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'Cannot remove officer due to social media video' - Sri Lankan army

The Sri Lankan army commander today rejected the calls for the military officer, filmed making a throat slitting gesture to Tamils protesting in London, to be suspended, stating "they could not remove officials merely because of a social media video". 

"He is back to work but there will be an inquiry," Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake was quoted by Sri Lankan papers as saying. 

He went on to defend the military officer, Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, describing the then Colonol "as an officia who rendered an immense service as the commanding officer of the 11th Gemunu Watch to rescue villagers in Mullaitivu and elsewhere during the Wanni humanitarian operation."

Brigadier Fernando was filmed making a throat slitting gesture to Tamils protesting outside the Sri Lankan High Commission on Sunday against the celebration of Independence Day. 

Yesterday the country's Ministry of External Affairs announced he would be suspended from his role at the embassy whilst an investigation took place, however, this suspension was revoked today by the Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena. 

The incident has led to mounting calls from rights groups and UK parliamentarians for the officer to be withdrawn and expelled. 

Brigadier Fernando, was posted to London as the Sri Lankan High Commission’s defence attaché last year said a briefing released by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) & the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).

As part of the military offensive in 2009, Brigadier Fernando fought in Weli Oya and Janakapura for the 11 Gemunu Watch Battalion as part of the 59 Division of the Sri Lankan Army.

The United Nations OHCHR Investigation into Sri Lanka detailed multiple incidents, implicating the 59 Division in the shelling of hospitals south of Mullaitivu.

“Brigadier Fernando was clearly active in the final offensive in the north of Sri Lanka from at least April 2008 – and on those grounds alone should have been subjected to a scrupulous vetting process by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the UK which should have precluded his diplomatic appointment to London,” said the briefing note. 

“The UK government has clearly not done the due diligence to ensure that potential human rights violators are prevented from entering the UK and being allowed to hold office in the UK.”

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