the Army and even recorded a statement last month from Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle. His visit to Army Headquarters to personally record the statement raised questions of protocol. Police Headquarters has always followed a practice of a DIG being present when a statement of a Security Forces Commander is recorded. Lt. Gen. Balagalle is learnt to have raised issue over the matter with the Ministry of Defence.

The move drew an angry response from Austin Fernando, the outspoken Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. He has been closely monitoring developments over investigations into the Safe House fiasco. In a letter to Interior Ministry Secretary, N.M. Junaid on May 7, Mr. Fernando said:

Magistrate"s Court/Kandy Case No: 12056/2002 Athurugiriya Millennium City
"I attach a letter from Commander/SLA received in my office regarding the above matter.

"As a fundamental point I wish to raise whether a person who has been cited as the first respondent in the Fundamental Rights Application mentioned in Para 03 of the attached letter should investigate into the case pertaining to the same issue. This action of ASP Udugampola adds venom to viciousness and could be considered as unbecoming of a serious public officer.

"It would be appreciated if you could check with Actg. IG or S/DIG Kotakadeniya on this matter and take necessary action to alleviate the injustices and fears that may be in the minds of the Army personnel who seem to be under threat of vicious actions by certain Police Officers.

"I may re-iterate the famous saying that "Justice should not only be done but appear to have been done" and hope that the concerned officer respects such principles as a good public servant. Please look into this matter and do justice by the officers concerned."

Mr. Junaid acted promptly on the Defence Secretary's complaint. He called for a report from Senior DIG Mr. Kotakadeniya. Here are excerpts from a three-page report to the Interior Ministry Secretary, routed through the IGP, by Mr. Kotakadeniya:

"I received instructions from the Hon. minister of Interior to supervise and co-ordinate investigations into the detection of arms etc., by Mr. Udugampola ASP at Athurugiriya.

"In pursuance of the instructions, I sought the assistance from the Director CID to secure the assistance of few experienced Police Officers to conduct investigations into this incident, in view of the importance and other ramifications associated with the decision.

"Only Mr. D.S.Y Samaratunga SSP was released in response of the above request and investigations commenced on 6/1/2002. Mr. Udugampola was also associated in the conduct of this inquiry.

"Mr. Samaratunga conducted inquiries under my specific directions and instructions and a report was submitted to me on conclusion of the inquiries on 25/1/2002. Thereafter on 29/1/2002 I submitted a comprehensive report to the Secretary of the Ministry of Interior with a copy to I.G. Police.

"At the time I submitted this report, the Hon. Minister of Defence had directed that the Army suspects be handed over to the Army. The Hon. Minister had also declined to endorse the recommendations made by Mr. Udugampola to further detain the suspects under the P.T.A.

"These developments made it crystal clear that the Hon. Minister of Defence had arrived at an irrevocable conclusion that there was no element of suspicion entertained by him with regard to the genuineness of the activities of the Safe House established at Athurugiriya. This necessarily implies that the Hon. Minister was of opinion that the business conducted by the Army in this instance was manifestly legitimate. In view of the facts adverted to, I sought to minimize any conflict that may occur with the Army by directing Mr. Udugampola that if he was desirous of conducting any further investigations, by questioning Army Officers, he should obtain my prior approval.

Mr. Udugampola to my mind was not experienced and mature enough and have the correct disposition to conduct a critical investigation of this nature, the outcome of which would necessarily have far-reaching consequences for the defence establishment of the nation. He has sought to circumvent my instructions by obtaining the Magistrate's Order to summon Army Officers for the purpose of questioning, on several occasions. "As I have referred to above, since the Hon. Minister of Defence has by inference, unequivocally concluded that the Army Officers were not at fault in this regard, I told Mr. Udugampola that no purpose would be served by conducting further inquiries.

"The prime function of the Police in this instance was to ascertain whether the Safe House was established to conduct any illegal operations. When the Hon. Minister in charge of the Armed Services had not found anything illegal or questionable surrounding this Safe House, the Police had no other area to probe into. Mr. Udugampola further thinks that the Army has not followed the internal procedures with regard to the issuing of arms and ammunition and other sophisticated weapons, and in the deployment of officers to perform various tasks. I attempted to impress on Mr. Udugampola that in a war situation and in the context of the conduct of undercover operations, such procedures are not adhered to tenaciously and in meticulous detail. But Mr. Udugampola appears to think that by probing into internal procedures of the Army it would help to unravel the "mystery" associated with this Safe House.

"With regard to the issue raised by the Secretary Defence, I fully endorse the sentiments expressed by him that it would be unethical and untenable for Mr. Udugampola to conduct further inquiries into this case, since he has been made a respondent in a fundamental case where the subject matter related to the conduct of Mr. Udugampola during the course of investigations. He appears to have pursued the investigations more strenuously after the case was filed against him."

Also responding to representations made to Mr. Junaid was the acting IGP, T.E. Anandarajah. In a letter to Nimal Mediwaka, DIG (Central Range), on May 22, he said:

"Mr. Kotakadeniya, S/DIG has been directed by the Hon. Minister of Interior to supervise and conduct the investigations into the detection of arms, ammunition etc. by ASP Mr. Udugampola at Millennium City, Athurugiriya.

"After completing investigations, S/DIG Mr. Kotakadeniya has instructed ASP Mr. Udugampola that if the need arise to question any army officer in this connection he should obtain his approval, so that they could be summoned through the Army Commander.

"It has been reported that the above instructions are not being carried on by ASP Mr. Uduga-mpola. Please inform Mr. Udugampola to carry out this instructions in future."

As the Acting IGP notes, it was after "completing investigations" that Senior DIG Kotakadeniya directed Mr. Uduga-mpola to obtain his prior approval, if the need arose, to question any Army officer. Since that order, Mr. Udugampola has not sought to proceed further with the investigations or interview Army officers.

There ends the fairy tale drama of the Safe House at Millennium City.
It lays bare all the mystery except the identities of those who were behind it.

It is for UNF Government now to discern whether they are friend or foe. The unknown enemy within can be more potent than the known enemy outside.

They are accountable for a great betrayal that even a disinformation campaign has failed to hide.


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.


The great betrayal

The saga of the Army's Athurugiriya Safe House, and the humiliating ordeal of an officer and five soldiers-national heroes who were treated as traitors-has at last ended.

But the enormous damage to national security, humiliation to officers and men in the Sri Lanka Army, distress in the minds of conscientious policemen, and above all, colossal embarrassment to the United National Front Government continues.

The anger and bewilderment of the vast majority of Sri Lankans, here and abroad, following this tragi-comedy not only highlighted the disgust it had caused but also underscored the hatred against those who caused it. A host of e-mails to Military Spokesman, veteran infantryman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne, summed it up.

If it is ironic that one gazetted officer of the Sri Lanka Police could single handedly cause all this, it is tragic that his conclusions came even before his own inquiries could begin. Superintendent of Police Kulasiri Udugampola, brought the full glare of the media, both print and electronic, to publicise all his actions, just two hours after the raid on the Safe House at Millennium Park on January 2.

To a wholly unsuspecting media, unaware of the realities, what he exhibited as startling finds – a cache of weapons including land mines, light anti-tank weapons (LAW), assault rifles and thermobaric shells, among others – were an arsenal used by the Sri Lanka Army not to kill Tiger guerrillas but to be used in a sinister plot to eliminate leaders of the United National Front. The nation and the outside world were told about the great catastrophe portended by a so called conspiracy.

