Army rejects LTTE claim over killing of soldier

by Shamindra Ferdinando
A simmering dispute over the army’s opposition to belts worn by female Tiger cadres, as part of their uniform in government-held parts of the Jaffna peninsula, took a new turn over the weekend as the army reported the death of a soldier in an incident involving a group of female cadres. He was identified as S/514701 K.P.A.Dharmadasa.

According to the Tigers, the incident took place in the Tiger-held area across the Kilaly-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil front-line. The Tigers have told the Jaffna office of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that he was among a group of armed soldiers who moved across the front-line resulting in the incident.

Army headquarters yesterday vehemently denied Tiger claims that the soldier was among a group of soldiers who moved across the front-line. "We reported the disappearance of a soldier (Dharmadasa) to Kodikamam police on Friday afternoon," the army said, stressing the need to subject the body to post mortem. According to informed sources troops deployed in the area did not hear gunfire and were not aware of the fate of the soldier until the Tigers informed the army of the shooting through the SLMM.

Quoting the Tigers, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in Jaffna on Saturday night informed Major General Ratnasabapathy, the number two officer in Jaffna, that a group of three soldiers had been fired upon by Tigers after they moved across the front-line. One died in the shooting but the rest escaped, the army was told. But the army headquarters stressed that only one soldier had been involved in the incident and they were determined to know why private Dharmadasa walked across the front-line. "There was not an iota of truth in their claim he had been among a group or acted in anyway threatening the lives of Tiger cadres involved in the incident. He may have crossed the line but that should not be a reason to kill him," an officer said.

The Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) is in the process of investigating the incident. SLMM spokesperson Teitur Torkelsson told The Island that they were in touch with the army, the LTTE and the ICRC regarding the inquiry and the transfer of the body across the front-line. "Arrangements are being made to handover the body to the army," he said, adding Jaffna-based truce monitors visited the scene of the shooting Saturday evening, shortly after the LTTE informed the SLMM of the incident.

Defence Secretary Austin Fernando said Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle directed Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna to probe the incident. "We want to establish the circumstances leading to his death," Fernando said, adding he briefed Defence Minister Tilak Marapana and Minister Milinda Moragoda regarding the incident.

Attached to the camp at Kilaly, the soldier was reported missing on Friday morning. "He was not at the day’s physical training parade," an army spokesman said, adding that the soldier appeared to have left the camp over an argument with a colleague on the previous day. He had been armed with a T-56 assault rifle and 30 rounds of ammunition.

Fernando said they expect an SLMM report on the incident.