Sri Lanka’s Defence Chief Detained over Murder Cover-up during LTTE War
Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne, Chief of Defence Staff, Sri Lanka (Photo: Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez, U.S. Marine Corps )

Sri Lanka's Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijeguneratne was remanded to custody for seven days by a court in Colombo over the cover-up of the murder of 11 men by another naval officer during 2008-09 war with Tamil Elam fighters.

Three warrants for Wijeguneratne’s arrest were issued in early November but the top military officer had evaded appearing before the court. He is the highest-ranked defence officer who has been called before the court for war-time crimes.

The court also rejected Wijeguneratne’s application for bail after accusations surfaced that he attempted to abduct a key witness over the weekend and have a police officer investigating the case removed. "I am denying bail because in your position you are able to influence witnesses and disrupt the investigations," Magistrate Ranga Dassanayake announced in the court in Colombo.

The court also rebuked the top military officer for trying to evade arrest and show up in court in full dress uniform as a form of intimidation. Wijeguneratne was appointed to his post of CDS by the current Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena too has been accused of trying to protect the Defence chief by slamming the Criminal Investigations Department which conducted the inquiry into the alleged crimes and the subsequent cover-up.

The naval officer who is accused of killing the 11 men and who Wijeguneratne allegedly protected is also in custody. He is accused of being part of an extorting ring run by some naval officers during the 2008-09 war. The bodies of the 11 men killed has not been found.

The war of 2008-09 in Sri Lanka is a dark time in the island-nation’s history with many accusations of military excesses in the effort to defeat Tamil separatist rebels. The final months of the war saw an estimated 40,000 civilians killed. However, trying officers in uniform is a deeply divisive and emotive issue in Sri Lanka as many consider their service during the times of civil-war as invaluable.