As the news spread, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, officers and men in the Army writhed in deep anger. That wide publicity, repeated locally on TV many times, seemed the beginning of a pubic trial. Morale reached a low ebb. Conscientious policemen, who were in the know of what was going on, were ashamed at what was happening. "This kind of thing has never happened in Police history," declared a retired Police Chief who wished to remain anonymous.

However, there were also the blind fanatics in the Department who believed whatever the Police did was always right. One of them even thought it fit to say DIG Nimal Gunatilleke, Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF) was not a policemen. All because he had chosen to speak the truth – that men from Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) stayed in STF camps before venturing out to Tiger guerrilla dominated territory to carry out attacks.

Some in the upper echelons of the Army, in the know of what has been going on, lamented they were being made to feel like a bunch of killers. Their predicament, they said, had been made worse by the failure of the high command to quickly resolve matters by raising issue with UNF leaders.

But in a matter of just a week, Mr. Udugampola himself learnt, after his own exhaustive investigations, later supported by men from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the real truth – that the premises he raided at the Millennium City in Athurugiriya, was indeed a Safe House run by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). Every single item he found, and later displayed to the media as a startling discovery, have been accounted for. Statements he recorded from Army officials, backed by supporting documents, were to come as further testimony. Even the little discrepancies that existed were resolved. If there was anything seriously sinister, or a cunning conspiracy, to kill any UNF leader, there was no evidence. Not a shred.

Yet, by last Sunday, the officer and five men were still being holed up in two remand cells at the Katugastota Police Station. They were being held virtually incommunicado. These were cells which usually accommodated common criminals and drug addicts as revealed in these columns last week.

An angry Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, directed DIG Mahinda Balasuriya, to immediately release the Army men. To ensure nothing went wrong, Mr. Marapana told him to hand them over to the Army.

After issuing that directive, Mr. Marapana had other urgent tasks to attend to that Sunday. As the new Minister of Transport, he had to rush to Kiriwalpitiya in Rambukkana, where the intercity train from Kandy to Colombo, had derailed killing 15 passengers and wounding over 200. At the scene, during late afternoon, he ran into Brigadier B.H.M.R. Tammita, General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Central Command.

He asked Brig. Tammita whether he had taken charge of the officer and the soldiers from Police custody. The latter had said Police had not informed him of any release.

Angered by what he learnt, Mr. Marapana, immediately contacted DIG Balasuriya to ask why his instructions were not carried out. The senior Police officer in charge of the Kandy region said he was awaiting Mr. Udugampola's return to the hill capital. The latter had been in Colombo recording statements from Army officers. Mr. Marapana, a veteran lawyer and one time Attorney General, was prompted to ask why he could not, as DIG of the area, carry out his instructions. He asked why the DIG should wait to contact an SP. That saw Mr. Balasuriya ordering the Katugastota Police to release the men in custody. An order made on Sunday morning was executed only that night.

When he returned to Kandy, Mr. Udugampola found that five of the six Army men he had arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were no longer in custody. The officer and four men had been handed over to Brig. Tammita last Sunday night. The sixth person, a Tiger guerrilla surrendee, who had been recruited to the Army as a soldier, was, however, held back at the Katugastota Police Station reportedly for "further interrogation."

Last Monday, (Thai Pongal Day), he had been escorted to a temple by a Police officer. He had also been given a cash reward on account of the religious festival. The following night (Tuesday), plans were afoot to move out the former guerrilla to another "safe location" for "further interrogation."

It was not clear why more "interrogation" was required when the man had been put through question and answer sessions for a whole week and statements recorded. These developments began to baffle those in the higher echelons of the defence establishment. It was past 8 p.m. last Tuesday night when Mr. Marapana, telephoned Defence Secretary Austin Fernando, and asked him to order the Police to immediately release the remaining soldier held at the Katugastota Police Station. DIG Balasuriya,(who has since been transferred to the Police Transport Division) who gave the order for the release, made one point clear – the one time guerrilla and now Army soldier, should be handed over to Brig. Tammita without any delay. Shortly before 9 p.m., this soldier stood to attention before Brig. Tammita, at the Central Command headquarters and was later re-united with the officer and four colleagues.

In these columns last week (RAID ON ATHURUGIRIYA SAFE HOUSE – THE CONFUSION CONTINUES – Situation Report - January 13), I said "……..Whilst the men who fought terrorism are being held as terrorist suspects in sub human conditions at a Police Station, the dilemma for those who arrested them appears to be increasing. If they are released, how does one justify the arrest….."

This indeed has become a dilemma. When the officer and five soldiers were arrested, the Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of Kandy division, had issued a Detention Order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for three days – the maximum statutory period empowered to the SSP of a division. Thereafter, they are required to obtain a Detention Order from the Ministry of Defence.

DIG Balasuriya had written to Defence Minister Marapana, requesting him to issue a Detention Order to cover the period January 5 to 10. He has flatly refused the request in view of the circumstances. Hence, the arrest and detention of the Army officer and four soldiers (a Detention Order has been issued in respect of the sixth, a one time Tiger guerrilla) after January 5, becomes illegal.

This is one of the many grounds on which the officer and his men are preparing to file a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court. They are already receiving offers of free legal support from some of the country's leading lawyers.

Dealing with the raid on the Army Safe House last week, I erroneously referred to Kulasiri Udugampola, as a Senior Superintendent of Police.

He is a Superintendent. Hence, he was specifically invited by the Inspector General of Police Lucky Kodituwakku, to a conference of Deputy Inspectors General of Police (DIGs) and Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) at Police Headquarters on January 7 (Monday). The idea was to ask him to explain to the DIGs and SSPs, the top most leaders of the country's Police, the sequence of events leading to the raid on the Athurugiriya Safe House.

Soon after Mr. Udugampola, conducted the raid, Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, had despatched his Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana, to the scene. He thought the Army's intelligence chief could explain matters. Lt. Gen. Balagalle had also telephoned Police Chief Kodituwakku from the Safe House. Later, when Brig. Hendavithana telephoned Mr. Kodituwakku from the Safe House to say he could account for all the weapons and explain why the Safe House existed, the latter had wanted to speak to Mr. Udugampola on the same telephone. The Police Chief had tried to tell the SP to take into consideration what the Army's intelligence chief was saying.

As he finished the conversation, Mr. Udugampola rang Interior Minister John Amaratunga, to complain of pressures on him. Minister Amaratunga despatched his relative and now a senior official in his Ministry, former DIG Lal Ratnayake, to ensure nothing was done to suppress matters.

Mr. Udugampola took the officer, men into custody, seized the stock of weapons found and drove to the Military Police Headquarters in Narahenpita.

The word soon spread and that was how a top "State secret" became public. Tiger guerrillas became aware that the Safe House was one used by the Army's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs). The men arrested were part of the dare devil group that went deep into guerrilla dominated territory to attack targets.

By January 4 (Friday), Tiger guerrilla teams in the Batticaloa district had launched a crackdown on civilians suspected to have helped the LRRP teams. The Sunday Times learnt that an unknown number of civilians have been "arrested" for interrogation by guerrilla intelligence cadres.

