Sri Lanka court orders arrest of military chief over abduction and murder

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COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan court on Friday ordered the arrest the country’s top military officer over the abduction and murder of 11 people during the Tamil civil war.

Colombo Fort magistrate Ranga Dissanayake reprimanded police investigators for failing to act on a previous order to detain Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne.

“The court ordered that the admiral be arrested before November 9,” a court official said. “If they fail, there should be action against the police officer handling the case.” The order came amid a bitter power struggle between sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former president Mahinda Rajapakse, who was named to replace him.

Rajapakse was head of state from 2005 to 2015 when the decades-old Tamil separatist war was brutally crushed — although the timing of today’s ruling appeared to have no deliberate link with the current political crisis.

The magistrate wants po­­lice to arrest Wijeguna­rat­­ne, the chief of the defence staff, for allegedly shielding a navy officer responsible for abductions and killings.

Police told the court the admiral had protected Chandana Prasad Hettiar­achchi, a navy intelligence officer who is the main suspect in the killing of 11 men between 2008 and 2009.

They are believed to have been murdered while being illegally held by the navy. Their bodies were never found but Hettiarachchi was arrested in August.

“There is evidence of Admiral Wijegunaratne allowing the accused to evade arrest,” Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department told the court.

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