The murder of two on-duty police constables- one from the South and one from the East- at Vavunativu, Batticaloa on November 30 sent shock waves through the country. Although a few arrests have been made, the motive of the shooting is still unknown because there are several dimensions which this incident could fall into. While the families of the slain PCs still mourn the loss of their loved ones, the investigators are also working hard to get to probe the incident in order to nab the real assailants.
Brigade camps surrounding Vavunathivu police checkpoint
Vavunathivu, a town in Batticaloa District, is located about 5 km Southwest of Batticaloa or 15 km Northwest of Kokkadichcholai. Vavunathivu was a strong LTTE-held territory and references have been made about the town in the history of the thirty-year armed conflict. The 1997 Vavunathivu Offensive was one of those main incidents associated with the war that concluded in 2009.
The police checkpoint which came under attack is located one and half kilometres away from the Vavunathivu Police Station. The travelling distance between the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) camp in Batticaloa and the Vavunathivu checkpoint is about one kilometre. Another Special Task Force camp is located around three kilometers away from the scene of crime. The SLAF Vavunathivu detachment used to be right opposite the police checkpoint.
Questions are raised as to whether the sand smugglers played any part in the police checkpoint incident or whether they were involved in the attack
Following orders from the top police officers, a special search operation was launched on November 29 at the checkpoint. There were four police constables who took part in the special search operation during day time. One of them had obtained approval to leave early to attend an alms giving ceremony.
Another constable had left the checkpoint at 1 am on November 30. That constable said it was raining when he had left the checkpoint. It proves that the shooting had taken place after 1 am on November 30. Apart from the slain policemen and brutal attackers, no one had seen what happened after 1 am. The bodies of PCs Dinesh and Niroshan were discovered under suspicious circumstances around 6 am on November 30. Niroshan Indika Prasanna (34) from Galle and Ganesh Dinesh (28) from Kalmunai were shot and killed by an organised and unidentified group of assailants.
Batticaloa Magistrate M.I.M Rizvi visited the scene. Police sources said that according to the postmortem, the two police constables were shot at close range. It was also revealed that Constables Niroshan and Dinesh had stab injuries. The body of one constables was found opposite the checkpoint, while the other was found on a bed inside the checkpoint. The weapons used by the deceased police constables were also missing.
Niroshan was married and was the father of a kindergarten kid. Dinesh was a bachelor. Niroshan had even worked in the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). His next transfer to another police station was to be made in January.
Dinesh had been earlier stationed in Trincomalee district. It was little under two months since Dinesh got a transfer to the Vavunathivu Police. He had made his last call to his sister on the night of November 29. He had told her that he would return home the next morning (November 30).
Meanwhile Daily Mirror learnt that it has been only three months since IP Nishantha Appuhami had started working as the OIC of Vavunathivu Police. Incidentally, IP Nishantha had taken a leave on November 29 to visit his previous police station in Galnewa for an official matter. When the shooting took place, the OIC of Vavunathivu Police was in Galnewa. One of the sub inspectors of the police stations was handling the duties of the OIC in his absence.
A major police operation with the assistance of the CID is underway to find the killers. The CID has launched an investigation into the deaths. A special team- led by Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara, senior DIG of the CID and Police Spokesman- is still in Batticaloa to probe the killing. The motive behind the killing is still not known. Statements have been recorded from several persons, including the villagers in Vavunathivu.
Maaveerar Naal is a remembrance day observed by Sri Lankan Tamils to remember the deaths of militants who fought for the LTTE. It is held each year on November 27; the date on which the first LTTE cadre, Lt. Shankar (Sathiyanathan alias Suresh), is said to have died in combat in 1982.
Police said the largest Maaveerar celebrations took place this year in Kilinochchchi. Just like in other towns, preparations were being made to hold events in Vavunathivu too. Police said there was an event to be held near the STF camp in Thandiyadi area. The STF camp was built on a land which used to be an LTTE burial site. The organisers had made preparations to hold the event on a larger scale this year by putting up huge stages and lighting massive oil lamps. The police were alerted about the event by November 26 and OIC IP Nishantha had instructed the organisers to cancel the event, giving a reason that there was no legal permission to conduct the event. However, if there is a link between this incident and the shooting, why the attackers waited for three more days to launch the attack, is a question that many in the area pose. The CID team is currently trying to unearth if the shooting was an act of revenge.