The UNF Government, needless to say, was grossly embarrassed by the manner in which the raid on the Safe House was carried out. Minister Amaratunga requested Senior DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, to seek the help of some Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers to conduct his own inquiry and ascertain the truth behind the raid. The move saw D.S.Y. Samaratunga, an SSP in the CID, overlooking investigations conducted by Mr. Udugampola. Last Tuesday, both were present at Army Headquarters when the statement of Brig. Hendavithana, DMI, was recorded for over five hours.

At the January 7 conference of DIGs and SSPs, Police Chief Kodituwakku had invited Mr. Udugampola to explain how and why he conducted the raid. However, when he began to explain matters, Senior DIG Kotakadeniya objected on the grounds that it would be prejudicial to inquiries he had been told by Minister Amaratunga to conduct. The Police Chief declared he was completely unaware such an investigation had been ordered. DIG Balasuriya was to intervene to point out that Mr. Udugampola had neither kept him briefed of investigations into the Safe House nor sought his permission to conduct the raid outside his own division.

By the time objections were raised, Mr. Udugampola had already told the most senior men in the Police, DIGs and SSPs, that the information to conduct the raid came from a "very reliable informant" who had given him important tip off in the past. When Mr. Kodituwakku asked how it had happened, Mr. Udugampola had replied that he was at the Magistrate's Court in Teldeniya when he received a call on his mobile phone that a weapons cache was hidden in a private house at Athurugiriya.

He had immediately written the address on a white piece of paper that was in his pocket and obtained a warrant from the Magistrate the same day.

What transpired at the DIGs and SSPs conference revealed how procedural flaws can pose serious threats to national security. In this instance, it became clear that Mr. Udugampola did not reveal to his own superior, DIG Balasuriya, the information he had received from a "reliable informant who had earlier given him valuable tip off. Nor did he obtain his permission to leave Kandy division and proceed to Athurugiriya. Nor did he obtain permission from the next highest authority, the Police Chief himself. Therefore, by his own admission, Mr. Udugampola acted almost entirely on his own and seemed blissfully unaware of the harm he was going to cause to national security interests.

Even if his investigations did not reveal anything incriminating, like a conspiracy to assassinate any UNF leader, Mr. Udugampola was yet keen to find out why a Safe House had to be located, of all places, in Athurugiriya – a question that was in the lips of many. He posed this question to almost every one from whom he recorded a statement.

Mr. Udugampola, who has risen to the ranks of a SP, is no doubt aware of the concept of Safe Houses. A plethora of them existed under the Police and the security forces when they combated the violence of the then outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the late 1980s. Suspects were arrested and grilled at these Safe Houses not to mention the complaints it drew from human rights group of torture. In the later years, major state intelligence agencies had their Safe Houses to detain and question Tiger guerrilla suspects.

A Safe House, which functioned elsewhere and used by Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols was shifted to the house in the Millennium Park in Athurugiriya on December 15, last year. The house belonged to an Army officer and had been obtained for a monthly rental of Rs 12,500. An intelligence source explained that the house belonging to an Army officer was picked since movement of soldiers there would not arouse any suspicions in the neighbourhood.

Dismissing arguments that it could have been located somewhere in the east, close to the battle zones, the source said "Tiger guerrilla surrendees, recruited as soldiers would have been found out in no time." Responding to a question on why weapons had to be kept in the Safe House and not drawn from any nearby Army camp, the source said "the practice of retaining weapons in a Safe House is nothing new. It is part of measures to ensure strict confidentiality during top secret operations. Drawing weapons from a camp regularly would draw both suspicion and unwarranted attention."

The full report of Mr. Udugampola's investigation, later backed by the CID, is now being awaited by Interior Minister John Amaratunga. Similarly, Defence Minister Tilak Marapana is awaiting the final report of the Army Court of Inquiry headed by Major General Ivan Dissanayake. In their preliminary report, the Court said no illegal operations have been carried out from the Safe House. The final report, among other, matters, deals with measures to be adopted in determining Safe Houses and other related procedures.

The final report of the Court has already been handed over to Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, who himself has come under strong criticism for his inability to secure the release of his own men and also for being completely slow in reacting to the raid on the Safe House.

Nor has he been successful in preventing degrading treatment being meted out to the officer and five soldiers when they were in a remand cell.

There was also no visit by him, although he has once been the Director of Military Intelligence. It is extremely unlikely the Police would have rejected if a request was in fact made at the highest levels. After all they were not ordinary officers and men. They were extraordinary in every sense in view of the heroic role they played. (See box story on this page)

The Sunday Times learns that President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who is Commander-in-Chief, was also displeased the way Lt. Gen. Balagalle handled matters. She is learnt to have told him that he should have kept UNF leaders briefed on the existence of the Safe House and its activities. This was particularly in view of some doubts that arose during the general election campaign.

In November last year, then UNP Chairman, Charitha Ratwatte, alleged that thermobaric explosives had been brought from the operational areas in the North to the Panaluwa Army Testing Range and that certain persons alleged to be attached to a northern Tamil political party were being trained in its use. The training, he alleged, was being co-ordinated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) together with Army instructors from the north. He said there may be an attempt to use these weapons on the meetings held by the UNP leadership and the leader's campaign bus. Lt. Gen. Balagalle, however, denied the allegations.

During the period when the raid was conducted on the Safe House, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, was otherwise busy. He was locked in a strong move to retire his deputy, Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Neil Dias, by using the very Regulations which President Kumaratunga promulgated to keep him in office when he was due to retire at 55 years on June 14, 2001. President Kumaratunga rejected his recommendation that Maj. Gen. Dias should step down on December 31, last year, and extended his term until April 12, 2002. She pointed out that the services of experienced officers like Maj. Gen. Dias should be retained. (Situation Report – January 6)

The UNF Government last week accepted President Kumaratunga's recommendation. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, requested Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, to request Maj. Gen. Dias to resume work. He had been out of office since December 31 but reported to work, in accordance with this directive, on January 15.

The absence deprived him from taking part in a seminar in Washington for Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen. Balagalle had nominated Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Lohan Gunawardena. He is already away and is not due in Sri Lanka until next month.

Now comes the news of a failed attempt during the tenure of the last Government to have Maj. Gen. Dias investigated. It was on purported grounds that he was a staunch UNP supporter and had indulged in extra legal activity.

A high ranking intelligence official, to whom a three page document was handed over, not only laughed at the request made by a top man in uniform but also briefed a PA leader about the sinister attempt. No probe was conducted but PA leaders took note that a plot was afoot to malign the senior officer in a campaign riddled with intrigue, power politics and devious manipulations.

In this backdrop, internal Army investigations have brought out some startling revelations. Some disgruntled officers, in the Directorate of Military Intelligence it has now come to light, had leaked information about the Safe House and other matters – a case of traitors within the system causing more damage to national security than the enemy itself. They are likely to face a Court Martial after the inquiries are completed. How others twisted the information and passed it down to interested parties is also now being probed.

The saga of the Safe House and the arrest of six Army men, all heroes in the ongoing separatist war, has set a number of posers to the United National Front Government.

It has not only embarrassed the Government but has come at a time when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has called a halt to the war and embarked on peace initiatives with the LTTE. It has demoralised the rank and file of the Army. It has brought out serious lapses that endanger national security.

Since the Government was in no way associated with the raid on the Safe House, a full public statement of the events leading to the raid would become imperative.

