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US ambassador meets Sri Lankan general previously rejected for training over war crimes

The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka was photographed handing over a shipment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to a Sri Lankan military general, who was previously rejected twice from participating in US training programs due to “credible allegations” over his involvement in war crimes.

Ambassador Teplitz met with Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, earlier this morning, as Washington continued its support for the regime’s coronavirus containment strategy.

In January 2013, there were reports that Ranasinghe was refused entry into the US for military training, with speculation that it may be on grounds that he is suspected of overseeing human rights violations.

Later that year in August, Ranasinghe was reported to have also been rejected from a US-led training program in New Zealand, with the US Embassy in Colombo citing “credible allegations” of human rights violations. At the time Ranasinghe had been appointed General Officer Commanding of the Army’s 53 Division. 

A US Embassy official had said, “there is a cloud over certain divisions because of the allegations”. “The important thing is the way forward and that path is clear – a credible investigation to clear the officials and units that may be implicated,” the official added.

However, no investigation to clear Sri Lankan soldiers has taken place and none have been held accountable for human rights violations. Earlier this year, Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa took the step of pardoning an already convicted Sri Lankan soldier who had been sentenced for the massacre of Tamil civilians, as part of his pledge to reject any prosecution of troops.

Despite the lack of accountability and Ranasinghe's previous rejection, Teplitz handed over a shipment of 48,000 masks, safety goggles, and isolation gowns with hoods, all funded by the US Department of Defense. Ranasinghe is currently the Director General of Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Centre.

“The United States is proud to assist Sri Lanka’s frontline responders as they care for Sri Lankans suffering from Coronavirus,” said Teplitz in a press release.

“Helping to protect these healthcare workers while supporting Sri Lankan businesses and jobs is just one component of our deep friendship.”

Who is Sudantha Ranasinghe?

Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe joined the Sri Lankan army on  31 August 1981 and served for more than 37 years. He held several key appointments hroghout his military career including Military Secretary, Commander Security Forces (Kilinochchi), Commander Security Forces (West) and the Colonel Commandant of Corps of Sri Lanka Engineers.

As part of the several appointments he has held Ranasinghe also oversaw Sri Lanka’s “rehabilitation” program for former LTTE cadres as the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. Many former detainees have spoken about the torture that took place in Sri Lankan military camps, with several having never returned from them. The forcibly disappeared detainees are still being searched for by Tamil families across the North-East. 

Reports also emerged of Tamils forced to sing the Sri Lankan national anthem in Sinhala only. 

When questioned on this by the BBC in 2010, Ranasinghe replied, “I have never heard any country which has their national anthem sung in different languages”.

In 2011, more than two years after the end of the armed conflict, Ranasinghe was interviewed once more by the BBC and admitted that some former cadres had been re-arrested by the Sri Lankan security forces for questioning. He also said that some 4,600 former cadres remained in detention at the time.

As head of the security forces in Kilinochchi in 2014, he admitted the military was keeping a close watch on the activities of Tamils to prevent any promotion of “terrorism and anti-state activities”. “What is ‘spying’ for you is ‘being aware’ for us. It is a thin line which divides spying from being aware,” he said. The general said TNA politicians tried to put “the germ of terrorism” into young people’s minds, referring to a “seditious” poetry book with “provocative headings” by Father Anthon Stephen, which a TNA MP asked to be included in government schools’ libraries. “The politico tried to put the germ of terrorism in young impressionable minds. We prevented this from happening,” Ranasinghe said.

Earlier this year he was appointed the new Director General of Disaster Management Centre, as part of a host of military appointments by the current regime.