Sri Lanka probes new ‘white van’ episode

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s defence ministry today announced an investigation into a "white van" incident where three soldiers armed with a revolver were arrested by police while they were travelling in a white coloured van with false number plates.

The authorities are trying to establish the motive for the three soldiers in civvies to carry a revolver that is usually issued to senior officers and roam the streets in a vehicle with false plates.

"Action will be taken without considering the rank or position of people involved," the defence ministry said in a statement.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said the three men who were detected at Mirihana on Monday night had claimed they were body guards of major general Prasanna Silva and was carrying his personal weapon.

Gunasekara said police took the three men before the Gangodavila magistrate who released them on 100,000 rupees personal bail each and the case will be called on Friday.

He said investigations showed that the number plate was from a double cab vehicle used by a private company elsewhere in the city.

"We checked the number plate and it turned out to be false.”

Official sources said police suspected the vehicle was being used with false number plates because it may be one of the vans the military captured from the Tamil Tigers in the final months of fighting in 2009 and not included in an official inventory.

Several officers were using these vehicles legitimately after transferring them to the military inventory, a defence ministry source said.

However, there may be some vehicles that did not get into the official inventories.

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There had been allegations that even a state television reporter had been  caught with lap top computers stolen from the fallen Tamil Tigers during the final months of fighting in 2009.

"White-van" became a verb during the former regime of strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Dozens of political opponents and dissidents who were abducted and driven away in ubiquitous "white vans" were thought to have been killed by groups closely linked to rouge elements of the military. Those "white-vanned" seldom turned up alive.

So much so that when a former defence secretary Austin Fernando wrote a book entitled: "My belly is white," the then opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said Fernando’s successor’s book would be "My Van is White."

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