And punishing those responsible for the great betrayal will not only inspire confidence in the Army but the public at large too. And an equally important job that has to be done immediately is to depoliticise the Army and place it in the hands of capable young men. They can not only infuse professionalism but also prepare the men for battle whenever the Government wants one. To neglect this aspect would be suicidal.

How they were treated in the remand cell

Accounts of the drama that followed the raid on the Army's Safe House at Athurugiriya by a Police team led by Kulasiri Udugampola, SP (Special Operations) Kandy Division, has been pieced together after an investigation by The Sunday Times. Here are excerpts:

With the raid over, Mr. Udugampola and party bring the officer, five soldiers and weapons seized to the Military Police Headquarters at Narahenpita. It was around 11.30 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, January 2. The media, both print and electronic, were already waiting for them. Someone had tipped off the unsuspecting media but Military Police prevent them from entering their headquarters.

Later, Mr. Udugampola and party escort those arrested and the seized weapons to the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station. There was a power failure when they arrived. Video and still cameras are aimed when the officer and five men get down from their vehicle. The officer shouts out loud not to take their pictures. But some had already taken shots. The men are taken inside the Police Station and ordered to remain there.

In the meanwhile, the Police team that raided spread out all the weapons seized at the Safe House on the floor of the Police Station . Media is allowed to film and photograph what was found.

The five Army men and the weapons are taken to Asgiriya Police Kennels/Quarters. A while later they are taken to the Kandy Police Station. A Sub Inspector asks the officer and five men to alight from the vehicle and makes an entry in the Information Book.

The officer and men are told to remove their belts and shoes. They are told they would have to be inside a remand cell. The time is around 5.30 a.m. on Thursday.

There are two cells – one with smelling toilets occupied by three suspected criminals. The other, which is neat and clean, is occupied by only one crime suspect. The six are told to enter the latter. But the man inside says they cannot sit with him on a concrete bench. So the six of them sit huddled together in the other remaining concrete bench. The man screams mawa maranawo (I am being murdered) and accuses the soldiers of assaulting him. Soldiers deny the charge and say he is trying to get rid of them.

A Police Assistant (PA) comes in and shouts at the officer and soldiers in indecent language. They are all pulled out and put into the remand cell where there are three criminals. Nine of them occupy the remand cell for a night. After they go inside, the PA shouts in Sinhala that the Army Commander too would be arrested soon and put in the same cell.

On Friday, the three suspected criminals are taken out. The officer gives money to a helper to bring a brush, disinfectant and detergent. The men wash and clean the remand cell and the toilet. They spend the night in the cell together. Attempts to obtain foam mattresses are refused by the Police. They are told to sleep on the floor. They hear occasional vulgar abuse hurled by a sergeant.

The next day (Saturday), the remand cell is open and the officer and the five men are handcuffed. An Inspector pushes them by their neck and tells them to walk out of the cell to a waiting vehicle. After they board the vehicle, Police motor cycles with sirens wailing, escort their vehicle from Kandy to the Katugastota Police Station.

There, the six men are put into two remand cells – also once used to detain common criminals and drug addicts. Some policemen who had served in operational areas recognise the officer and men. Evidently, they are aware of their role and try to console them. They even offer to help in any way possible and confess some of their "senior bosses have gone mad." That included offers of plain tea and buns. The Policemen are soon ordered not to speak to the Army men.

All three meals for them were arranged by the Second Volunteer Battalion of the Sinha Regiment in Kandy. But visitors, including a large number of relatives who had turned up, are not allowed. Only the wives were permitted entry.

On Sunday night they are released after an order from Defence Minister Tilak Marapana. Only the one time guerrilla who has now become a soldier is detained. He is also released on Tuesday night following an order from Mr. Marapana.


How a 'top State secret' became public

After seven long years of "Eelam War Three," year 2002 dawned in Sri Lanka on a historic note.

Guns went silent in the battlefields as the security forces and Tiger guerrillas continued to observe a truce which came into effect from midnight December 24, or Christmas eve.

In terms of nomenclature, even if it was referred to as "cessation of hostilities," the commencement of talks between the United National Front (UNF) Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in the coming weeks and months will see this transform into a formal cease-fire.

The UNF Government does not want to take any chances or send any wrong signal to the LTTE in the interim period. That has been made very clear to those concerned.

One area where it was clearly reflected was in a directive Chief of Defence Staff, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, sent out on December 23 last year, to Commanders of the Army (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle), Navy (Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri), Air Force (Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody) and Inspector General of Police (Lucky Kodituwakku). Also copied to commanders in battle areas, the instructions were clear about the "cessation of hostilities." This is what it says:

• "Status quo with regard to ground deployment will remain.

• Security forces and Police will not launch offensive operations. This includes firing of direct and indirect weapons.

• However, security forces and the Police have the right to defend the Forward Defensive Zones up to a distance of 500 metres from the Forward Defensive Line/bunker line by employing observation posts, listening posts, patrols, ambushes, obstacle belts etc. The status quo should be maintained by both parties in the area between the bunker lines. Should any activity be conducted by the LTTE disturbing the status quo, such action should immediately be reported to the respective Service Commanders/IGP and this HQ (the JOH) also be informed accordingly.

• Security forces and Police will continue to carry out operations in the cleared areas as done previously.

• The Air Force will refrain from aerial bombar-dment of ground targets.

• Naval operations conducted at sea with a view to prevent the import of arms, ammunition or other military equipment by the LTTE will continue and the Air Force will support the Navy in the event of a confrontation without any restrictions.

• Should any situation arise, which the parties may consider to be a violation of the declaration of the cessation of hostilities, otherwise than by the use of force, the parties will endeavour to resolve such a situation.

• Any violation of cessation of hostilities in any form or nature must be immediately brought to the notice of the Service Commanders/IGP and this HQ (JOH) also informed accordingly."

Confrontations between the security forces and the Tiger guerrillas have come to a halt with the cessation of hostilities. But, that is not to say the war is over. Raging internecine wars have intensified in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police causing not only factionalism but low morale and instability. Fuelling this situation almost every day is the lack of any visible action by the United National Front leadership, in the past four weeks, not only to arrest the disturbing trends but also the dangers it poses to national security.

Whilst the three services have been the mainstay in the battle against Tiger guerrillas and for the enforcement of the Government's writ in "controlled" areas, the Police form the bulwark of the law and order machinery.

Nowhere is the phenomenon felt more acutely than in the Sri Lanka Army, the largest security establishment in the country. Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, who offered jobs for his soldiers with United Nations troops during PA's election campaign, received a strong rebuff from President Kumaratunga, for trying to get rid of his number two, Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Neil Dias. This was by using the very Regulations which the President promulgated to keep Lt. Gen. Balagalle in office when he was to retire at 55 years (on June 14, 2001). See box story on this page.

But a more shocking blow came when Police conducted a raid last Wednesday night on a safe house at Athurugiriya, operated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, to conduct counter terrorist operations. Assisting in the raid were men from the Army's Military Police (or CCMP –Corps Ceylon Military Police, as they are commonly referred to). That the Army leadership, pre-occupied with their own problems, was unable to prevent a serious breach of national security when this happened, could not avoid a dangerous situation developing and allowed the LTTE to get to know state secrets, to say the least, is most damning.

