Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake responds to questions by journalists on reinstatement of Major Prabath Bulathwatte | Sunday Observer

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake responds to questions by journalists on reinstatement of Major Prabath Bulathwatte

19 May, 2019

Q: In an interview with a leading television channel recently you mentioned that the country’s intelligence services had collapsed in the recent past. You were a senior officer in the Army at the time as well. Are you also not responsible for this? Has the military intelligence apparatus actually collapsed?

A: Rather than a complete collapse, what had happened was the weakening of the military intelligence. What is meant by this is, certain individuals are positioned by the Army to gather information and investigate into various extremists and other elements in areas. When one of those officers become suspects of an ongoing legal case as the Army Commander I have to relieve him from these duties and post him elsewhere. This is then becomes a setback for military intelligence when another officer has to be placed there instead of him. The investigations and information gathering may not be as effective as before. This is what I meant when I said intelligence services suffered a setback and weakened as a result.

But this does not in any way mean that the loss of this one person led to the collapse of the whole military intelligence. It was just a mere set back, especially in the Eastern province.

Q: You are claiming there was an intelligence failure. But what we have seen is that you had excellent intelligence information on the perpetrators. It appears that rather than an intelligence failure, what has happened is the failure to act on intelligence. So how can you claim there was a setback when it came to military intelligence?

A: I was talking about one particular incident and an area. But I agree there was no failure of intelligence but rather a failure in intelligence sharing. Intelligence that other authorities had on what would take place in the country was never shared with the armed forces.

Q: But isn’t it the job of military intelligence to know what other intelligence units are doing?

A: That is why whenever I talk about intelligence, I say that we have failed in corporation. But we have since made many arrests. That is because we had an operation, a program and we were continuing to monitor some people. But what I am referring is in particular to the incident that happened on April 21. If other officials shared the intelligence information on the attacks with the armed forces then these incidents would not have taken place.

Q: Talking about MI, in recent times intelligence officer Major Prabath Bulathwatte who is linked to the kidnapping of journalist Keith Noyahr and one of the main accused in the case has been reinstated to active service in the MI once again. This has caused much concern among media personnel. But Was it the removal of such officers that contributed to the weakening of the MI?

A: I must correct you. Major Bulathwatte has not been reinstated to the MI. He works near me under my direct supervision. Everyone knows the official task carried out by him in the Eastern province. Accordingly, the need to use him in the service of the country has arrived now. Legally there is no bar to engage his services for the Army. He has been a salaried Army officer for the past two years. Then in this operation, at least when we arrest an individual I need someone capable of identifying this suspect. That is why I have called that officer from where he was stationed to work under me in this situation.

Q: When you say he is working under your direct supervision are you giving us assurance about him?

A: Clearly I am. As the Commander of the Army, I assure that people about decisions and actions being taken by me. I am doing this for the good of the people. Not to absolve him from the allegations against him or to help him escape from investigations. That is not possible. Based on this incident no one in the Army can evade past allegations. They will not be absolved by the Army, my self or the law. If you want to know something about a thief, you must ask another thief.

Q: Local authorities are now getting the help of foreign intelligence agencies. But if someone who is accused of murder and facing allegations in connection to several cases has access to sensitive information while working directly under you will these agencies share any information with us because this individual will be able to influence witnesses and intimidate witnesses?

A: That may be their perception of this. When I say he is working under me that doesn’t mean he has similar access that the Army Commander would have. I task him with something to do and he does it under my supervision. That does not mean he has access to command, control or work with the Directorate of Military Intelligence. If so I would have positioned him in the DMI.

Q: What is the assurance that you can give that he will not be in a position to influence, intimidate or harass the witnesses who have testified against him, especially those in the Army?

A: As the Army Commander I will give you that assurance now that Major Bulthwatta nor any other Army Officer who is being used for this particular operation to bring peace to this country will not have powers to work against anyone.

