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SJB welcomes accused war criminal, as it looks to build Sinhala support

Sri Lanka’s opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), proudly welcomed former Army Commander Daya Ratnayake to its fold, an official who oversaw military operations during the Tamil genocide and who has repeatedly denied war crimes have taken place.

The SJB had shared a photograph of the Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa welcoming him, adding that “General Daya Ratnayake, the 20th Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, who played a pivotal role in leading the three-decade-long humanitarian operation against the brutal LTTE, joined the Samagi Jana Balawegaya today.”

In 2019, Ratnayake held a media briefing where he denied the military committed war crimes and slammed the government for reportedly arresting soldiers every time the issue is taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

“Whenever there is a UNHRC event coming up, incidents of arresting and punishing military personnel come up out of nowhere,” claimed former army commander Daya Ratnayake. “When such incidents occur, the image of entire tri-forces is damaged. That’s why we request the President to look at this sensitive issue.”

“As soldiers engaged in the war, we believe no war crime was committed in this country,” he added. He went on to claim that “a war crime is not a crime committed by one single soldier... It is an organised crime”. Ratnayake then dismissed the notion of such crimes having taken place, despite several reports from the United Nations, NGOs, and other governments confirming that violations of international law occurred.

The following year, Ratnayake lashed out at the United Nations and staunchly brushed off reports of mass atrocities committed by Sri Lankan troops, calling them “completely baseless and fabricated”.

In 2008, Ratnayake, was described as "a gung-ho army brigadier in charge of much of the eastern front," as he led Sri Lankan troops. “We will not take more than two months to get the east clear of these terrorists," he told AFP. "Now the only major concentration of Tigers in the east is just outside Batticaloa, and we know how to get rid of them now.” 

His appoinment has already drawn criticism online.

A day after Ratnayake’s appointment, the SJB organised one of its biggest rallies against Wickremasinghe’s government in Colombo.

The protest at noon at Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo saw large crowds gathering to support SJB in calling for a Presidential election. However due to two court orders restraining the protest from marching onto specific areas within the city limits.

Police then fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, including at the section of the crowd which was led by Premadasa himself. SJB MP Mujibur Rahman was taken to hospital along with several others after they fell ill during the protest from tear gas.

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