The greatest irony of all this is the fact that an officer and five men are now detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and are being interrogated by a Police team led by SP Kulasiri Udugampola. Until last night, they are all being held at a secret location in Kandy. All of them are in one room and have to tolerate the ignominy of a stinking toilet whilst they answer questions from their interrogators.

These very men were at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. The Sunday Times has learnt since the Police raid, their arrest and the resultant publicity, the LTTE has come to know details of some matters that have remained a top state secret for security reasons. This is not to fault the Police or Mr. Udugampola for carrying out the raid.

An SP in the Kandy Division, Mr. Udugampola, had obtained a Court Order to conduct a raid on a house at the Millennium City at Athurugiriya. Before the raid, he had got in touch with the Army's Provost Marshal, Major General Ivan Das-sanayake, and obtained the help of Military Police officials to accompany him. Yet, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle was unaware that one of the Army's top secret operations which had brought great success and increased public confidence was going to be laid bare. Did Maj. Gen. Dassanayake inform Lt. Gen. Balagalle ? The fact that Military Police help was sought clearly indicated that the raid was on an Army establishment or one connected with it.

Who are the five men now in custody of the Police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act ? They are a Captain and four regular soldiers assigned to the Directorate of Military Intelligence. The sixth is a former Tiger guerrilla cadre, who surrendered to the security forces and later enlisted as a soldier.

The LTTE is now aware that these men are part of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) Group – highly trained men who infiltrated Tiger guerrilla controlled areas and carried out devastating attacks. Their area of activity was the Batticaloa district and helping them to cross barriers was the Special Task Force (STF), the commando arm of the Police.

The team's most prized accomplishments have been many. In the recent past it was the attack on Thambirasa Kuhasanthan alias "Nizam," the LTTE Military Intelligence Wing leader for Batticaloa. It was Nizam who was in charge of all "suicide killer" and other attacks in the City. The Captain and his men infiltrated Tiger guerrilla dominated territory on June 9 last year, and carried out the attack on Nizam. He was killed. And now, the LTTE has become privy not only to the identities of the Captain but also the five others. This has been confirmed by intelligence channels. For obvious reasons one cannot elaborate.

Why did Police raid the Athurugiriya residence ? Contrary to claims that the investigations were a follow up of the killings at Udathala-winna during election vio-lence, the probe is related to an entirely different matter. It is an extension of the allegations United National Party Chairman Charitha Ratwatte and Vice Chairman Daya Pelpola made to the Army Commander on November 10, 2001.

They alleged that thermo-baric explosives had been brought from the operational areas in the North to the Panaluwa Army Testing Range and that certain persons alleged to be attached to a Northern Tamil Political Party were being trained in its use. The training, they alleged, was being co-ordinated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) together with Army instructors specially flown from the north. The UNP leaders said there may be an attempt to use these weapons on the meetings held by the UNP leadership and the Leader's campaign bus.

Lt. Gen. Balagalle in a letter to Mr. Ratwatte (and copy to Mr. Pelpola) declared "there is no substance in the information" and referred their letters to the Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku, for whatever action he deemed necessary. Mr. Kodituwakku directed a CID team to investigate the matter but they could not record any statements since those concerned were busy.

The Sunday Times learns that men who were trained at Panaluwa were those engaged in the LRRP operations. They were taught the use of thermobaric weapons for use in assault on Tiger guerrilla positions. However, the Police in Kandy are learnt to have information from an informant that the Athurugiriya Safe House was linked to attempts at possible harm to Prime Minister Ranil Wickreme-singhe and to earlier claims of men being trained at Panaluwa.

Police investigations are focused in this regard but The Sunday Times has learnt no tangible evidence has been uncovered so far to establish there was in fact a threat to Premier Wickremesinghe arising from the training at Panaluwa or through the Athurugiriya Safe House. Hence, Police may be compelled to release the Captain and the five men if they cannot establish there was a plot of any kind. But some Police officials talk of attempts to indict the men for the possession of a cache of weapons though Military Intelligence officials insist there is official documentation for every item – the acquisition of the Safe House as well as every weapon found.

When Mr. Udugampola raided the Athurugiriya Safe House, in the company of the Military Police and men from the Athurugiriya Police, among the items found were: ten anti-personnel mines, 20 land mines, four Light Anti-Tank Weapons (LAW), one pair of goggles, two T-56 rifles, 12 magazines, 418 rounds of ammunition, one AK 47 rifle, 66 Tiger guerrilla uniforms, seven (ten kilogramme) claymore mines, one (eight kilogramme) claymore mine, 17 exploders, nine (50 metre) wire rolls, eight (100 metre wire rolls), one cyanide capsule, three antennas, three remote control devices, three detonators and thermobaric weapons.

The discovery was to create more confusion. Learning of the raid, Lt. Gen. Balagalle telephoned Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku to plead with him to sort out the matter. Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana was rushed by him to Athurugiriya. When the DGMI spoke on the phone to Mr. Kodituwakku from the scene to say he could account for all the finds, the latter had wanted to speak to Mr. Udugampola.

That conversation was to take a bad turn. Mr. Udugampola was to later telephone Interior Minister John Amaratunga, to complain of pressures on him. Interior Ministry officials were to soon assume that Police were trying to suppress matters relating to the raid. The media was tipped off and there was wide publicity. Minister Amaratu-nga despatched his relative and now a senior official, Lal Ratnayake, a former DIG, to Athurugiriya to make sure nothing was done to suppress matters. The Captain and the five men were bundled up and driven first to Military Police Headquarters in Narahenpita and then to Kandy where Detention Orders were served on them under the PTA. Their statements are now being recorded. They were taken to some places in Katugastota yesterday and no visitors were allowed to see them.

Internal Army investigations have raised some intriguing questions. It was only on December 15 last year, the Athurugiriya Safe House had been obtained on rent by the Directorate of Military Intelligence for a period of six months. It has been standard practice for DMI to operate Safe Houses for secret operations. Some months ago, one in fact functioned in close proximity to the Kotte-Sri Jayawardhanapura Parliamentary complex. The address of the house was such a closely guarded secret that only one or two DMI officials knew it.

Yet, the Court Order Mr. Udugampola obtained contai-ned the exact address of the house. Did a rival group within DMI surreptitiously obtain the address from an official in question and leak it ?

Did a close relative of a senior police official involved in the investigations, now attached to the Military Police, play a role in obtaining the address and facilitate the raid? Inquiries have not only raised this aspect but many other sensitive matters which show that a group within the DMI has been working against the leadership. They have now been identified and disciplinary action is to follow.

The last LRRP operation from the Safe House at Athurugirya had been prematurely concluded on December 21. This was after it became difficult to execute a "highly classified" and sensitive operation when it became clear there would be a cessation of hostilities. The men who came back to the Safe House had later returned some equipment including a Global Positioning System and encrypted communication sets to a camp in Kohuwala. The balance equipment was to be returned to a camp in Kosgama when the raid took place. DMI officials are now ready with documentation relating to weapons and other equipment.

Whatever the outcome of the Police investigation, the identities of some brave men who have risked their lives to attack the guerrillas is now public. So are their operations. All because of the callous inaction on the part of some of those responsible.

