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The Former President’s Security Conundrum

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Cassendra Doole

Cassendra Doole

Staff Writer

Over the last few weeks, Ministers of the Joint Opposition were buzzing around complaining about the alleged reduction of security detail in former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s entourage. The Government, however, was adamant that the security was not removed so much as replaced.

This issue raised several questions to which answers were never before sought after. For instance, what exactly does a former president require in terms of security? Is the security detail assigned to a former president the same as it is for all VVIPs? And why is there a sudden need to ‘replace’ personnel in Rajapaksa’s security contingent?

Talks of a change in former president Rajapaksa’s security detail recently upset MPs of the Joint Opposition. Image credit therepublicsquare.com

Talks of a change in former president Rajapaksa’s security detail recently upset MPs of the Joint Opposition. Image credit therepublicsquare.com

According to Defence Secretary, Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi, former president Rajapaksa had a total of 206 security personnel, including 103 police officers and 103 military personnel, in his security contingent.

Another batch of 50 police officers was deployed a couple of weeks ago in order to replace 50 military officers from the security contingent. However, at the time this article was published, those 50 military officers were still a part of Rajapaksa’s security, bringing the total strength to 256.

A Question Of Legality

Addressing the media on April 7 at a Cabinet Press Briefing, the Defence Secretary said that the former president’s security will not be removed, but the army personnel in his security detail will be replaced with police and police Special Task Force (STF) officers. He also said that deploying military personnel for VVIP security is illegal.

One of the pressing questions in the minds of many, was that if deploying army personnel for the security of VVIPs is illegal, why was this issue not raised earlier?

According to Defence Secretary Hettiarachchi, it was a similar contingent of military personnel who provided Rajapaksa with security during his tenure as president, both while the war was going on and immediately after it ended. These personnel remained a part of his security even after he lost the presidency following elections last year.

Defence Secretary Hettiarachchi addresses the media. Image courtesy youtube/esana editor

Defence Secretary Hettiarachchi addresses the media. Image courtesy youtube/esana editor

Hettiarachchi has explained that,“We identified this problem several months back and we are now attempting to rectify it. What was done so far has been against the law because Army personnel are used for security purposes only during an emergency curfew or during a war.”

Roar also spoke to Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order, Jagath P. Wijeweera, in order understand why military personnel cannot be used in the security of a VVIP.

“When security is being given to a VVIP, it has to be by the Police or STF, because if there is a clash of any sort, only the Police can interfere. The military personnel cannot interfere in such situations unless it’s an especially declared emergency situation. For instance, if there is a shooting, the Army cannot shoot back immediately. Only the Police or the STF has that power. We do not use military personnel for civil security matters,” he explained.

Rajapaksa was given military (as opposed to police) security, primarily because the situation at the time called for it. Image courtesy srilankaguardian.org

Rajapaksa was given military (as opposed to police) security, primarily because the situation at the time called for it. Image courtesy srilankaguardian.org

He also noted that, “The reason the former president had military security was because it was a special situation during that time, because of the armed conflict. Rajapaksa was the president during that time, and he required special protection immediately afterwards. Now that the war is over, the security should be the same for the President, the Prime Minister and other VVIPs.”

Understanding The Difference Between Removed, Reduced, And Replaced

MP Namal Rajapaksa, eldest son of the former President and an attorney-at-law, recently Tweeted demanding to know the grounds on which the Government had decided to remove the Army personnel assigned to his father’s security.

Rajapaksa Jr.’s angry tweet came shortly after the Government’s decision to replace the former president’s Army security with Police forces and the STF.

Dismissing allegations that the former president’s security was reduced, the Defence Secretary pointed out that even the Prime Minister or the current President do not have soldiers guarding them.

Elaborating on this, the Defence Secretary said,  “Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is still an active politician. The former president is now a Parliamentary MP. He cannot do politics with the Army.” He added that, “Mahinda Rajapaksa’s security will not be reduced but will be accorded equal status with that of the current President, Prime Minister and other politicians.”

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena, speaking in Bibila earlier this month (on April 9), said that the former president had a security detail of 226 personnel from different ranks of the Army and the Police. The President also added that while he himself does not have a single Army officer in his personal security detail, he has taken steps to provide not only Army security, but also the best bulletproof vehicles available, for his predecessor’s security contingent.

Security For VVIPs

Law and Order Secretary Wijeweera further clarified for us the security details given out to VVIPs:

“When security is being given to VVIP personnel, a security assessment has to be carried out. So the security that was given to the former president was given according to the assessment, during that time. It goes without saying that a strong security contingent should be provided to the former president. Anyone would agree to that,” he said.

Is the security detail assigned to all former presidents the same? Or do the numbers differ from president to president? According to Wijeweera, it’s the latter that rings true.

“There is a difference between the security detail being provided to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, in comparison to the security provided to former president Chandrika Bandaranaike. Former president Rajapaksa won the war, and this means he does need more security. There is a possibility that he would have a great number of those against him, wishing him harm. So yes, there’s a difference and the assessments are done accordingly. It is our responsibility to assign the proper security to the former president,” he said.

At present, Rajapaksa has a total of 256 military and police personnel assigned to his security detail. Image credit colombotelegraph.com

At present, Rajapaksa has a total of 256 military and police personnel assigned to his security detail. Image credit colombotelegraph.com

As of now, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s security conundrum is yet to be resolved. With an increased number of overall security, and military officers still a part of the detail, it wouldn’t be surprising if the issue crops up again in the near future. Until then, keep in touch with our Weekly News Roundup for the latest news reports regarding his security detail.

Cover image courtesy: asiantribune.com

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