Batalanda - An unsolved mystery
"Anil's Ghost'', the novel by the celebrated Sri Lankan-Canadian writer, Mr. Michael Ondaatje, is based on the orgy of killings and disappearances that swept southern Sri Lanka in the late 80s when government-backed death squads put down an armed insurrection by the Janatha Vimukthi Perumina.
One incident from those dark years has haunt the United National Party (UNP), in power then, and its present leader, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The allegation is that Mr. Wickremesinghe, then a Minister, was the political authority behind an illegal detention centre in a housing complex at an industrial township outside Colombo between 1988 and 1990.
According to the reports, Ranil Wickremesinghe had links with or, had knowledge of, the groups that were responsible for Batalanda killings. Former Senior Superintendent of Police Douglas Peiris, who was arrested on landing at Colombo International Airport after absconding overseas, stated that the Mr. Wickremesinghe had provided housing, vehicles and money to one Dharmasiri and one 'Thadi' Priyantha who, he claimed, were operating the death squad. He said that he had been introduced to these two persons who had been identified as members of the Independent Students' Union (ISU) of the University of Colombo. One of the houses provided was in the Mahara area located behind the Mahara Resthouse. In his deposition Mr. Peiris specifically mentioned Hulftsdorp attorneys Kanchana Abeypala and Charitha Lankapura, Gampaha attorney Nissanka, and a Kelaniya Tyre Corporation employee named Perera as being the victims of a clandestine death squad which, he claimed, operated at that time with the knowledge of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.
"Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) was operated at the Batalanda camp. Douglas Peiris was the head of that unit" - Former IGP Earnest Perera.
Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe was reported to have said in a political rally at Kekirawa that there was no such torture chamber at Batalanda and that the government is using this story to sling mud at UNP leadership.
The Batalanda Commission in its report in the mid-1990s said there was no way that Wickremesinghe wouldn"t have known of the torture chamber but did not accuse him of direct involvement. UNP officials said they believed that Peiris had been offered amnesty for his testimony against Wickremesinghe.
Justice Dharmasiri Jayewickrema, Judge of the Court of Appeal and Mr. Nimal Dissanayka, High Court judge of Colombo handed over the Batalanda Commission report to the President on the 27th of March 1998.
By Sonali Samarasinghe
With every new revelation linking the names in the Douglas Pieris affidavit to Chandrika Kumaratunga's own USA, the whole Peiris fiasco now threatens to boomerang on the government. Indeed the very contents of the sworn document mentions a list of persons now confirmed to have had close links with pro leftist groups, with the late Vijaya Kumaratunga and the incumbent president herself.
In a move not seen anywhere in the civilised world, Director CID C. K.Gajanayake travelled to Madras for discussions with Peiris shortly before Peiris' arrival in Colombo. Inspector R. Linton accompanied him and then stayed on to make arrangements for Peiris' return. Linton then returned to Colombo on the same flight as Peiris.
That C. K. Gajanayake seems somewhat of a man accustomed to doing business with the devil or at least accompanying suspects in criminal cases for whatever reason is evident from even his past history. Way back in 1985 police investigations into a smuggling racket revealed that well-known businessman Noor Hadjiyar was a suspect. However, Gajanayake, also in the CID at the time, thought it fit for some reason best known to him to faithfully accompany Hadjiyar to and from the airport, even carrying his briefcase for him. When this was found out and after due inquiry Gajanayake was asked to leave the CID and a note made in a permanent file file that he was never to return to the department. The relevant fiole number is C659/85CM.
Alas, he is now its director and still in the habit of discussing matters with suspects in criminal cases. This time with Peiris, a murder suspect.
The Peiris affidavit in any event failed to connect Ranil Wickremesinghe to either obtaining a false passport for Peiris as alleged by the state, or for pressing him to leave the country. Last week The Sunday Leader revealed the Gamini Abeyratne and Thadi Priyantha story.
Let's face it. The only real evidence backed by written documentation and a supreme court case was that the CID had beaten and tortured people in order to get them to implicate Ranil Wickremesinghe, Rajitha Senaratne, Anura Bandaranaike etcetera in the Batalanda affair and other nefarious activities.
C. A. Chandraprema
Let us get back for the moment to Chandraprema alias Thadi Priyantha.
Peiris in his affidavit talks of one Dharmasiri and Thadi Priyantha introduced to him by Ranil Wikcremesinghe who requested him not to obstruct their operations in the Kelaniya district. He further says that Thadi Priyantha was working in the publicity unit of Ranil Wickremesinghe at the relevant time that is 1989/90, and they had met several times at Batalanda. According to the state media, Peiris in his affidavit alleges that Thadi Priyantha was responsible for the murders of attorneys-at-law Charitha Lankapura and Kanchana Abeypala of Hulftsdorp, attorney-at-law Nissanka from Gampaha and Perera of Tyre Corporation, Kelaniya.
