It’s not a ‘Tragedy’


by A Patabendige

Former Senior DIG Gamini Gunawardene’s article ‘The Shani Abeysekera Tragedy’ in The Island of 6 Dec 2019 is an interesting and well-compiled piece on police officers' post-election transfer trauma. However, it is not a tragedy but a common if regrettable occurrence after elections as he, too, sets down. It should therefore not cause waves for the initiated.

The title (The SA Tragedy’) refers to just one person but the article covers many former CID officers, including the writer himself. He must know that if the police officers do their job properly they should look only to professional pride and career recognition. Police officers and importantly the public will then respect them. However, they may lack in friends especially in high places. That is the fate of honest, dedicated and effective police officers as he well knows. If they mix friendship with duty and err, especially with politicians, there are bound to be post-election jolts. If anyone has veered from the straight and narrow, as this article despite its title may appear to show, it is to be regretted.

Mr. Gunewardene surprisingly says that the ‘police were angry with the CID after they busted a fraud concerning smuggled watches by the ‘whole chain of command’ of the Negombo police many years ago. Why should that be? On the contrary when such a shattering revelation, upheaval or exposure takes place, almost all police officers and certainly the public must have been supportive if not also joyous. If there is anger, it surely will be directed at the perpetrators especially when a conspiracy that probably involved the senior most police officer in Negombo was uncovered and the police disgraced.

Surely, the vast majority of the people wish to live in a land where law and order, trust, honesty and justice prevail. It should not be the other way round. If it is, the police are redundant. The police, like other public servants, must find it difficult to live up to public expectations, do their duties correctly and survive but they must. The police must be angered only when their own kind bend the rules and connive with law breakers and criminals. This is especially so if their bosses kowtow to the wishes of interfering, bullying, bent, parasitical and proliferating politicians. That is what makes everyone angry.

Similarly, the ex-SDIG must know that no one in the Army will accept his sweeping statement that "The Army (1971) was angry with the CID because they successfully investigated the Kataragama beauty queen, (Premawathie Manamperi) murder (and also rape) case where some Army officers were accused". He appears to have totally misjudged the Army.

This act shamed the Army for all time. The Army was elated that the perpetrators of that shocking crime had been brought to justice, final, especially as the Army High Command had failed to take immediate action about this shocking crime. Was there a failure to act initially on the part of the CID that may have veered from duty believing like JRJ in 1983 by quoting ‘In times of war the laws are silent’ (Cicero). The laws are not.

The Army knew it was shamed locally and globally. The punishment given to the accused in a little way redeemed the Army’s honour. The USA and the UK should take note.

It was the late PM Srimavo Bandaranaike who initiated action when Army HQ (‘chain of command’) prevaricated. The reasons for the failure of AHQ to act can to be told another day.

It must be known in the Kataragama case that the accused were ill-bred, ill-disciplined, reservists with scanty training with the mentality of bullies and perverts. The local Coordinating Officer was a clueless and bombastic reservist who knew what had happened. He did nothing. His responsibility was unfortunately glossed over despite the statements of the accused. A Lieutenant and Sergeant were sentenced to 12 years in prison. The officer (Wijesuriya) died in prison and the sergeant (Ratnayake) after his release was killed in revenge by the JVP in 1989.

The Army became upset, but not angry, only when PM R Premadasa (1977) when for cheap political gain, castigated in stone the Army and not the perpetrators when he unveiled the Manamperi monument in Kataragama.

The Army was very happy at the convictions though it didn’t think about which branch of the police did the needful. Few remember who the judges were. The conviction established very firmly that the rule of law prevailed at all-time, especially during armed conflict. For a Force in which discipline is a paramount necessity, it established a standard for all time. The CID had only done its duty.

The anger in the Army at lesser levels was directed at the wrong doers. One officer and corporal of the ill-famed platoon found this out to their dismay when sent for ‘refresher’ training to Diyatalalwa.

When Krishanthi Kumaraswamy was raped and murdered in Kaithady in August 1996 at the Army check point, the CID led evidence against the accused soldiers of whom six were sentenced to death. It was the most foul, brazen, and horrible of all crimes by an Army, infected by the 1989-90 experience when no one was punished. Once again the Army was indebted to the CID and its own Military Police. Why should there ever be a cause for anger, or even dislike or resentment by a highly disciplined organization when an abomination was uncovered and the perpetrators severely punished?

It is to the credit of Mrs. Bandaranaike, that her daughter, too, followed her example, in 1996, to see that the army, of which she was Commander-in-chief, answered for its criminal misdeeds, especially during conflict. (the USA, the UK and the Swiss Embassy should note!)

However, whenever the CID appeared to have acted in a partisan manner its conduct did not endear itself to the Army and the other forces or the public.

May the writer sleep well by reading a bit of Army humour! During military field training exercises, the Military Police (MP) always complain that both the ‘friendly forces’ and the ‘enemy forces’ who are ‘fighting’ each other consider the MPs as the mutual enemy. That is the fate of the civil police, too, and not only the CID. That is a heavy badge to wear but it is well earned if duty has been done without fear or favour.

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