Sri Lanka probes biggest VVIP security breach in 16 years

COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lankan authorities have begun probing what top sleuths are calling the biggest VVIP security breach since the assassination bid against former president Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999.

The police top brass were shocked to learn that an armed soldier in civilian clothing made it to what was thought to be a "sterile area" at a meeting addressed by President Maithripala Sirisena at Angunakolapelessa on Saturday.

An army corporal who is said to be the personal bodyguard of MP Namal Rajapaksa was nabbed inside the sterile area after the pair had been waved into the sterile area without the mandatory body search.

What was more stunning was that the soldier was quietly asked to leave by the Presidential Security Division after he was detected by the Special Task Force unit that has been inducted to provide close protection for the President.

A senior detective said the top brass learnt of the major security breach more than five hours after the event as some senior officers may have tried to hush up the incident.

The breach assumed more significance in the context of reports in the local media in February that weapons of soldiers taking part in national day celebrations had been checked to make sure no one carried live ammunition that could have posed a threat to the President.

It has transpired that the police officer who waved Namal Rajapaksa and his armed guard into the meeting premises had previously been in charge of providing security to the eldest son of the former president.

Official sources said that the incident also underscored a growing tension within the ranks of the President’s Security Division over two Deputy Inspector Generals staying on from the previous administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The breach was the worst since the November 1999 suicide bomb attack against former president Chandrika Kumaratunga. The woman suicide bomber had slipped into Kumaratunga’s meeting unchecked as she came in as a supporter of a Colombo district MP.

Former president Rajapaksa in a recent interview with a foreign news agency accused his PSD chief, DIG S. M. Wickramasinghe of spying and supporting Sirisena during the election campaign.

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However, police sources said loyalty of top PSD men had come under the spot light after Saturday’s breach and there was serious tension between the inspectorate and the seniors who stayed back from the Rajapaksa era.

MP Namal should have known the routine security drill for the President and the authorities want to question him whether he knew his armed gurad was getting within striking distance of President Sirisena.

"Usually when the President is at a function, even the security staff of the Prime Minister and the MSD (Ministers’ Security Division) stand down and the entire area is covered exclusively by the PSD," a police source said.

"Even the local police come under the direction and control of the PSD, but in this case there has been a very serious lapse."

Attention has also focused on Friday’s SLFP meeting at the Vihara Maha Devi park where security arrangements had been appalling with the president himself pulling up his staff.

Seating arrangements were in a mess and the President had been placed with the sun directly on his face and making it uncomfortable for him to address the crowds, the sources said.

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