Thadi Priyantha it will be recalled was arrested on August 15 by the CID based on allegations in the affidavit of Peiris. In his statement he confirmed that at the relevant period mentioned in the affidavit he was a United Socialist Alliance (USA) candidate led by Chandrika Kumaratunga and he had strong affiliations to the leftist parties.
The CID had asked Chandraprema many questions relating to Ranil Wickremesinghe including (1) Whether he knew Ranil Wickremesinghe at all. (2) Whether he met Wickremesinghe with Douglas Peiris at Batalanda (3) Whether Wickremesinghe was directing a killer squad from Batalanda.
Did you know Ranil?
To the question Did you know Ranil Wickremesinghe?,' Thadi Priyantha said in his statement that he had not met him at the period in question. His first encounter with Ranil Wicremesinghe was after February 1990 (that is well after the JVP had been crushed) after he started writing a series of articles in The Island newspaper about the JVP insurrection. Ranil Wicremesinghe had then called him to the Island office and made some comments on the articles. He had subsequent to these calls met Wicremesinghe at his 5th Lane residence. He reiterates that apart from the period relevant to the Peiris affidavit, even at this time he was still linked to the USA and the BNP
Remember that the United Socialist Alliance (USA) comprised of the Communist Party, the LSSP, the NSSP and the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party and later the BNP. The president of the USA was Chandrika Kumaratunga, its general secretary, Raja Collure.
At the 1989 general election (the very period the affidavit alleges he was in the publicity unit of Ranil Wickremesinghe doing his vile bit) this C. A. Chandraprema was fiercely campaigning for Chandrika Kumaratunga's USA and contested the Matara district not on the United National Party ticket but on the United Socialist Alliance ticket of which party Chandrika herself was president. Alas, Chandraprema managed to poll only some 28 preference votes on behalf of the USA in Matara at this election.
Subsequently, the SLMP started by Vijaya Kumaratunga was torn asunder by internal bickering between Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ossie Abeygunasekera. Chandrika had self exiled in England by this time, but was to return in 1990 and form the Bahu Jana Nidahas Peramuna which in 1990 became part of the USA.
To the CID's question whether he was linked to the murder of Kanchana Abeypala, Chandraprema had said he did not know him nor did he know what he looked like.
Another name mentioned in the affidavit as allegedly killed by Chandraprema was Charitha Lankapura. Chandraprema states that Charitha was a final year student at the Colombo University when he was a first year student and that was all he knew about him.
To the question as to whether he was behind the murder of attorney-at-law Nissanka, Chandraprema stated that Nissanka was a second year student at the Colombo University when he was in the first year. Nonetheless they were good friends. He also states that he does not know why Nissanka was killed because he never had any political convictions.
Houses in Colombo and Gampaha
Chandraprema was also asked if he knew whether Ranil Wickremesinghe was maintaining houses in Colombo and Gampaha for anti-JVP operations. He replied in the negative. He was asked then where Dharmasiri who was head of the Independent Student's Union (also mentioned in the affidavit as one of Wickremesinghe's goons in the 88/89 period) lived. Chandraprema replied that Dharmasiri lived in his house in Borella. When asked where he lived at the relevant time, Chandraprema said he had lived for some four years in the YMCA in Fort Colombo.
The allegation that Ranil Wickremesinghe had given houses in Batalanda to these persons in order to carry out operations was dispelled by this.
In his statement made on August 15 to the CID, Chandraprema also said that he had risen as a journalist first by working for a magazine called The Christian Worker and had his name mentioned alongside such big names in the left movement as Bernard Soysa, D.E.W.Gunasekera, Batty Weerakoon and C.V.Goonaratne.
At the general election in 1989 Chandraprema managed to secure 28 preference votes in the Matara district under the USA banner. Contesting also under the USA banner in Matara at the same election were D.E.W Gunasekera with 2735 votes (Gunasekera is now chairman Rupavahini Corporation) and Chandrasiri Gajadeera with 2618 votes. Gajadeera is also a deputy minister in this government and MP up until the dissolution of parliament on August 18. Ironically, it is the Rupavahini Corporation of which D.E.W. Gunasekara is chairman that is leading the propaganda campaign against Chandraprema.
