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Sri Lanka court orders military chief arrested over civil war killings

A Sri Lankan court 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, Chief of Defence Staff of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces.

“The court ordered that the admiral be arrested before November 9,” a court official told AFP on Friday, November 2. “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 Thursday’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.

Police have said Hettiarachchi was also wanted in connection with the 2006 murder of Tamil lawmaker Nadarajah Raviraj.

There have been persistent allegations that senior military personnel and figures loyal to Rajapakse were responsible for a number of high-profile murders.

Several military intelligence officers face prosecution over the assassination of a newspaper editor and for orchestrating attacks on other journalists and dissidents during Rajapakse’s presidency.

Rajapakse and several members of his family are being investigated for fraud and murder during his presidency. However, those investigations were put in doubt after he was named prime minister last week.

Troops crushed Tamil separatists in 2009, ending the 25-year-long civil war.

The final days of the government offensive, spearheaded by Rajapakse, were marked by major rights violations, according to rights groups.

A United Nations panel has said 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final stages of the war.

With reporting from AFP

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