All is not well in the Sri Lanka Navy too. The leadership has been the subject of strong criticism for their inability to stall Tiger guerrillas from inducting weapons supplies through the north eastern seas. The Government last week ordered a full inquiry after The Sunday Island revealed that a large haul of weapons had been smuggled by the LTTE and the Navy had failed to intercept it.

Chairing a meeting of principal Staff Officers and Area Commanders at Navy Headquarters last Thursday, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri devoted considerable time to the media. He said he was not worried about media criticism or care about it. He said the media did not determine the destinies of people. They were born with it. He said the Government was aware of those leaking information to the media.

Vice Admiral Sandagiri has been at the end of criticism after ordering a Mercedes Benz worth Rs. 8.5 million as his official car during the general election period. This is despite the Navy possessing a number of Benz vehicles. In addition, he had also ordered the conversion of a Navy Pajero jeep by installing an intercooler engine at a cost of over Rs. 600,000. This was despite the Pajero jeep being in good condition with its original engine.

An action of Vice Admiral Sandagiri which is likely to pose an irritant in the upcoming peace process is his decision to construct a temple at Madagal – one of two vows he has kept, of all things at state expense, upon becoming Commander of the Navy. A small temple has been built and he is making arrangements to fly senior officers and their spouses to Jaffna for a ceremony on January 21. Two engineers sent from Colombo for the construction of the temple died in an accident in Jaffna. The second vow, a ban on the consumption of beef in the Navy, has come into effect from January 1, this year. The ban is despite objections from four of five Area Commanders of the Navy.

In the Sri Lanka Air Force, both infighting and campaigns have reached a high pitch. Some of those affected by the Court of Inquiry into last July's Tiger guerrilla attack on the SLAF base and the Bandaranaike International Airport have launched a vicious campaign against its Commander, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody. One of the major allegations was that he transported illegal weapons to Kandy during the election campaign. Another is that he evacuated former Deputy Defence Minister, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte and his family, by an Air Force helicopter after he ceased to be a minister. Both allegations are being flatly denied by senior Air Force officials. A strong campaign, these officials say, is not only creating dissension but also disciplinary problems.

The infighting in the Police has become so acute that the Inspector General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku, who had been at the centre of controversy during the election campaign and his own son, Ranmal Kodituwakku, are now at the centre of widespread allegations and a strong campaign.

Mr Kodituwakku, now 61, received a year long extension of service from the PA Government and some sections of the United National Front want to see him removed. He has, however, been asked to continue to function as Police Chief by the UNF leadership. Other likely aspirants are making their own pitch for the post.

An anonymous petition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption about the quali-fications of Mr. Koditu-wakku's son, Ranmal Koditu-wakku, is now under inves-tigation. It centres over his qualifications to be an Assistant Superintendent of Police.

However, senior Police officials backing Mr. Kodituwakku say Ranmal, spent 11 years in California. He has been a product of Redlands University with qualifications in Maths and Economics. They say he was recruited after his credentials were verified from the United States Embassy in Colombo.

Divisions have become so sharp at Police Headquarters with at least one senior DIG staking strong claims to the post of IGP. These developments have pre-occupied the Police hierarchy so much that the pace of normal work is not only slowing down but the malaise is spreading to the provinces too. One of the reasons often attributed for the UNF Government's inaction is a reported assurance it had given President Kumaratunga that no top level changes in the security forces or the Police would be made for three months. That is said to be the basis on which she parted with the Ministry of Defence portfolio.

But, if the existing situation in the security forces and the Police are allowed to deteriorate, particularly due to no action of any sort being taken by the new Government, its priority will become peace talks on two fronts – one with the Tiger guerrillas and the other with those in the country's security establish-ment. The writing is clearly on the wall.

President rebuffs Army Commander

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, has rejected a recommendation by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, to retire his deputy, Chief of Staff, Major General Neil Dias, from December 31, last year.

She has approved the extension of his tenure of office until April 12, 2002 and pointed out that the services of experienced officers like Maj. Gen. Dias should be retained.

Paradoxically enough, the regulations which Lt. Gen. Balagalle, used to seek the exit of Maj. Gen. Dias, are the very same ones specifically introduced to retain him in office, when he turned 55 years on June 14, 2000, and was to retire as Chief of Staff. He had to make way for Major General Janaka Perera, who assumed that office on June 15, 2000. The tailor made regulations, promulgated by President Kumaratunga, allowed then Major General Balagalle, to hold a non-existent office of "Deputy Commander" of the Army until he was made Commander.

Documents containing Maj. Gen. Dias' latest extension of service was sent by the Presidential Secretariat to the Ministry of Defence early this week. The matter is now before the United National Front's Defence Minister, Tilak Janaka Marapane. Since the UNF, as a matter of policy, does not favour extension of services of security forces officers beyond their age of retirement at 55 years, how Mr. Marapane would react next week remains to be seen.

The case of Maj. Gen. Neil Dias, a soldier with considerable battlefield experience, a phenomenon acutely lacking in some colleagues of his own rank or above, has become significant for many reasons. He reached the retirement age of 55 years on April 12, 2001 and had his term extended until December 31, 2001, by a special gazette notification. He was then groomed by the previous Government as the next Army Commander and was hurriedly sent for a defence management course at the United States Post Naval Graduate School in California. The course is tailor made for those aspiring to hold command positions. When he returned in the first week of December last year, he found he had less than three weeks to serve. President Kumaratunga's move to extend his term will now allow him to remain in office until April 12 this year. That is if nothing stands in the way.

Lt. Gen. Balagalle's recommendation to retire Maj. Gen. Dias on December 31, last year, comes at a time when there is a serious dearth of senior officers in the Army. Such a shortage is not only in the rank of Majors General but also in the rank of Brigadiers. As a result, some Majors General have been compelled to hold more than one appointment whilst Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels have been called upon to hold positions held by Brigadiers.

The present Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Lohan Gunawardena, also holds the post of Director-General, General Staff (DGGS). Maj. Gen. Gunawardena, also an experienced, battle hardened officer, who reached the mandatory maximum in the rank, was given an extended term upon a recommendation made by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle. He was confirmed in the rank of Maj. Gen. on December 4, 1997 and reached the maximum in the rank in 2000. He was granted a further extension, also on the recommendation of Lt. Gen. Balagalle. He is widely regarded as the key figure running day to day operations at Army Headquarters. Major General H.B. Tibbotumunuwe, Military Secretary, is also the Quarter Master General (QMG).

On December 21, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, recommended to President Kumaratunga that Maj. Gen. Dias, who was groomed to replace him, be retired from the Regular Force of the Army with effect from December 31, 2001, in terms of the gazette notification (No: 1179/21) of April 12, 2001. It was his contention that Maj. Gen. Dias' date of retirement is December 31, 2001, in terms of regulations gazetted in the notification in question.

However, President Kumaratunga, has disagreed with this interpretation. She has held the view that the Gazette Extraordinary (No: 1179/21), does in fact confer powers on her to extend Maj. Gen. Dias' service until April 12, 2002. This is in accordance with the notification whose validity only expired on December 31, 2001.

