Sri Lanka general locked up again over killing-fields murders

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: AFP
| Date: 20000731

COLOMBO, July 31 (AFP) - A Sri Lankan court Monday ordered the remand of a retired army general for two more weeks pending police investigations into allegations that he ordered the slaughter of left-wing rebels, officials said.

The magistrates courts in the north central town of Anuradhapura asked retired major general Ananda Weerasekara and two soldiers to be kept in custody for two weeks, court officials said after Monday's hearing.

Weerasekara was arrested two weeks ago in connection with murders allegedly committed 12 years ago when he was the region's top military officer during the government's crack down against leftist rebels.

After retiring from the army Weerasekara set up a right-wing group called the Sinhalaye Veerawidhana, or Sinhala Heroes' land, which is closely linked to the Sihala Urumaya that seeks to contest up coming elections.

The general's supporters in the Sihala Urumaya said the reasons behind the decision to charge him are political and the case is politically motivated ahead of parliamentary elections that must be held by November 9.

They said there was no evidence against the former general, and that government wanted to discredit him because of the threat posed by his party to the Peoples Alliance party of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

"This is a politically motivated arrest," Sihala Urumaya general Secretary Thilak Karunaratne said adding that they condemned the charges brought against Weerasekara.

Two weeks ago, the ruling PA defended the decision to instigate charges against Weerasekara who is accused of torturing and murdering members of the Marxist People's Liberation Front (JVP).

The general who was a brigadier in 1989 and two army sergeants are accused of playing a key role in what the government says was the running of a detention camp in which JVP members were tortured and killed.

Its the second time he has been questioned about his role during the uprising. Recently he appeared before a government commission on disappearances, but was absolved of any blame.

In February last year, a Sri Lankan court handed down 10 year jail terms to six soldiers and a school principal for abducting 31 teenage students who disappeared 10 years ago during the crackdown against the JVP.

The trial which attracted attention from international human rights groups lasted three years.

High Court judge Chandradasa Nanayakkara, while sentencing the guilty, criticised both investigators and lawyers for mishandling the case.

In September 1997, President Chandrika Kumaratunga announced plans to initiate criminal proceedings against government officers, including security personnel, held responsible for the killings of at least 16,742 people.

"A large number of persons responsible for the disappearances -- government officers and others -- have been identified in the report," Kumaratunga's office said of the findings of three probe teams appointed by her.

The three committees appointed by Kumaratunga in 1995 received 19,079 complaints about people who went missing after being taken away by government forces, police or pro-government vigilante death squads since 1988.

The complaints were from the island's northern and eastern regions where Tamil rebels are still active and the western, central and southern areas where Sinhalese rebels operated till they were crushed in 1990.

A group of European parliamentarians had estimated the number killed or missing between 1988 and 1990 at 60,000.