Q: Commander if he is not involved in the intelligence can you tell us what exactly he is doing if it is not an intelligence task, he is an intelligence official, what then…?

A: He is my staff officer

Q: So he has access to all the confidential stuff?

A: Not really. In your organization if the top man has an office assistant does it mean he has the same kind of access as his boss? This particular requirement of Bulthwatta may be only for a few weeks or months. I will give that assurance as well. I will not need him for a long length of time. But I have to use his expertise in some particular area.

Q: But the real concern is that a lot of foreign governments, in fact you can see today a lot of statements coming from foreign governments expressing themselves just about the .. that they are reluctant now even to give you equipment fearing that it will be used or abused to intimidate witnesses.

A: I have to look after the country. Safety of the Sri Lankans before anybody gives me the equipment. They have never given us the equipment. So it is my responsibility to fight with what I have. By the time the equipment reaches here, if they think just because of Bulathwatte the country should not be supported there is something wrong with the system.

Q: Why is it then, you are an army of 200,000 people you are depending on one individual?

A: That’s why I simply said the expertise of a particular area, he was the one who was handling or monitoring some of the people. So I have to use him. And it is my responsibility. I do not have to get the approval from anybody for that. And nobody in this country should tell me what I should do. I am not telling you but.. what I started telling is I should be able to use the best sources available for the army to fight this. That is why I am given a responsibility. Otherwise all the questioned you asked up to now would have never happened. Today expect for the 10th year anniversary these questions will be never raised if there was peace. Now I have to bring the peace past as fast as possible. So I have to use everybody.

Q: People have trust in you. If there are requests made to you with regard to the arrests of suspects, what are the connections between these people and the suspects. Is there an inquiry into this?

A: It is good that the public has trust on the army. These people also have the right to make those requests. It could be in his village, a voter or a relative and if they know me it is not wrong to ask. But influencing me or if I am told not to arrest a person and release him, then there is a problem. Nothing of the sort has happened till now. All they asked was this is who and who what can be done about it. So I gave the answer, to call me after one and half years.

Q: You have told the Indian media that a group of people connected to the 21st attacks have gone from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu, India. But the Indian government has denied this yesterday. What is the truth about it?

A: Truth is spoken by my side. We are investigating into it. We are receiving information regarding it. We are making arrests. And through that it is confirmed. I said what was confirmed. Zaharan Mouvlani had gone to India clearly. I only spoke about this. That he went to India. I have said in India he has gone to Bangalore, Kashmir. They are still there, I think. It is upto India to look into it. To state what I find is up to me.

Q: Isn’t the Army tainted by bringing Bulatwatte back? UN has said not to take people like this as it is bad. What is your personal view about this.

A: I told before too, my main objective is to solve this country’s issue, and not to solve a world issue. I respect the world. I have decided at this time if he has a talent that I have to use it. He was not given a responsibility or powers. He does what I ask him to do. I did not know that Bulathwatte was more important to this country than Zaharan.

We are on operation. At this particular time I need a batsman who can bat now. I don’t want a baller. I don’t want a fielder now. I have very limited overs to play. For you.

Q: He is facing charges because he has done it.

A: That is what you think. It’s like this. If a soldier has done something wrong it is the people who have given the orders. So I request kindly from all of you to go and find out who gave the orders to him. Not the person. In today’s context whenever a soldier takes an action I am responsible. I have the army commander and my staff here. I have a very strong team. We take the leadership, this leadership is responsible to the actions. What he does within the law. So during that time if something had happened that is their problem.

Q: Are you targeting the allegation at Sarath Fonseka?

A: He was not the one in that instance. What I say is I have deployed so many soldiers in this land. If one of them shoot and do something that is on my command. I can’t say he just shot. I take responsibility for that. And I will go and arrest people. I am the one who sign for that. After 2- 10 years a corporal will not have to go to jail. I am the one who will have to go to jail. I am ready for that. That is my responsibility. The team leader has to take responsibility; he can’t later wash his hands off it. I am in it because I have a strong team.