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US ‘proud' to serve with SL navy despite presence of Admiral now wanted over Tamil youth murders

Ravindra Wijegunaratne aims a rifle as US troops watch on during a military exercise in Trincomlaee this week.

The Commanding Officer of a US navy ship stated the team were “proud to be serving alongside the Sri Lankan Navy” at the completion of another set of military exercises between the two earlier this week, despite the presence of Sri Lanka's Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, who had been accused of helping the main suspect in the abduction and murder case of 11 Tamil youths evade arrest.

Admiral Wijegunaratne was present during a number of military exercises with US troops at Trincomalee this week, receiving hands on weapons training, despite the allegations and the ongoing investigation. 

On Wednesday, the day after the military exercises finished, a Colombo court ordered his arrest. 

Ravindra Wijegunaratne speaking to US troops during a military exercise in Trincomlaee this week.

On August 16 Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) told Colombo Fort chief magistrate, Lanka Jayaratne it had evidence that Admiral Wijegunaratne provided the former navy commander, Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi alias 'Navy Sampath' with Rs. 500,000 in order for him to skip bail and escape arrest.

“There is evidence against Admiral Wijegunaratne’s role in allowing the accused to evade arrest,” the CID was quoted by AFP as saying to the magistrate, who responded by immediately instructing the Bank of Ceylon to release records of the the navy's accounts from March to May 2017. 

Lieutenant Commander Hettiarachchi was arrested this month over his involvement in the abduction of eleven Tamil youth from 2008 to 2009, who were held in navy bases at Trincomalee and Colombo before being murdered.

Admiral Wijegunaratne was in 2016 filmed assaulting a journalist covering a story on Hambantota port. Despite this Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena extended his service and promoted him to Chief of Defence Staff.

“The Anchorage team and I had an incredible time in Trincomalee and we are proud to be serving alongside the Sri Lankan Navy,” said Captain Dennis Jacko, Commanding Officer of the USS Anchorage.  “Not only do we increase our proficiency in communications, but we continue to build on a strong and lasting partnership with the Sri Lankan Navy.”

The incident comes amidst growing military relations between the two, despite ongoing concerns regarding the Sri Lankan military’s human rights record. Earlier this week, the United States Coast Guard also officially handed over a high endurance cutter vessel to the Sri Lankan navy, making it the largest ship in the Sri Lankan fleet.

The latest exercise with the USS Anchorage at Trincomalee also saw helicopters and other vessels participate in a sea exercise this week.

“The close teamwork we’ve seen in this visit, U.S.-Sri Lankan participation in multiple military exercises over the past year, and the hospital ship USNS Mercy’s visit to Trincomalee in April reflect our mutual commitment to strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Sri Lankan militaries,” said Rear Admiral Brad Cooper, Commander of the Amphibious Force US 7th Fleet. 

See more from the official Sri Lankan navy website here.

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