Three months into the tenure of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to Russia, Udayanga Weeratunga, who was in the wanted list of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID) and having evaded arrest for more than a couple of years, returned to the country on February 14 on board a SriLankan airlines flight from Dubai escorted by two CID officers.
He was arrested on arrival at the BIA and questioned at length before being produced before Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake and remanded, first till February 17 and later re-remanded till February 26 on charges of misappropriating public funds and money laundering in connection with the questionable procurement of four MiG-27 fighter aircraft for the Sri Lanka Air Force from Ukraine in 2006.
Udayanga Weeratunga has a case pending in the Colombo Magistrate’s Court while warrants including an Interpol Red Notice had been issued for his arrest had not even returned to Sri Lanka even after his term of office, as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Russia, had ended on February 28, 2015.
In a not so surprising or an unexpected turn of events, soon after the delivery of the remand order he was admitted to the Prisons Hospital after he complained of chest pains. Genuine or otherwise, this has been a ruse often adopted in recent times by many VIP miscreants who develop aches and pains at the most appropriate times and thus avoid spending time in remand custody or in jail.
Be that as it may, another contentious if not a more worrisome matter that Sri Lanka is currently confronted with, is the travel ban imposed by the Untied States of America on Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva over allegations of human rights violations including alleged extrajudicial killings during the country’s civil war and as such is no longer allowed to enter the US.
“I am designating Shavendra Silva making him ineligible for entry into the US due to his involvement in extrajudicial killings during Sri Lanka’s Civil War,” US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on Friday. “The US will not waver in its pursuit of accountability for those who commit war crimes and violate human rights.”
In an earlier statement, Mr. Pompeo said allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva documented by the United Nations and other organisations were serious and credible.
The sanctions imposed on Friday by Washington bar Lieut. Gen. Silva and his immediate family members from entering the US. It resulted in Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations urging Washington to review its decision, adding that there were “no substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against him”.
“The Sri Lankan Government takes strong objection to the imposition of travel restrictions on Lieutenant General Silva and his immediate family members by the US Government, based on independently unverified information,” the ministry said in a statement while Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena summoned US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz to the ministry and formally conveyed Sri Lanka’s strong objections to the travel ban, which he said, “unnecessarily complicates the US-Sri Lanka relationship”.
Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva’s appointment as Sri Lanka’s army commander in August last year drew sharp criticism from the US and the UN, which later suspended the Sri Lankan army from its peacekeeping operations prompting UN’s Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to say that the promotion of Lieutenant General Silva “severely” compromised Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and undermined reconciliation efforts “in the eyes of victims and survivors who suffered greatly in the war”.
Mr. Pompeo urged the Sri Lankan government “to promote human rights, hold accountable those individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security reforms and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation”.
Foreign relations Minister Gunawardena said Lieut. Gen. Shavendra Silva was appointed army commander because of his seniority and asked the US to verify the authenticity of the sources of information. “It is disappointing for a foreign government to have questioned the prerogative of a democratically elected President to call upon persons of proven expertise to hold key positions on national security-related matters,” he said.
How this matter will finally unravel itself will be known in the next few days if not weeks and is a matter of concern for all Sri Lankans, who consider Sri Lanka as an Independent, Free and Sovereign Nation not to be belittled or used as a footstool by any other country.