What is becoming very clear now is that this whole affidavit seems more linked to the USA and the leftist groups than to anything else. Consider also the fact that many of these United Alliance and BNP members are now holding top posts in the PA government. These are not bona fide SLFPers. From the president to the prime minister and several of her cabinet these are all break-aways from the SLFP who joined the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) and subsequently the BNP.
Independent Students' Union
Let us analyse the ISU of the Colombo University at the relevant period in the affidavit. The ISU was a pro-left yet anti-JVP student's union in the university.
Chandraprema too was a member of this students' union. In his statement he states that he commenced publishing his articles on the JVP around August 1989. It was in or around mid 1989 that he first encountered Douglas Peiris . It was Dharmasiri who was at the time head of the ISU that took him to Douglas Peiris saying that he could gather a lot of material for his articles from Peiris. He reiterates that this is how he met Peiris and not through Ranil Wicremesinghe whom he did not even know at the time until February 1990. Furthermore late Neelan Thiruchelvam's organisation the ICES had hired him to write a paper titled Ruhuna: A Study Of History, Society And Ideology.' It was published in August 1989 and later converted into a book. For all this he was doing research.
Douglas Peiris as source
Chandraprema met Douglas Peiris only on two or three occasions in Peliyagoda and that too always in the company of Dharmasiri who was Chandraprema's batchmate at university. He states that in any case the only information he was able to get from Douglas Peiris was a list of names of JVP politbureau and central committee members. In August 1989 Dharmasiri was killed allegedly by the JVP. Thereafter Chandraprema had no further connection with SSP Douglas Peiris.
Daya Pathirana and Vijaya Kumaratunga
Now Daya Pathirana was a Colombo University student and the very first leader of the ISU. He was killed by the JVP in December 1986. In January 1988, the man who delivered the first ever Daya Pathirana memorial lecture at the New Town Hall was none other than leader of the SLMP at the time Vijaya Kumaratunga. During this lecture Vijaya Kumaratunga made an eloquent speech where he emphatically stated that whatever anyone may say, Daya Pathirana was killed by the JVP.' A month after this lecture Vijaya Kumaratunga himself was brutally shot down by the JVP. Incidentally, Vijaya was taken to the memorial lecture by this very same Dharmasiri (also killed by the JVP) whom Douglas Peiris now states in his affidavit had connections with Ranil Wickremesinghe. However investigations and evidence reveal that in fact all of these people were closely connected to the left and to the SLMP, USA and BNP.
Suspected PRRA members linked to USA
Funnily enough, in 1997 the CID arrested alleged members of the so-called PRRA, an anti-JVP outfit that was supposed to be on the loose during this terror period. One of the many persons arrested was a Shelton Nonis who has now been released. Who is Shelton Nonis? He was a Wayamba provincial council member from 1988-1993 representing the United Socialist Alliance under the leadership of Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Another person arrested also in 1997 as a suspected PRRA leader was one Sarath Silva. His story is even more damning and gives details as to the house in Colombo 7 he lived at the relevant period and the connections PRRA had to the USA. His statement to the CID will be revealed in due course.
Consider the facts. On the one hand we have Chandraprema saying that his connections were with the USA and not with the UNP. We have every name mentioned in the affidavit linked only to the SLMP or BNP and some like Dharmasiri with close connections to the late SLMP leader Vijaya Kumaratunga.
Let's face it. The period in question was one of terror and anarchy. The JVP had gone on a killer rampage and for a time seemed unstoppable in their bloody quest. In this backdrop the biggest threat by the JVP were to the UNP as the incumbent government and parties such as the SLMP which were at that time active as political parties and though pro -leftist were anti JVP.
Weapons for the SLMP
Adding credence to this is the fact that at this time (1988/89) the ministry of defence issued weapons to the SLMP for the purpose of protection from JVP terror elements. A list of weapons from .38 revolvers to other types of arms and ammunition was supplied by the MOD for the purpose. (Please refer box for details of weapons supplied)
On March 25, 1988 .38 revolvers, guns, cartridges and other ammunition was released by the MOD for the specific purpose of distributing these weapons to the party candidates of Chandrika Kumaratunga (please see box) and was accepted on her behalf by Nimalsiri Jayasinghe. Chandrika Kumaratunga left the country for England in April 1988.
