No coup or orders to shoot at sight – Defence Secretary | Sunday Observer

No coup or orders to shoot at sight – Defence Secretary

15 May, 2022

Defence Secretary Retired Gen. Kamal Gunaratna said the Tri Forces have been called in to assist the Police in maintaining law and order with strict orders to shoot at any law breakers during curfew cautioning people not to fall prey for social media driven violent campaigns.

Holding a press conference to brief the media of the situation in the country on Wednesday, two days after violent mobs attacked politicians’ residences throughout the country, Gen. Gunaratna said they delayed calling in troops to control the situation as they wanted to use ‘least force’ and avoid a humanitarian crisis.

“A mob storming the protest site at Galle Face Green on Monday was an unfortunate incident. But under the cover of that, a wave of arson attacks were unleashed countrywide.

Organised groups

The houses of politicians and some ordinary people and their personal vehicles were targeted by these violent mobs. Our investigations so far have revealed that these were orchestrated by organised groups with vested interests,” he said. The investigations are being conducted to uncover the groups and individuals behind those incidents.

The media briefing, at the Defence HQ in Battaramulla, was attended by Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva, Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana and Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenna.

The Defence Secretary said, “Some of the video clips shared on social media were so gruesome that they made us wonder if this was actually Sri Lanka or another Libya. A Member of Parliament (MP) and his bodyguard were brutally murdered in the same manner as Priyantha Diyawadana was killed in Sialkot, Pakistan. It was an alarming situation.”

He said the police were in the possession of video evidence to identify the suspects who took part in these senseless acts. Investigations are being carried out to arrest the culprits who posted and shared messages on social media forcing youth to set fire or attack.

Public security

The Government, Ministry of Public Security and the police have already started investigations and there will be arrests and action taken against them. “We have secured this country and eradicated terrorism over a decade ago. This type of inhuman acts cannot be justified in the name of protests,” General Gunaratna said.

He said their entire youth was spent safeguarding this country from terrorists and added, “We cannot let it be dragged down again.”

It was stated that as the Defence Ministry they have a huge responsibility to protect the country and its people. “There are legal provisions in our Constitution to create that free country.

We will exercise those provisions to ensure that no one will get on to the street and snatch other people’s freedoms hereafter. No one other than the Security Forces and the police will be allowed to stop vehicles and search. Violent protesters near the Bandaraniake International Airport began searching vehicles towards the airport to see if any politicians were trying to flee the country.

When the Galle Face protesters were stormed by a group of outsiders, the Police brought things under control and the people were calmed down. Things did not go out of control there. But violence erupted elsewhere in all districts and property was destroyed.

“If someone feels a former leader has to be punished, he has committed some offence, then there is a process according to the law of this country, we have a highly respected judiciary. No one can act like barbarians.”

Temple Trees

Explaining the reason behind relocating the former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa he said, “On Monday night thousands tried to forcibly enter Temple Trees. The Security Forces were able to prevent it. If we did not evacuate the Prime Minister to Trinco Naval Dockyard the next morning, dozens would have died in the clashes.

That decision was taken to protect the former Prime Minister who is also a former President and ensure the safety of the protesters outside Temple Trees.

There were brutal assaults on many people including police officers. Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon who was assaulted mercilessly. We saw video clips of the Senior DIG being beaten with a helmet. He was taken to the Police Hospital where he had four sutures to his head. It was alleged that the Senior DIG plotted the Galle Face Green assault on protesters. “Can the people be allowed to take the law into their hands, on assumptions based on a mere video clip?” the Defence Secretary questioned.

The police and the Tri Forces are doing a job of protecting the citizens. “If we send them on leave for one full week, the mayhem that will be brought about cannot be imagined.”

During the phase of violence which lasted for about two days, the houses of ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with politics have also been burnt down and these actions were live streamed. The incident had also been used to settle personal scores, it is obvious by the fact that some of those incidents had nothing to do with the countrywide protests.


“The Defence Ministry did not deploy the Tri Forces to control the situation initially, fearing a backlash locally as well as internationally. We saw how the policemen had to watch in dismay, unable to prevent the attacks, when houses were set on fire and the buses were torched and destroyed. What can a few officers armed with batons, against a 500 strong violent mob, could do? Some are asking now why the Tri Forces were not deployed earlier to control the situation. But it would have been a different story if we did then and there were casualties as a result.”

The least force was used to control the situation for two days and on the third day a decision was taken to call in troops and exercise Constitutional powers to control the mobs and looters islandwide.

Another interesting observation was that when the unrest at Galle Face green happened, several politicians arrived at the site. We saw how the Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and some Samagi Jana Balawegaya MPs were attacked by alleged protesters. But there was another leader and he was allowed to walk unharmed and meet and talk with the protesters. Retired Gen. Gunaratna said these happenings must be closely studied.

We will be studying CCTV footage, video clips and electronic media footage to identify the culprits who were responsible for arson attacks and other crimes. Irrespective of their political affiliations - be they from the Government, Opposition or revolutionary party - the offenders will be brought to book.

If any organisation or individual is found to have instigated violence, action will be initiated against them in court, he reiterated cautioning not to engage in illegal activities in the future.

Avanra Garden Hotel

In Negombo, the Avanra Garden Hotel was attacked and looted. The incident almost became a communal clash between Sinhalese and the Muslims when two groups of looters clashed with each other. It was brought under control by Wednesday (May 11).

“The police and the troops have been given orders to shoot at the law breakers. The orders are to shoot them below the knee but the policemen are not trained marksmen, there could be accidents. The people are therefore advised to stay indoors during curfew and stay away from trouble makers,” the Defence Secretary said, adding they will resort to that action only if it’s necessary and they will not issue orders to shoot anyone at sight.

He also refuted allegations that the countrywide protests were stage managed to bring in military rule and a military coup. “In this country there can never be a coup d’etat, if three people discuss such a power seizure, the second person will go and reveal all plans.

That is what happened to the last and the only coup that was planned in this country.”