The gazette notification in question was in effect an amendment to the Army Pensions and Gratuities Code, 1981, (under the Army Act and the Constitution) published in the Gazette Extraordinary (562/11) of June 15, 1989. It was specifically brought in to accommodate Lt. Gen. Balagalle, when he reached 55 years and was due to retire on June 14, 2000. Thereafter it was renewed to accommodate Maj. Gen. Dias. This is what it said:

"3A. (1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of paragraph (1) of regulation 3 above, the President may, retain in the same rank, the service of an officer presently holding the rank of a Brigadier or Major-General, by extending the services of the officer in, or by re-appointing him in, his substantive rank, at the time of his retirement, beyond the age of fifty-five years or beyond the period stipulated in respect of such rank, as set out in the aforesaid regulation, if in the opinion of the President, it is essential in the interest of the Army so to do.

(2) The services of an officer may, at the discretion of the President, be retained in terms of paragraph (1), if the officer concerned holds an unblemished record of service and good conduct for a period of ten years immediately preceding such extension or re-appointment: Provided however that services of an officer should not be retained beyond a period of twelve months from his reaching the age of fifty-five years or exceeding a period of twelve months from the date of such extension or re-appointment, whichever is later.

(3) Every officer whose services have been retained in terms of this regulation shall be placed in a Supernumerary Post and such post shall be deemed to be suppressed upon such officer ceasing to function in such post".

The provisions of this regulation shall continue to be in force till 31st December, 2001."

Apart from Maj. Gen. Dias' case, the Ministry of Defence last year endorsed the retirement of three Brigadiers – Palitha Fernando, a former Military Spokesman (Director, Sports), Bandula Ranasinghe (Director, Movement) and P.G. Charles (Director, Welfare) from December 31, last year. Brigadier Priyantha Samaratunga (Director, Army Quartering) has also retired.

The dearth of Brigadiers has led to several positions Including Brigade Commanders being held by Colonels or Lieutenant Colonels.

The absence of a uniform policy with regard to those retiring or reaching the mandatory maximum service in the rank, during the tenure of the People's Alliance, caused a great deal of heartburn among the officers in the security forces. Those who had the backing of their superiors or wielded political clout were the ones who succeeded, they complained.

It is no secret that these ranks, who were hoping for a change in policy, where merit and other professional considerations are among the criteria, are both disappointed and dejected. They complain that cunning manipulators are still at play to secure their own positions and eliminate anyone posing a threat. A pithy remark by a UNF politico, very familiar with the security apparatus, succinctly sums up the situation. He says "those who were Robin Blue then are


A DMI Long Ranger speaks out

Despite the calm in battle areas, and the nation's attention focused on the upcoming peace talks, the intelligence community was jolted into action this week.

A warning went out that a group of Tiger guerrillas had arrived in the city from Batticaloa. Their mission – to carry out reconnaissance to identify members of the now well known Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP), or deep penetration groups, that have carried out attacks inside guerrilla dominated territory.

Since a "cessation of hostilities" between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is now in force, the task of the group, a senior Intelligence official says, is not to carry out assassinations. He believes it is to identify those responsible, their addresses and other details. "They want to be ready to take on those targets if an opportunity arises," he adds.

He may be right in his assessment. But that is not to say that in the past the LTTE has not carried out attacks when a ceasefire or "cessation of hostilities" has been in force.

On July 13, 1989, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and then Parliamentarian Appapillai Amirthalingam, was assassinated by an armed group. This occurred when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was locked in peace talks with the LTTE. The latter strongly denied allegations that its cadres were involved.

That phase of the negotiations broke down in June, 1990 triggering off "Eelam War Two." Later, Anton Balasingham, now LTTE's chief negotiator, admitted publicly that the guerrillas had assassinated Mr. Amirthalingam. That came during talks which were bi-lateral. However, this time, Norway is playing the role of a facilitator and has obtained assurances, both from the Government and the guerrillas, not only to ensure the truce holds but also to formally incorporate it into a full fledged ceasefire agreement.

But the reason for the presence of the guerrilla group from the east in Colombo is the direct outcome of the Police raid on the Army's Safe House at Athurugiriya on January 2. The sequence of events that followed was to formally confirm the existence of Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols and their activities.

Operations by LRRPs, or deep penetration groups, is not confined only to a single apparatus in the Army. There are in fact three distinct units, each specialising in infiltrating enemy lines and carrying out devastating attacks. But only the activities of the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), one of the organs that directed and controlled LRRP operations, came to light following the raid on the Safe House at Athurugiriya. This was a "rear base" for the DMI's long range patrol units. They also had "forward operations bases" in secret locations in the east from where they ventured out to take targets in guerrilla held areas.

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court, the nation's highest judicial institution, will hear details about how the DMI's long range patrols operated, how they took on targets and continued to maintain secrecy until the ill conceived Police raid on the Safe House blew it all. An officer and four soldiers have filed different Fundamental Rights violation petitions where they have given hitherto top secret details of how they operated and what happened to them. Some of the highlights in the petitions appeared in The Sunday Times last week though names of those involved were withheld in view of the serious security threats it would pose them. However, some sections of the media, of course unwittingly, gave the names of those concerned when reporting that they had filed petitions in the Supreme Court.

While the cases of the DMI's heroes are awaiting hearings from the Supreme Court, Tiger guerrillas have embarked on a massive witch hunt to round up those helping the LRRP team of DMI. At least three of them have been summarily executed. That included a boatman, who under cover of darkness, helped ferry LRRP teams across a river in Manmunai (Batticaloa) to guerrilla controlled areas. Hundreds of families in uncontrolled areas in the Batticaloa district are being questioned by guerrilla cadres to ascertain whether they helped the LRRP teams. Those identified face instant death. It is in this backdrop that the guerrilla group from Batticaloa has entered the City.

The actions of two specialised Army apparatus dealing with Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols still remain a top secret. Some of their prized achievements, which are bold and daring, cannot be revealed. However, in the case of the DMI, the activities of its own LRRP teams have become privy to the LTTE after the raid on the Safe House at Athurugiriya. In the coming weeks, more details will become public when the Supreme court begins hearings. How does the Military Intelligence directorate's LRRP teams operate ? How have they acquired targets ? What are the dangers they face ?

The answers came in an exclusive The Sunday Times interview with a member of the LRRP team. He spoke on grounds of strict anonymity. For obvious reasons, some of the remarks he made had to be withheld. Yet the story he related rings true to the motto of Britain's Special Air Services (SAS), one of the world's most elitist commando units - Who Dares Wins.

He sat in the front seat of a double cab. The stubble on his face shows he had not shaved for a couple of weeks. The muscular arms betrayed his identity.

He keeps thumping on the dashboard every now and then. At times he is restless. He could not stretch his long legs. He places his right leg on the seat to feel comfortable but soon takes it off to look outside. He seems alert to something which he fears would happen. We are on the edge of a football field, just off a main road near a construction company. It seems it was instinct, the survival techniques they are taught.

I asked him to relate one of his forays. I have chosen to identify him only by one of the call signs he used on an assignment which is unrelated to this story. "Golf Whisky," was given a task by the Directorate of Military Intelligence last year. Together with two colleagues, he left the Army Camp at Vavunativu near Batticaloa. Having dodged minefields during a delicate trek in the night, they arrived at dawn in a jungle patch. They remained there for the whole day and did not venture out for fear of detection. They used long range binoculars to see movement of people including guerrilla cadres and survived on ration packs. At night, just past 10 p.m., they moved out.