Arrests so far
Several persons, whose movements had been recorded on a CCTV camera, have also been questioned and released. Meanwhile, as the police ban on the Mahaveer event in Vavunathivu remains as the recent incident that could possibly have a link to the shooting, the police directed an inquiry into the organisers of the Mahaveer events, in Vavunathivu.
Vavunativu detachment of Sri Lanka Air Force is right opposite the police checkpoint (Google Street View - File Pic)
Subsequently, two former LTTE members had been taken into custody over the killing of the policemen. The two suspects were identified as Kadiramathambi Iraja kumaran (Kannan,40) and Rasanaygam Sarvananthan.
Kannan was taken into custody in Batticaloa and Sarvananthan at Kilinochchi. Later Sarvananthan was brought to Batticaloa for questioning. He is a former leading intelligence operative of the LTTE. He had told the police that he was in Batticaloa for several weeks to organise a Mahaveer event. Sarvananthan was staying in Kannan’s house in Vavunathivu, Batticaloa. It was also revealed that Sarvananthan had come to Batticaloa several times to celebrate Mahaveer every year.
Although reports said that one of the suspects had admitted that he was responsible for the killing, the CID has no strong evidence against the two suspects and therefore whether both of them were involved in the double murder is still unknown. Meanwhile, UNP MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara pointed out that the incident in Batticoloa was serious in nature and demands a proper investigation, as such crimes did not take place during the past three and half years.
If there is a link between Mahaveer and the shooting, why attackers waited for three more days to launch the attack, is a question
Sand smugglers and Vavunathivu Police
Illegal sand mining activities are taking place in Batticaloa and areas close to Vavunathivu. Dozens of trucks, on to which illegally excavated sand were being loaded on to, were seen in around the town when the writer visited Batticaloa.
Last year, six Special Task Force (STF) officers were hospitalised and a 17-year-old youth drowned during a tense situation that erupted when the STF raided an illegal sand mine in Karadiyanaru, Batticaloa. It was reported that the STF personnel were attacked by angry villagers during the raid.
Questions are raised as to whether the sand smugglers played any part in the police checkpoint incident or whether they were involved in the attack because the Vavunathivu Police was against the sand mining racket.
Lack of facilities at Vavunathivu checkpoint
The shooting is also a grim reminder of the dangers faced by law enforcement officers across the country. Officers are out there serving in extremely difficult circumstances and this shooting incident brings a whole new dimension to the very real dangers they are exposed to.
The police checkpoint which came under attack comprises a hut made of a tin-roof and a tin wall where it is obviously difficult for the policemen to stay during sweltering day time or during heavy rain. There were two plastic chairs, a table and a bed. There were no sanitary facilities set up in and around the checkpoint.
The checkpoint, which is located at the end of Vavunathivu bridge, next to a small Bo tree and a statue of Gautama Buddha, has direct access from the sea. The attackers may have arrived in boats or used them during their escape after the attack. Boats are usually docked near the checkpoint. However, the checkpoint had no facilities or emergency technological equipment whatsoever.
In both during emergencies and daily life alike, updated communications systems are vital during missions launched to saves lives and protect property. According to the Control Circular 14/2006 of Main Circular 1924/2006 issued by the IGP on 2006.07.04, the following equipment are compulsory for a police roadblock.
Signage, lighting, movable wooden or iron barricades, search kits, gloves, fluorescent cones, search mirrors, communication tools, materials to lift vehicles, caltrops, necessary fire arms, tools used to search ammo, police kennels, digital machine used to check NICs and support from Intelligence Service.
For a developing country like Sri Lanka, it is difficult to provide all this equipment to every single police roadblock, especially to those located in remote areas. However, the Vavunathivu Police roadblock had not at least a quarter of the above list, most importantly communication tools. That is why the bodies of the slain officers were discovered only after another two policemen had reached the place.
IGP responds to the shooting
Obviously everyone who joins in the law enforcement profession in the back of his or her mind knows that there is a possibility that one day something tragic could happen. Hence every one of them chooses the profession willingly. Emphasising on the faults and failures of the police, IGP Pujith Jayasundara issued two letters dated on December 03, 2018 regarding the Vavunathivu police murder. The following texts are quoted from the two letters.
- ‘Although police constables are usually deployed by the HQIs/ OICs for checkpoints and roadblocks, it is clear that Circulars and instructions issued by the Police have not been adhered to.
- It was observed that the Vavunathivu police checkpoint, which came under attack, is not a good condition for the police personnel to carry out their duties. The Divisional Heads and District Heads, HQIs and OICs are responsible for that issue.
