President Maithripala Sirisena snubbed the international community seeking to prosecute alleged war criminals and said he will not allow those abroad to touch any military commander or a war veteran.
Addressing the 66th anniversary convention of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), President Sirisena said the charges against his Latin American diplomat and former army commander Jagath Jayasuriya was an “offshore” problem.
“The allegations brought against General Jagath Jayasuriya is a problem beyond our shores,” the president. “I will not allow anyone abroad to touch Gen. Jayasuriya, any army commander or any of our war heroes.”
He said action filed against Jayasuriya in Brazil and Colombia was based on “false information” although his cabinet minister and war-time army commander Sarath Fonseka declared he had evidence on Jayasuriya’s “crimes.”
President Sirisena’s remarks directly contradicted Field Marshal and Regional Development Fonseka who said he knew that Jayasuriya who was in charge of detainees was committing “offences” on those under his custody.
Fonseka had also maintained that there were no orders to commit war crimes, but there may have been individuals who acted on their own. He had also said that the then defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had directly contacted field commanders going over the chain of command.
The South African-based rights group the International Truth and Justice Project filed the cases against retired general Jayasuriya two days before he left Brazil completing a two-year term as ambassador of Sri Lanka.
The ITJP alleged that Jayasuriya oversaw torture camps and was responsible for thousands of disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the final stages of the conflict in 2009 and thereafter.
The ITJP had collected evidence from 14 survivors who alleged suffered at the hands of Jayasuriya’s command in Vavuniya.
“The charges against Jagath Jayasuriya is problem beyond our shores,” Sirisena said. “I will not allow anyone in the world to touch Jagath Jayasuriya or any army commander or any war hero.”
The former Sri Lankan government faced international censure for refusing to acknowledge that civilians were killed while battling Tamil separatists.
Sirisena came to power in January 2015 on the back of minority Tamil and Muslim support after he had pledged accountability for war-time atrocities by both the security forces and Tamil Tigers.
He had previously said he was willing to investigate specific allegations of wrongdoing, but maintained he will allow only a domestic inquiry and oppose any foreign investigation.
Many Sri Lankan military personnel had been accused by rights groups of ordering indiscriminate shelling of hospitals and bombarding civilians.
Jayasuriya has denied the allegations against him and said the US had refused him a transit visa when he wanted to return to Colombo via a US city.