Sri Lanka rejects reports about President Maithripala Sirisena accusing RAW of plotting his assassination

Colombo: Sri Lankan government on Wednesday rejected as "baseless and false" the media reports that President Maithripala Sirisena accused India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of plotting his assassination and that he opposed awarding a key port project to India.

The media reports came ahead of Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's visit to New Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speed up India-backed projects, including the East Terminal project, in the island nation.

Sirisena accused his senior coalition partner, the United National Party (UNP), of not taking seriously an alleged conspiracy to kill him and former secretary to the ministry of defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the reported quoting a ministerial source after a heated Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

 Sri Lanka rejects reports about President Maithripala Sirisena accusing RAW of plotting his assassination

Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena. AFP

The minister, who declined to be named, claimed that the president said that India's external intelligence agency RAW was behind the plot.

The Lankan foreign ministry termed the report as "baseless and false."

"The ministry wishes to emphasise that relations between Sri Lanka and India including at the highest levels of government are strong, encompassing multiple spheres including intelligence sharing.

"It is disappointing therefore that matters of this nature have become the subject of distorted and erroneous media reports taking the president's remarks out of context, which has given rise to further media and social media speculation and the spread of unfounded fear among the public," the ministry said in a statement.

It said that in continuation of the close and regular interaction between Sri Lanka and India at all levels including at the highest levels of government, Sirisena had discussions this morning (Wednesday) as well at a meeting with the High Commissioner of India in Colombo.

Earlier in the day, Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne dismissed the media reports at a press conference in Colombo.

Senaratne, also the minister of health, read out a statement by Cabinet Secretary S Abeysinghe which said the president had not said anything about RAW plotting to assassinate him.

"The president, as the head of the cabinet of ministers, has paid attention to the printed and electronic media reports on the matters discussed during the cabinet meeting at the Presidential Secretariat on 16 October 2018. It is stressed that those news are completely untrue.

"Any cabinet paper relating to the infrastructure development projects planned to be implemented in Sri Lanka by the Indian government or Indian companies were not included in the agenda of that Cabinet meeting," he said.

According to the media reports, Sirisena said he was unhappy with the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) inquiry into the plot and faulted the law and order minister for what he called the “very slow progress of the inquiry.”

The president, however, did not give details of how India was involved in the plot and several cabinet ministers were aghast at his claim, the report said.

"I think it was uncalled for (to accuse India) because he did not provide any evidence to support his claim," the ministerial source was quoted as saying.

"So far, what we have is the figment of someone's imagination of an assassination plot," the source said. "What can now be done is to look at the genesis of this story and how it came about."

The alleged plot was disclosed by a man named Namal Kumara claiming himself to be representing Anti-Corruption Force last month at a press conference.

Kumara had also worked as an informant of the police. Based on his testimony, the police have suspended a Deputy Inspector-General Nalaka Silva who is said to have been involved in the alleged assassination plot.

The cabinet meeting witnessed heated exchanges when the ministers discussed the awarding of the East Terminal of the Colombo port to India, reports said.

Sirisena is opposed to granting India access to develop the terminal just next to the China-run Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), the report said.

He had held that since the southern port of Hambantota had been already leased to China, having India in the Colombo port would not be in Sri Lanka's best interests in terms of any contingency.

The Cabinet spokesperson, however, on Wednesday said Sirisena had not expressed opposition to the Eastern Port Terminal deal with India.

What Sirisena said was he had discussed the issue with Modi during the BIMSTEC summit in Nepal, Senaratne said.

He said Modi was in agreement for Sri Lanka to develop the eastern terminal at Colombo port.

Meanwhile, the Joint Opposition on Wednesday claimed that an Indian national who is currently in custody for being part of the alleged assassination plot on President Sirisena is a member of RAW.

"This man has confessed...He had visited my house twice and my office once. He did not meet me... He is a trained RAW man," Wimal Weerawansa, a Joint Opposition front line member, told reporters.

The police in late September said Merceli Thomas, an Indian national, had been arrrested for his involvement in the alleged plot.

Updated Date: Oct 18, 2018 00:02:35 IST