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.
"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.