|Army faces tough questions over Kandy massacre
Our Defence Correspondent
The question that many throughout the country are pondering is how the top brass of the army has lost control over the activities of their men to such an extent, that the main security threat faced by the public outside the North-eastern Province is fast becoming the conduct of the army itself, rather than the operations of the LTTE.
The Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Lionel Balagalle, met with election monitoring organizations recently, at which he stressed that the army itself had no hand in political activities and killings, but that it was the actions of individuals within the army that was the problem. News reports showed the army trying to distance the top brass from the actions of junior officers and soldiers.
But Lt. Gen. Balagalle is reported to have said that the actions of soldiers who were detailed to guard politicians, were not easy to control.
The raid on the house in Athurugiriya is alarming due to several facts. The first is that the raid was made by police who are on the trail of soldiers believed to have been involved in the political killings in Kandy on the 5th of December. Had it been a raid by another section of the police, there would be no reason to believe that these soldiers were involved in any killings.
Another alarming fact is that such a huge haul of weapons was being kept in a house in Millennium City, a fashionable private housing project near Colombo. The house had been rented in the name of the wife of an army captain, who is now in custody. The weapons included 10 kg Claymore mines, 1 kg Claymore mine, rocket propelled grenades and grenade launchers, automatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Also found were 70 LTTE uniforms, bearing the distinct Tiger stripes.
Five soldiers and four Tamil men, believed to be members of a Tamil political party which is helping the army, were also taken into custody.
This particular army unit is a hush unit that is said to have been carrying out special operations behind enemy lines in the north and east. These included the ambushing of top LTTE members, principally by laying Claymore mines on roads where LTTE vehicles were travelling. These activities had been extremely successful during last year, and accounted for the deaths of several top LTTE officials, leading to much panic among the hierarchy of the Tigers.
The presence of the Tamil political party members, Claymore mines, etc., is explained by the nature of activities of this unit. The fact that it was being housed in Colombo, can also be explained by the fact that the unit has temporarily ceased operations, with the change in government and the start of the cease-fire. It would be dangerous for the unit to be housed for many months closer to the front lines, as the LTTE would dearly love to wipe out the unit.
However, the police are not accepting that this unit was merely lying low in Colombo during the lull in fighting. Police believe that the unit, together with the Tamil party members, may have been hired by Peoples Alliance politicians to create mayhem during the election campaign.
If this is proved to be correct, then there should be a full shake-up within the armys top brass, for the gross negligence of allowing an elite unit armed with the deadliest of weapons, to be used for political activities. The fact is that the armed forces exist solely for the defence of the sovereignty of the country, and to safeguard the government and the public from harm. That is why it is a taxpayer-funded organization directly responsible to the president of the country. It is not the private army of any politician or political party, whose duty is to murder people in order to keep certain individuals in power.
The fact that junior officers have been arrested at both the Boyagane camp of the Vijayaba Infantry Regiment in Kurunegala, and at Athurugiriya, is especially troubling. It appears that these were not merely a few soldiers who had been recruited as hired guns, but entire army units which have been led by their officers into becoming hired killers using their official weapons, no better than the killers of the underworld.
Since junior officers are supposed to be closely supervised by their senior officers, the question that must be asked of the Commander of the Army is what the top brass was doing, and is doing. It is simply not possible for a young lieutenant or a captain to run off from Kurunegala to Kandy or from Athurugiriya to Kandy for several days with all his men, armed to the teeth, without the majors and colonels in the camp knowing that something is amiss. At the very least, the weapons must be reported to be missing, and the soldiers listed as absent without leave.
If the units were actually assigned to guard politicians, there must be full reports on the daily activities of the units. The top brass cannot just assign 30 soldiers to a politician in Kandy and forget about them. There need to be checks and balances all round. The army cannot shirk its responsibility by saying that the soldiers were placed in the charge of a politician. Soldiers are responsible only to their officers, who are responsible to the top brass, and ultimately the entire army is responsible to the Commander of the Army.
If the activities of the Athurugiriya unit were above board, then the matter should have been settled quickly, with the army chief speaking to the IGP and vouching for the activities of the soldiers, on whom the army chief should have had a full report from their senior officers. Instead, the matter has now sparked a full CID investigation.
The conduct of the armys own internal security units is now open to question. How is it that it is the police who are making arrests and not the Military Police? What are the Military Police doing, if the soldiers that they should be controlling, are running around as hired killers? It isnt just the Military Police either. There are many units in the army which deal with discipline. Yet none of them seem to be doing their jobs.
This column has raised the issue time and time again during last year, that the army launched only one major operation in the last 12 months, its worst performance in offensive terms from the start of the war. It is now clear that this malaise which the army has got itself into, has badly affected discipline, and it is clear that we cannot expect our army to fight and win the war, if entire units are involved in nefarious activities in other parts of the country.
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