- Divisional Heads and District Heads, HQIs and OICs have failed to deploy PCs to act during an emergency situation.
He also ordered all Divisional Heads of police to personally make observations on every permanent roadblock and uplift the working condition of the roadblocks, providing all the other facilities. The IGP had directed Divisional Heads to submit comprehensive reports regarding the condition of the permanent roadblocks around the country.
Dinesh always wanted to serve the country: suresh, Dinesh’s brother
“He had called his sister on the night of November 29 and told her that he would return home the next morning. Instead of him, his corpse had been brought home.
He always dreamt of becoming a policeman and serving the country. Despite opposition from his family, he realised his dream. He was very good at sports, specially karate. I have another sister younger to Dinesh. He got his first appointment to Muttur. We are still shocked as to who killed our brother for what reason”.
We want justice: sampath, niroshan’s brother
“He was a good father, brother, son and a good husband as well as a good pillar of the community. Being the eldest son of the family, he took care of us. He joined the Police in 2009. It has been one year and 11 months since he got posted to Vavunathivu. He was about to complete his compulsory service period. He couldn’t wait to return home in January. We demand to know who killed our brother. We have the confidence that the CID will find out what happened and bring the assailants to book”.
When the shooting took place, the OIC of Vavunathivu Police was in Galnewa
Motive of attackers may not necessarily be political: Governor of Eastern Province
“The Vavunathivu incident in which two policemen were attacked and killed at a centric point is just an isolated incident. This attack could be an act of retaliation by a group against disruptions made by the police against Mahaveer Day commemorations. Secondly, it could have been an attack carried out with the intention of obtaining the weapons of the two policemen. The third possibility is that this reaction is normal when considering the prevailing situation in the country where assailants have certain ulterior and disruptive motives.
If it is the third possibility, the motive of the attackers may not necessarily be political. If so, what they wish is to see the country’s stability being undermined using these type of incidents. Whatever the political issues that the country is faced with should be confined to the establishment. These types of incidents are developments outside the establishment.
However, the murders are currently being investigated by the highest authorities. We need the peaceful atmosphere which we are now enjoying. This should continued during a post conflict scenario. Peace, security and development for the people are the top most priorities that President Maithripala Sirisena has
Even today, I handed over some military occupied lands back to the people under the directions of the President. As the military is carrying out their own assessments on the security conditions in respected areas, lands are returned to the people. It is a point in favour of normalcy being retained. This murder has not shattered expectations.
We believe in the police investigation process. Perpetrators will be caught and punished according to the law of the land. However, we must not get the wrong people arrested. First we must get to the bottom of the incident. Our police are fully capable of finding the leads to the investigations and those who are responsible for the murder. All through the recent years, we have not experienced anything like this in the Eastern Province. This type of isolated incidents could happen in any part of the country,” said Governor of Eastern Province Rohitha Bogollagama.
Vavunathivu has no record of unusual incidents in recent past: Military Spokesman
“We also probed the incident. In fact, there are many angles to the incident. Since investigations are continuing, it is still difficult for us to establish the truth. There haven’t been any unusual incidents reported in that area during the recent past. In terms of national security, these types of incidents do not make any impact on the broader subject like national security. Nevertheless, we are concerned as the Army. Offenders must definitely be punished via an immediate investigation,” said Military Spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu.
Flash back to violence against police
The November 30 shooting in Vavunathivu, Batticaloa evoked memories of the massacre over 600 unarmed policemen stationed in the same district on June 11, 1990, which is considered the saddest day in the history of Sri Lanka Police.
Other incidents of recent violence where police officers became victims include the abduction of two policemen in Kurunegala in 2004 and the subsequent murder of an officer. The two policemen who were on traffic duty were abducted by an unidentified group in a van, allegedly returning from a robbery. Another Police Constable attached to the Intelligence Unit of the Tangalle Police had been injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire at Kataragama in March this year.
At a time when all Sri Lankans are enjoying peace due to the sacrifices made by law enforcement personnel, the shooting also took place amidst the continuing constitutional crisis in the country. Therefore, the incident could be interpreted in different ways. However, Sri Lanka doesn’t have a history of there being proper inquiries regarding slain policemen during brutal attacks. This incident, whatever the motive of the attackers, should be an eye-opener and a stark reminder of the dangers our law enforcement officers face every day while protecting and serving our communities.