Now Nimalsiri Jayasinghe also known as Loku Athula (when he was part of the JVP movement) was elected an MP in 1994 under the PA government and subsequently made a deputy minister. At the dissolution of parliament last week he remained a deputy minister. Furthermore the late Y.P. Silva who was SLMP general secretary during this period signed letters releasing weapons now in the possession of the SLMP to party candidates for their security. Incidentally he was appointed to the national list of the PA in 1994 and subsequently handed over a deputy ministership in the PA government up until his death some two years ago
For instance on 3.1.1989, Y.P. Silva signs a note on a SLMP letterhead granting permission to D. B. W. Wickremaratne, the leader of the opposition of the Uva Provincial Council to carry the weapons as laid down in the letter. (see box)
Minds you, all of these weapons were stored and distributed from Chandrika Kumaratunga's house at Rosmead Place. This fact becomes even more evident when one peruses the contents of letters she wrote from London. The PRRA Leader Sarath Silva himself had admitted both to the CID and on camera that the weapons used by the organisation were those issued to the USA.
From England on June 12,1888, Chandrika Kumaratunga was to write to Ossie Abeygunasekera and Y. P. Silva requesting them to vacate her home at No.63, Rosmead Place by June 30 at latest. She says among other interesting things this. "Also please do not use the house for any political work hereafter in my absence. No discussions, no storing of arms and ammunition etc, etc."
This proves the fact that arms and ammunition was indeed stored at her Rosmead Place premises with her knowledge.
Again also from London she was to write a heartfelt, stirring letter of rhetorical nature, to party members, telling them what they should do to combat JVP bloodshed. And that security measures should be taken immediately. She warns that the party membership, especially the executive committee members, should not give out information to other organisations. And that though the party never did this before, now there is a need to find out about leaking of information. Especially she notes, one should find out if there are any members with any JVP connections.
She then poses the rhetorical question; "How many members are there in our executive committee who can meet the new political culture? Are they not persons who still continue to work on old peaceful political principles. But we need to train people in order that they may acquire the traits necessary for this new culture. We need to give them an understanding of politics. From the branch offices to the higher levels the administration, the party must be structured in a manner that is necessary for this period. We also need to set up a large fund."
She urges the party that comprehensive security measures must be taken immediately. She continues, "It is our responsibility to protect the leaders of the party at all levels. History will never forgive us if we only hold large funerals and do not protect the remaining progressive honest persons and let them be destroyed."
"What so far we have done without a plan we should now continue and build with a clear plan. For this purpose we have the capital-: People, including other things." (What does Kumaratunga mean by other things' in this sentence? We know already that she had arms and ammunition stored in her house. This is on her own admission and on documentation.
She again continues in this letter to her party. "We must strengthen the left. We must establish links with progressive Tamil groups." (The progressive groups at the time were PLOTE and EPRLF).
Later on in the letter she goes on to say, "In the face of 11 years of suppression by the UNP, and in the face of a year of JVP terror yet what have the majority of the people done? Except for discussions and arguments, did the people ever rise up? Though tens of lakhs of people participated in Vijaya's funeral did even one of them raise a finger against a JVPer in the village? I feel that the majority of the people even though they know what is happening is wrong will stay silent and save only themselves....."
So it becomes amply clear that this was a party leader who wanted her party to rise up and fight back against JVP terror. After all it was a time when her party and her members were also under severe threat by the JVP. Her husband had already been mowed down by them.
The photograph elsewhere on this page taken during the relevant period mentioned in the affidavit shows Salinda Dissanayake on stage carrying a weapon. He was an active SLMP and later BNP member. Dissanayake is also a deputy minister in the PA government and MP up until August 18.
Therefore the whole affair seems to have done a full circle. It was Chandraprema's USA connections that first threw a spanner in the works. Whether this was a conspiracy hatched by Sirisena Cooray and others or not, it was most certainly a conspiracy. That was obvious from the timing and the way the whole investigation was handled. However now the conspirators whoever they are, in a dilemma. Not only is their only ally Douglas Peiris back-tracking (he did not make any damning statement in court as he threatened to) but the plan has turned full circle like a particularly well oiled aboriginal boomerang.
It is learnt that the conspirators realising the folly of their ways have decided to abandon this particular course of action to blacken the name of political rivals. No doubt in the true spirit of modern Sri Lankan politics they will soon resort to other methods. After all it was the president herself, as SLMP leader at the time who urged her members to be well trained to meet any eventuality. And the bulk of the modern SLFP under Chandrika's leadership consists of defectors to the SLMP and BNP in the late 1980s. These are her confidantes. Certainly hardcore SLFPers who have been accustomed to the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike will not look kindly on these methods of governance and or politicking.
Meanwhile another question arises. Where are all these weapons once handed over so generously to the SLMP members? Have they been returned? For, they were released on a temporary basis by the MOD for the purpose of security only. Can Chandrika Kumaratunga in whose name these weapons and bullets were released, account for every weapon and more importantly every bullet?