A serious tussle has emerged over the appointment of a new Commander of the Army, with current Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake officially retiring from service yesterday.
President Maithripala Sirisena looked set to appoint Army Chief of Staff Major General Shavendra Silva as Commander over the weekend, but the prospect of promotion for the controversial war time Commander has caused serious concern in several quarters.
Maj. General Silva’s promotion to Commanderwould jeopardise Sri Lanka’s cooperation with UN Peacekeeping and prevent defence cooperation between US troops and the Sri Lanka Army under the terms of the Leahy Amendment.
Highly placed sources told Daily FT that if Silva was appointed Army Chief, Sri Lankan soldiers already on UN peacekeeping missions would stay on, but no more military personnel would be allowed to join UNPKF missions overseas.
Daily FT learns that President Sirisena has faced resistance over the appointment from members of his own party, while the UNP also remains divided on the issue. Maj. General Silva’s promotion just ahead of a crucial Presidential election has sparked fears about whether the appointment was being made at the behest of the Rajapaksa faction.
High level diplomatic back channelling with the President was also under way over the weekend to explain the consequences of the appointment of a Commanderstill under the shadow of war crime allegations.
Silva led the Army’s controversial 58 Division during the final stages of the War, which has been named in several UN reports as being implicated in the ‘white flag’ incident where LTTE surrendees were reportedly executed following assurances of safety.
With Lt. Gen. Senanayake’s extension coming to an end last night, the Sri Lanka Army will be overseen by the Army Chief of Staff until an appointment is made by the President.
Apart from Silva, Major General Kumudu Perera and Major General Sathyapriya Liyanage are the other senior officers currently serving in the Army.