Saturday, 29 January 2022

Lanka’s top military chief detained


COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s military chief was remanded by court after weeks evading arrest over the alleged cover-up of the abduction and murder of 11 young men during the island’s civil war.

Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne is the highest-ranking military officer ever held by a court over alleged crimes from Sri Lanka’s wartime past, when the armed forces were accused of grave abuses against civilians.

The powerful Chief of the Defence Staff was detained after revelations he attempted to abduct a key witness over the weekend and have a police detective removed from the case.

“I am denying bail because in your position you are able to influence witnesses and disrupt the investigations,” Magistrate Ranga Dassanayake told a packed courthouse in Colombo.

Wijegunaratne, who arrived at court flanked by military personnel, has denied protecting the chief suspect in the high-profile murders – a navy intelligence officer — or attempting to cover-up the crimes.

Wijegunaratne, who was chosen by the president, appeared in full military regalia, earning a rebuke from Magistrate Dassanayake who suggested he was trying to intimidate the court.

Earlier, his entourage attacked journalists trying to photograph Wijegunaratne as he arrived at court. A navy officer was later arrested by police for assault. Three arrest warrants were issued for Wijegunaratne this month but the top military appointee refused to surrender, even travelling to Mexico as an envoy for the president.

Senior military figures have been accused of serious crimes and civilian abuses during Sri Lanka’s decades-long war, but have broadly enjoyed impunity from prosecution.

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