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Vijaya assassination: Politics kills police professionalism

Tassie Seneviratne
In an earlier article I outlined how high-profile interference frustrates police professionalism. In this context the Vijaya Kumaratunga assassination case is another that deserves elaboration. Vijaya Kumaratunga was a film idol who started politics in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). He married Chandrika Bandaranaike in 1978 and joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
In 1984 he broke away from the SLFP alleging that the SLFP influenced by Anura Bandaranaike was too right wing oriented and founded the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP). He won over supporters from the left wing parties and formed the United Socialist Alliance (USA) with the LSSP and the Communist Party (CP).

 In 1987 he supported the Indo-Lanka Peace accord and earned the wrath of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Defying death threats, he severely criticized its campaign of terror. On February 16, 1988 Vijaya Kumaratuga was gunned down outside his house in broad daylight by a gunman who had come on a motorcycle pillion.

SSP Gamini Perera of the CDB assisted by Inspector Nandana Wijeratne handled the investigation. They traced witnesses who had seen the assassin over a period of time prior to the day of shooting. Prior to the killing, the assassin had hired a boutique close to Vijaya’s house, kept a motorcycle at a residence of a witness identified as Foenander and a cricketing bag at the residence of another witness identified as Dharmadasa. The cricketing bag contained the T-56 gun.

The assassin had given his name only as Gamini (a common name). The witnesses had not been aware of the assassin’s plans when they accommodated his requests. It was after hearing the news of the shooting that the witnesses had realized what this man had been up to. But they were frightened to inform the police until the police questioned them, following leads they had collected. From these witnesses the police had been able to obtain a clear description of the assassin and come out with a sketch of the assassin. The sketch was studied by CDB sleuths on surveillance duty.

On March 14, 1989 CDB constables Basil and Dias spotted a person on Bullers Road, resembling the man in the sketch. They bundled him into a trishaw and took him to the CDB Office. The man was identified as Lionel Ranasinghe alias Gamini of the JVP. By this time the JVP was all but annihilated. Ranasinghe who had committed a string of murders, had known that the game was up the moment he was arrested. He confessed that he not only killed Vijaya Kumaratunga, but also Professor Stanley Wijesundera, SSP Terrance Perera, UNP General Secretary Nandalal Fernando and many others, on the orders of the JVP high command. Details obtained from him in regard to these killings, enabled the police to cross check with details already available to them, and establish the veracity of his confessions.

While arrangements were being made for an identification parade, Minister Ranjan Wijeratne visited Ranasinghe who was being held at a Slave Island Police cell and listened to his confessions. The minister, thereafter, ordered SSP Gamini Perera to hand over Ranasinghe to the CID. SSP Perera had been taken aback and pleaded with the minister to let him handle the investigations which he was bringing to a successful conclusion with a view to court convictions. “No, no, hand him over to the CID” had been the response. Within 24 hours of the arrest, the suspect was handed over to the CID. Sensing that S/DIG/CID Frank de Silva will be an obstacle to unlawful exercises, he was moved out of the CID and DIG Rajapakse who was given a third year extension of service, was brought in to the CID. These moves put paid to the professional manner in which the CDB was handling the investigation.

The CID recorded a lengthy confession from Ranasinghe. The CID later said he was killed during an escape bid. But it is alleged he was bumped off on the orders from Minister Wijeratne who is alleged to have ordered the police to commit extra judicial execution of JVPers.

During this period of anarchy, for every killing by the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (DJV) which was a JVP front, Minister Wijeratne is said to have ordered the police to execute double the number of JVPers and burn them publicly in the same spot. Officers in charge of police stations were hard pressed to collect the numbers!

In Sept 1989, I was privy to a telephone conversation SSP Colombo North Henry Silva had with Minister Wijeratne. This was on the day after Dr. Glayds Jayewardene was shot dead by the DJV. I visited SSP Henry Silva to find out the progress of the investigation due to my personal interest in Dr Jayewardene’s family. Our discussion was interrupted by a telephone call that Henry Silva received. It was obvious from Henry Silva’s demeanor that the caller was high-profile. After the call ended he sighed in exasperation and told me that the caller was Minister Wijeratne. On being told that none was coming forward to give evidence, he had ordered Henry Silva to demolish all houses in the vicinity of the scene of shooting. Now that was typically Ranjan Wijeratne. Henry Silva was however relieved that all buildings in close proximity to the scene of shooting were police flats!! Leaving Henry Silva to his destiny, I took my leave.

Soon after the shooting: One of Vijaya’s slippers among the items found scattered
Soon after the killing of her husband in 1988, Chandrika Kumaratunga fled the country with her two children seeking self-imposed asylum in Britain. Before leaving the country she told the police that the assassination of her husband was the work of the CIA. There was no mention of UNP then.

She returned in 1991 after the security situation improved with the annihilation of the JVP. Rejoining the SLFP, she formed the People’s Alliance (PA) with left parties and started blaming her main rival, the UNP, for the assassination of her husband with the aim of winning the JVP’s support. She was elected chief minister of the Western Provincial Council in 1993 and in 1994 won both the Parliamentary and the Presidential Elections.

In 1995, alleging R. Premadasa and Ranjan Wijeratne of the UNP to have been behind the assassination of her husband, she appointed the Presidential Commission of inquiry into the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga. The Commissioners were Supreme Court Judges P Ramanathan , S N Silva (later appointed Chief Justice by her) and High Court Judge D Jayawickrema.
Had the killing of Lionel Ranasinghe alias Gamini been an isolated incident, then speculating a cover up of guilt by Ranjan Wijeratne over Vijaya Kumaratunga’s assassination would have held water.

To Ranjan Wijeratne it was a bitter fight for the life of the nation at the time. Covering up tracts of the many executions the then government openly ordered, had never entered their mind. However this must be said; targets for execution at the time were terrorists but never political rivals. I am in no way justifying the extra judicial killings ordered against those believed to be terrorists, but I am putting the facts in perspective because the Commission had closed its eyes to the then government’s modus operandi against JVP terror generally and to the evidence implicating the JVP in the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga.

The Commission not only implicated R. Premadasa and Ranjan Wijeratne of the UNP in Vijaya Kumaratunga’s assassination but also castigated and humiliated even the police officers of the CDB who had done a professional job. By seeking political mileage from the killing of her husband, President Kumaratunga in effect, exculpated the real culprits responsible for the assassination of her husband, and put the professionally astute police officers in the dock. It is plainly seen that the lawyers assisting the Commission and the Commissioners themselves had only been interested in pinning down the chosen targets rather than finding out the truth.

The truth to them was a mandated version which they controlled and manipulated. A C Alles, a highly respected former judge of the Supreme Court and an authority on Criminal Law, in a critique released to the media, commented that the conclusion of the Commission was “a concept completely alien to established principles of Criminal Law”.

One could now see how professional police officers are not only rendered helpless but castigated and subjected to abject humiliation and harassment, when compromising police officers, leading lawyers and even Supreme Court Judges, stoop to conquer. In this episode the police were placed in a quandary with one political power giving irregular and unlawful orders to carry out extrajudicial action on terrorists against whom evidence had been gathered and another political leader after coming into power giving instructions to implicate her political rivals with a view to gaining political mileage. Either way the professional police officers were deprived of upholding the rule of law and reaping the fruits of their hard work to establish the truth that would have given a sense of fulfillment to themselves and credit to the Police Service.

” – – – but man, proud man,
Dress’d in a little brief authority
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d…
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.”
– William Shakespeare

(The writer is a retiired Senior Superintendent of Police )


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