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Sri Lanka: The great plot


by John Geddie, Shihar Aneez, Ranga Sirilal ( Reuters ) 





A plot to kill the president, links to foreign intelligence, a rogue police officer and a missing sniper: the snippets of news emerging from Sri Lanka in recent weeks seem plucked from the pages of paperback fiction.





But the allegations have had real enough consequences for
the island nation, contributing to upending its politics, undermining its
currency and credit rating, and affecting relations with giant neighbor India.





President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe in October, just weeks after a little-known social activist
alleged he had heard of a plot to assassinate the president from a police
officer.





Reuters has learned that investigators have not found any substantial
evidence to back up the claim, although Sirisena said in a newspaper interview
this month that the refusal of Wickremesinghe to take the plot seriously was
the final straw leading to his dismissal.





A spokesman for Sirisena did not respond to Reuters’
requests for comment.





Sirisena said in the interview with Ceylon Today: “I was
completely disappointed by the way things were moving.”





Referring to the assassination plot, he added: “They (the
authorities) displayed utter lethargy.”





Wickremesinghe has said he never interfered with the
investigations and kept Sirisena informed of their progress.





Sri Lanka has a long history of political assassinations in
decades of civil war, making Sirisena’s allegations all the more explosive.





“It is hard to know what the truth is and many people are
skeptical (of the plot),” said a senior Western diplomat in Sri Lanka’s capital
Colombo. “It’s part of the politics,” he added.





What is clear is the drama has paralyzed the island nation
and left it without a functioning government for months.





The alleged plot first came to light on September 12, when
self-styled anti-corruption activist and police informant Namal Kumara gathered
a few local journalists and made a series of accusations against a senior
police officer.





The most alarming of those claims was that the officer had
told him about a plot to assassinate Sirisena using agents of the criminal
underworld.





Kumara said he had deleted the recording of the conversation
about the plot against Sirisena out of fear, but to back up his allegations he
released recordings of other conversations with the deputy inspector general of
police, Nalaka de Silva.





Ruwan Gunasekara, a police spokesman, said there was
evidence in those recordings of a plot to kill another senior officer. But he
added that in nearly three months of investigations, police had found “no
substantial evidence” of an assassination threat to Sirisena beyond Kumara’s
claims.





The comments, made to Reuters, have not been previously
reported.





“NONSENSE”





On Saturday, police sent Kumara’s phone to Hong Kong to see if any deleted recordings could be recovered. De Silva remains in custody and could not be reached for comment.





Speaking via a video-call from a town in Sri Lanka’s eastern
province, a relaxed, bare-chested Kumara told Reuters the police were now
showing little interest in his story.





“The way they (investigators) take action is very poor. I’m
ready to help them if they ask,” he said, adding that he had further
information to reveal to authorities. He declined to elaborate.





From the outset, there were doubts over Kumara, who runs a
private anti-corruption campaign group that he says is funded by himself and a
few other activists.





“All what he said was nonsense,” Rajitha Senarathne, the
cabinet spokesman in the former government of Wickremesinghe, told Reuters.





Even one of Sirisena’s closest aides acknowledged that
Kumara may not be reliable.





“That informant may not be credible but you can’t just brush
it (the plot) away,” Shiral Lakthilaka, the president’s coordinating secretary
and adviser, told Reuters.





In an interview with foreign correspondents late last month,
Sirisena alleged that former cabinet minister and army chief Sarath Fonseka may
be involved in the plot. He also said a missing man described as a former Tamil
militant sniper could be involved.





Gunasekara from Sri Lanka’s police told Reuters there was no
investigation into Fonseka “at the moment” and that he “was not aware” of the
incident involving the missing sniper. Fonseka has denied the allegations and
called for Sirisena to be prosecuted.





INDIAN CONNECTION





Police have said they arrested an Indian national named
Marsili Thomas in connection with the case on information provided by Kumara.





Rumors started to swirl around social media that Thomas was
working for the Indian secret service - which Sirisena later referred to in a
cabinet meeting, according to officials present, threatening a diplomatic
furor.





India, the regional superpower, is an ever-present bogeyman
for Sri Lankans. Many blame India for supporting Tamil Tiger separatists during
the civil war.





Asked if Thomas was linked to India’s intelligence, the
Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka did not respond. Thomas, who remains in
custody in Sri Lanka, could not be reached for comment.





India’s foreign ministry has said Sirisena spoke to Indian
Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the issue to ensure it didn’t lead to a
diplomatic crisis.





As the rumors and conspiracy theories continue to swirl
around Colombo, Sri Lanka’s government is in limbo. Wickremesinghe’s
replacement, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, has lost two confidence
motions in parliament and been prevented from assuming office by a court order.





Sirisena has ordered the parliament dissolved and called for
fresh elections, but Sri Lanka’s top court ruled the move as unconstitutional
on Thursday.





Sirisena has called the impasse “a storm in a teacup.”





“These issues will be settled soon and no one needs to
worry,” he said in the newspaper interview.





But he has refused to reinstate Wickremesinghe.





He told the foreign correspondents: “Leave the law and order
aside, isn’t it a duty of a prime minister at least to ask the president who is
facing an assassination threat? There was nothing like that ... How can I go
forward with Ranil Wickremesinghe?”


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