ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new navy chief Travis Sinniah began work by pledging no forgiveness for his officers who may have committed crimes taking the cover of the island’s drawn out separatist war.
The Vice Admiral told reporters at his first press conference at navy headquarters on Wednesday that "even the biggest war hero" could not escape the full face of the law if a crime had been committed during or after the war.
"Even if you are a hero, it does not give you the sanction to do acts that are crimes…If you have done something wrong, there is no forgiveness for that act.
"What ever you have done during the war, if you are the biggest hero, wearing this uniform does not give you the sanction to murder, or commit torture," he said.
However, he said he was more concerned about taking the navy forward rather than addressing issues of the past.
He was also irritated when questioned persistently about action taken regarding Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the navy officer son of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is currently suspended pending cases before civilian courts.
Sinniah also brushed aside the allegations against Rajapaksa saying they related to absent without leave and travelling abroad without prior approval of the then navy commander.
"I have trained Yoshitha. I think he was a great chap. Well, something has happened. If there is something wrong, he will be punished. Absence without leave is not a big one.
"There are hundreds (of others) like that. They will be removed from service. If he is found guilty, the same (will apply to him)," the navy chief said.
He did not answer a question about the educational qualifications of Yoshitha, his pupil, to enlist as an officer and how he followed higher training at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
It has been reported the navy paid for Yoshitha’s study at Dartmouth and another course in Ukraine had been paid for by a Ukrainian arms company at the centre of the controversial MiG deal.
"We are talking about the future navy, I am not worried about what happened in the past," an irritated Sinniah told reporters who questioned him about ongoing investigations.
"One officer who has gone off track is not going to make a big difference to us. We have to look at the future. We need to get the best products for this navy. i don’t think we need to keep on harping on (corruption under the former regime)."
"There are many officers who are being investigated at the moment. Our job is to take the navy forward. It is the function of the courts to find people guilty."
The navy chief said he was, however, keen to "wipe the slate clean," but wanted more time.
"The slate will finally be cleaned. duration to wipe the slate clean is the issue. Right now we have far more important issues. Ask me in six months and I will be ready to answer honestly." (COLOMBO, August 24, 2017)