A war of wards erupted yesterday with Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Chairperson former president Chandrika Kumaratunga denying making a statement alleging sexual exploitation and abuse by the armed forces attributed to her by the media, amidst calls for her removal from office by her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Following a meeting Kumaratunga had with the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA), several media reports carried comments attributed to the former president concerning alleged sexual harassment perpetrated by the armed forces, leading Army Spokesperson Brig. Roshan Seneviratne to last week swiftly condemn the statement attributed to Kumaratunga.
This week ONUR fired back criticising Seneviratne for “rushing to issue a statement” before seeking clarifications from the parties concerned. “We are surprised that a senior Army official has not thought it fit to peruse and understand the news reports of a statement allegedly made by a former Head of State and Commander-in-chief,” ONUR said in a statement. The statement issued yesterday also offered clarification on the discussions Kumaratunga had with reporters.
“ONUR has been made aware of the fact that there is sexual abuse still going on by officials, demanding favours even to sign a document, even some Tamil officials, some Grama Sevakas and some people in the forces and this needs to be dealt with sternly,” the statement said.
Criticising the comments made by the Army spokesperson, ONUR stated that although “the incidents of physical abuse referred to in the statement by the Army are all incidents regarding which Her Excellency Chandrika Kumaratunga initiated action in her capacity as the Commander-in-chief during the period up to 2005”, the Media Director has failed to speak of “a single incident of violence regarding which any action was instituted by the authorities” after her tenure in office.
Her successor, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued a strong statement criticising the comments Kumaratunga is supposed to have made, claiming that it “is a matter of grave concern”, and called upon President Maithripala Sirisena to publicly “condemn” what was reportedly said by Kumaratunga. He also called for Kumaratunga’s removal from ONUR, accusing her of “using that position to bring disrepute upon the armed forces of Sri Lanka.”
Highlighting that a statement of a former leader of the country and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces would outweigh any attempt made by the Sri Lanka Army to counter it, Rajapaksa claimed that as Kumaratunga “holds the position of head of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), which functions under the Presidential Secretariat, and the statements she makes goes to the world as the official position of the Sri Lankan Government.”