By PK Balachandran.
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s security experts are deeply concerned about the security of President Maithripala Sirisena following an incident in which his security was seriously breached and another in which lack of alertness on the part of his security staff was evident.
Experts point to politicization, a lack of professionalism and the general absence of security consciousness for the glaring lapses.
On April 25, army commando Cpl. Senaka Kumara, who was detailed to protect former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had entered a meeting addressed by incumbent President Sirisena at Angunukolapelessa in South Lanka, allegedly armed with a 9 mm pistol. The Presidential Security Division (PSD) had let him in without frisking him. Kumara was barely 8 meters from Sirisena when the more watchful Special Task Force (STF) caught him and handed him over to the PSD. But the PSD let him off! It was only a media outcry which forced the authorities to arrest him eventually. Rajapaksa, however, claims that he was carrying only a water bottle.
Eight days later, after a function outside Colombo, Sirisena had got into the wrong vehicle, and it was left to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to get him out of it. Yet another sign of lax security is Sirisena’s convoy stopping at traffic lights, when, according to former STF chief Nimal Lewke, 90 percent of VIP assassinations had taken place during road movements.
Security columnist Iqbal Athas told Express that the first thing that the President should have done was to replace his security chief, DIG S.M.Wickremesinghe. Wickremesinghe had had a nine year stint as the security chief of former President Rajapaksa. With so many members of the former regime and the Rajapaksa clan being in the dock facing corruption charges, there could be threats to Sirisena from these elements or their henchmen, Athas said.
But Sirisena is still retaining Wickremesinghe because the latter comes from a leading family of Polonnaruwa, the President’s home district, Athas pointed out and said that Sirisena is not aware of the nuances of security.
Athas faulted the Lankan police chief, N.K.Illangakoon, for not taking action against Wickremesinghe unlike the Army Commander, who immediately dissolved the army unit in Rajapaksa’s security. Apparently, Illangakoon had used Wickremesinghe’s closeness to Rajapaksa to facilitate access to the then President, Athas said. On top of it all, the PSD had become a tool in the hands of the powers-that-be, the expert added.
Need For Awareness
Former STF Commandant, Nimal Lewke, said that there ought to be an all-round awareness of the need for security.
Giving the ingredients of good VVIP security, Lewke said: “ In our time we had the benefit of American and Israeli training in the physical aspects of VVIP protection. But apart from this, there are other requirements. First, there ought to be a correct threat perception based on accurate intelligence. Second, the VIP should be aware that he or she is under threat and feel the need for protection. Third, there should be awareness among all that there could be threat to the President.”
“The President himself should realize that his life is important for the stability and security of the country,” Lewke emphasized.
Assassinations could be carried out, not only by the remnants of the LTTE, but also by disgruntled political elements. It should be borne in mind that anybody can be motivated to kill, Lewke said.
“55 year ago, Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was killed by a Buddhist monk, Somarama Thero, who in turn was motivated by the disgruntled Buddharakkita Thero,” he recalled.
On changing the head of the PSD, he said that competence apart, political perceptions about an appointee have to be taken into account to put to rest speculation about his commitment.