Using Night Vision Devices (NVD), they trekked towards an area where they were to accomplish their mission. They had been well briefed, not only on the target but also on the terrain. "We moved with our back packs and weapons all throughout the night. Before dawn, we always found a place to hide. It has not been easy. On one occasion, we were worried after seeing a group of civilians. But they thought we were LTTE men, "Golf Whisky" said.

It was November 17, last year, when we took up position near a mound after placing claymore mines in the direction of a road. It was almost late evening when they spotted a double cab coming along. There were some seated inside. Behind, in the cab area, at least two guerrilla cadres carrying weapons were watching either side of the road. Suddenly, the claymore mine exploded throwing the double cab, now a wreck, off the road. From a distance it looked mangled. "We managed to move back and spent the night in a thicket. We knew that we had hit an LTTE vehicle. That was all we knew as we began our trek to base," he said.

Spending a night in an area which had a thick outgrowth, "Golf Whisky" and his two colleagues settled down to another meal. This was also from the ration pack. One slept whilst the other two took turns watching. Sleep was restricted to less than an hour or so but "Golf Whisky" says "we cannot enjoy that sleep. We are conscious somebody can ambush and kill us. It is more a case of keeping our eyes shut. But that helps," he adds.

It was only after they returned to base that they discovered they had accomplished their target. "Major Mano" or "Oscar" (his radio call sign) was killed. "Major Mano" was a key guerrilla cadre. During security forces operations in the North, he was the man tasked to monitor all SF communications. He was also one of a handful of guerrilla leaders consulted by LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, when major attacks were planned.

"Major Mano" had not only undergone basic guerrilla training but has also been taught radio communications.

At the time he was killed, he was the guerrilla in charge of LTTE communications network in the east. He had been fluent in English, Sinhala and Tamil. Intercepts of radio conversations prior to the attack showed that he was so fluent in Sinhala that he pronounced words in such a way it gave the impression he was a Sinhalese.

"We only saw the claymore mine explode damaging the vehicle. Confirmation of "Major Mano's death came later during both radio intercepts and on the Tamilnet website," said "Golf Whisky."

"Major Mano" was a close associate of LTTE's leader for the east, Karuna. He had been involved in countering security forces offensives during "Operation Riviresa" and "Operation Jaya Sikurui." Following the guerrilla seizure of Elephant Pass, he had moved to the east. As the man in charge of communications network in the East, he had been responsible for jamming security forces radio communications periodically.

"There are successes and there are frustrations too," says "Golf Whisky." In July, last year, they were tasked to take on the LTTE military wing leader for Batticaloa district, "Jim Kelly." They trekked guerrilla dominated terrain for seven days in this operation in Batticaloa south. They waited for their quarry to arrive but he did not turn up. They were forced to abandon mission and return to base. On another occasion in September last year, they waited for another target to arrive in a location in Batticaloa north. Three days after they had moved in, just at the time the man was expected, very heavy rains broke out. Visibility became poor and there was no sign of any vehicle. They were forced to return to base.

One of their prize achievements, "Golf Whisky" boasts took place on June 6 last year. This was when they launched a claymore mine attack on "Lt. Col. Nizam" alias November Mike (his radio call sign) in Kokkadicholai. He was the military intelligence wing leader of the LTTE for the Eastern province and masterminded almost all the major guerrilla suicide missions in Colombo. That included the suicide bomber attack on then Minister of Industrial Development, C.V. Gooneratne, at the Ratmalana junction on June 9, 2000. "Lt.Col. Nizam" was a senior LTTE cadre who received training in a base in India. The string of electricity transformer explosions in various parts of Sri Lanka, including the City and attacks on telecommunications installations had been planned and directed by this former Eastern province intelligence wing leader.

On November 26 last year, the LRRP team ventured into Pulipanchakal. Here too it carried out a claymore mine attack killing two senior members of the LTTE mortar group in Batticaloa, "Major Swarnaseelan" and "Captain Devadas." They were later identified as specialists in handling 81 mm and 120 mm mortars. This was followed by another attack on December 3, last year. Though a top LTTE cadre was expected, the claymore mine exploded when an Isuzu Elf vehicle was passing by It killed three guerrillas.

What would you say is your most unforgettable experience, I asked "Golf Whisky." He smiled and paused for a long while. I asked whether it was a secret. "No," he replied. "The target was so near, so close. Then the unexpected happened," he said striking his hand hard on the double cab dashboard. He did not hide his frustration.

It was December 21, last year. Two LRRP teams from the DMI had been tasked to take on two important targets. If successful, they would have been their biggest accomplishment. But it was not to be.

One LRRP team went behind guerrilla lines in Kokkadicholai (Batticaloa bowl) whilst the other slipped into "Beirut," (Batticaloa Central) known to be one of the major LTTE bases in the east. Their targets ? LTTE's Military Commander for the East, Karuna and one of his close confidantes, Ramesh. They had entrenched themselves in a secret location and were ready.

The men had spent almost five days, sleeping in jungle areas during day and trekking during the night.

On December 24, last year, their encrypted radio communication set crackled. It was orders from the Directorate of Military Intelligence to abort mission and return to base. The reason – the LTTE had announced a "cessation of hostilities" and the Government had decided to reciprocate.

"The return journey was very troublesome," says "Golf Whisky." There were at least two different occasions when they feared they would be spotted. The third time, they had to divert course after a woman spotted them. "We were not sure whether she identified us or whether she thought we were LTTE. We did not want to take a chance. We had to divert course and this took a long time," he said.

There are occasions when we have been spotted. In one such instance, we had to radio the nearest Police Special Task Force (STF) base. "We gave details of our location. Mortars began to rain ahead of us. That helped us to make a hasty retreat," said "Golf Whisky".

On December 27, the men returned to their Safe House in Athurugiriya. Some of the weapons they carried from there to another "forward operations" Safe House somewhere in Batticaloa were returned. Others remained at Athurugiriya when the Kandy Police headed by SP Kulasiri Udugampola, raided the premises.

The weapons they took were from five different military installations – Army Headquarters, Panagoda, Kosgama, Kadawata and Maradana. They had to be accounted, documented and returned to the officers who issued them. Some also had to be returned to the Regimental Headquarters of the Military Intelligence Regiment.

One of the reasons for the delay was the lack of a typewriter at the Safe House at Athurugiriya. The document had to be therefore prepared at an Army camp in Kohuwala. It began on December 29, last year. The next day was a Sunday. Hence, the preparation of documents was concluded on December 31. Since January 1, 2002, was declared a half holiday by the Army, they were to be returned during the following days. But the raid came on January 2.

I asked "Golf Whisky" whether he had encountered difficult moments. His mood changed and the smile on his face faded away. The soft heart behind the tough man began to show when he appeared choked with emotion. "I lost a good friend during an LRRP operation," he says. What happened ? "He was caught red handed by the Tigers with a claymore mine in his hand. This compromised his mission. The man was tortured," he said in soft tones.

"They hung the claymore mine with a rope around his neck and paraded him many times before civilians. Thereafter, he was shot dead," said "Golf Whisky." Was he a regular soldier or a former guerrilla cadre now enlisted to Army ranks ? "I am sorry I cannot tell you that. All I can say is that he was a very good friend. He has saved my life during an LRRP operation. I am sad to miss him," he added.

That speaks a lot for a breed of men whose grit and determination is little known. But their tales have now become a public secret after the ill conceived Police raid, which none other than Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, has described was a publicity stunt.