ECONOMYNEXT – President Maithripala Sirisena, who had previously maintained that Sri Lankan troops never committed excesses, acknowledged at the weekend that some troops were responsible for crimes at the behest of politicians.
Addressing military officers at the army hospital auditorium, the President said no one will be punished for prosecuting the war against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, but those who carried out excesses will be punished.
Deviating from his earlier stance that he will not allow a single soldier to be tried for war-time atrocities, the President drew a distinction between battling Tigers and carrying out criminal acts at the instigation of politicians.
“There is something that you should accept according to your conscience. There were things outside the control of the military. They were carried out by a few in the military to appease politicians. These were illegal, against democracy and the freedom of our people.
“You know that investigations are underway into a small number of officers who acted at the behest of politicians. Those who are in custody will be freed if they are innocent.
“I hear allegations from (opposition) political stages that this is a witch-hunt of war heroes. I strongly reject those allegations,” he said adding that the military should clear its name.
The President did not name the politicians involved, but former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been implicated in many of the atrocities during and after the war ended in May 2009. He has vehemently denied involvement.
President Sirisena raised eyebrows when he announced last year that he will not allow a single soldier to be brought to trial after having come to power promising to address allegations of war crimes.
His speech to officers last week was a clear reference to ongoing investigations into the abduction and killing of students and running extortion rackets by members of the navy and the killing of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga and the abduction of Prageeth Eknaligoda by the military intelligence.
Several military top brass have also been implicated in those killings. The military had also been used in attacking journalists and other political opponents of the then regime.
The killing of Sri Lanka rugby star Wasim Thajudeen is also attributed to military personnel attached to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s security detail. Investigations are still underway.