The Keith Noyahr case: Gota as Fonny’s nanny
Posted on April 21st, 2018

C.A.Chandraprema Courtesy The Island

  • Major Ajith Prasanna takes a closer look at what Keith Noyahr wrote
  • Sunday Leader throwing red herrings across the trail
  • The mistake that Gota made

Amidst the political confusion that engulfed the country after the recent local government elections and just before the New Year holidays, the former Director of Military Intelligence Major General Amal Karunasekera was arrested in relation to the abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, the Defence Correspondent of the now defunct newspaper The Nation, back in 2008. After this arrest, the state owned Sunday Observer explained how Maj. Gen. Karunasekera came to be implicated in this case as follows – when Keith Noyahr was abducted on May 22, 2008 his colleagues in The Nation had contacted President Mahinda Rajapksa and the then Defence Secretary and informed them of the abduction. Thereupon President Mahinda Rajapaksa had called Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who in turn had called Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana the Chief of National Intelligence who in turn had contacted the Director of Military Intelligence Maj General Amal Karunasekera and he in turn had contacted Major Bulathwatte and this had resulted in the release of Noyahr.


The Sunday Observer further stated that mobile phone signals had indicated that both Major Bulathwatte and Keith Noyahr had been in a safehouse run by Major Bulathwatte in Dompe. Earlier, an article that appeared in The Sunday Leader April 9, 2017 titled ‘The Keith Noyahr Saga: A Synopsis’ had revealed that detectives have also recovered the white van used for the abduction. It was said to be owned by a Dompe resident and leased to Bulathwatte. It had also been found that the safehouse in Dompe where Noyahr had been allegedly held, had also been taken on lease by Major Bulathwatte. According to this Sunday Leader article, Noyahr’s abduction took place because he wrote an article about the LTTE bomb that was set off near the Colombo Hilton Hotel on Sir Chittampalan Gardiner Mawatha on Friday May 16, 2008 which was described as ‘a scathing indictment’ of those officials in charge of the security and intelligence apparatus in charge of guarding Colombo.

This refers to an article titled “Ramming into the Colombo HSZ” datelined 18 May 2008 which can be accessed on the following link – Even though the Sunday Leader tries to portray this article as the immediate cause for the abduction and torture of Noyahr, readers who access the original article on the above link will see that this article was merely a description of the LTTE attack and its ramifications and it was not by any means a ‘scathing’ attack on anybody. In fact, the Sunday Leader had after describing it as ‘a scathing article’ against the government had in the same breath said incongruously that “The article was relatively mild, suggesting only that the authorities remedy their ‘failure to anticipate’…” How can any newspaper article be a scathing criticism and relatively mild at the same time? This article was no different to hundreds of articles appearing on a daily basis in newspapers and if journalists were going to be abducted and tortured for writing articles like that, then every journalist in this country should have been abducted and assaulted by the Army during that time.

The mere fact that the Sunday Leader has gone out of its way to say that it was this nondescript article of 18 May 2008 that led to the abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr and not the blistering attack the latter had launched a week earlier on 11 May 2008 on the then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka clearly shows that there is a deliberate attempt to deflect attention from Fonseka. If a ‘reasonable person’ reads the two articles mentioned above, there is little doubt that he would conclude that the article on Fonseka was far more more likely to provoke an attack than the article on the bomb blast in Colombo. A newspaper cannot pretend to be oblivious to the difference between the two articles and if they do, then that is for a dishonest purpose.

Back in February 26, 2017, the Sunday Leader in an article titled “Startling Details Emerge In Keith Noyahr Abduction Probe” had stated that “Although certain groups were pointing fingers at the then Army Commander, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka for masterminding the abduction because of Noyahr’s article on May 11, 2008 in the weekly, The Nation newspaper titled ‘An Army is not its Commander’s private fiefdom’ which heavily criticized the then Army Commander, Fonseka was not involved in the abduction.” However the Sunday Leader has not explained how they arrived at the conclusion that Noyahr was attacked for the article of 18 May 2008 and not for the earlier one published on 11 May 2008. The two Sunday Leader articles quoted here published on February 26, 2017 and April 9, 2017 had a further series of allegations to link Gota to the Noyahr case. One such allegation was the claim that when The Nation Editor Lalith Alahakoon called Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse on 22 May 2008, to appeal for Noyahr’s release, Rajapakse had berated Alahakoon and laughed off the abduction as most likely a domestic dispute between Noyahr and his wife!

It has to be said that this writer is not surpised at all if Gota had in fact laughed it off at first. That was in May 2008 before any of the series of attacks on journalists had taken place and this coming unexpectedly from the blues would naturally have been dismissed out of hand as something that cannot happen. Furthermore a journalist like Noyahr was not known for writing anything controversial. In fact, even this writer did not know why anyone would want to go to the length of abducting and assaulting Noyahr. For the past ten years, this writer had only a vague impression that Noyahr had written something that was critical of Sarath Fonseka and that had led to the attack. It was not until Major Ajith Prasanna emailed the article that Noyahr had written on 11 May 2008 that this writer actually read it. If such was the situation among journalists, one can be certain that very few members of the general public would have been able to hazard a guess as to why Noyahr was attacked. If Gota thought it was a joke when he first heard about the abduction, that can be excused because it is unlikely that he too would have read what Noyahr had written on 11 May 2008. Some journalists are known for writing scathing attacks on those wielding power, and Noyahr was most certainly not one of them – at least not until he wrote that article on Fonseka.

Another allegation made by the Sunday leader is that later, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had threatened two journalists from the government controlled Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (Lake House) for taking part at a protest at Kollupitiya demanding that the government should bring the perpetrators of the attack on Noyahr to book. Rajapaksa is supposed to have harangued Poddala Jayantha and Sanath Balasooriya for two-and-a-half hours, saying among other things that there were large numbers of military personnel who ‘revered Fonseka like a God’ and that he could not control these people and that they may finish you off’. Funnily enough, even as the Sunday Leader strives to foist the blame for the abduction of Noyahr on Gota, the discussion seems to keep circling back to Fonseka even in the Sunday Leader’s own revelations! Gota is supposed to have berated these journalists for having criticized Fonseka with Lakshman Hulugalle telling Sanath Balasuriya that he had video tapes of a speech by Balasuriya in which he criticized Fonseka. The Sunday Leader claimed that all this ‘shows that Rajapaksa was behind this abduction’. So the argument is that Gota had got Noyahr abducted and thrashed for having criticized Fonseka! It is an undeniable fact that between May 2008 and May 2009, Gota’s only interest was in getting the war over with, and he did not want anything affecting the morale of the Army at a time when it was making headway against the terrorists. Even when Lasantha Wickrematunga was killed in January 2009 and everyone was blaming Fonseka, Gota went on TV a few days later and said that the Indian National Security Advisor M.K.Narayananan had told him that Fonseka was the best army commander in the world.

There is no question about the fact that due to to his desire to finish the war and to prevent the army from being demoralized due to Fonseka getting mired in unwanted controversies, Gota did go out on a limb in publicly defending Fonseka instead of condemning him as a madman who was misusing his powers to exact revenge on mediamen for real and imagined slights. However, Gota’s public defence of his army commander at a time when the war was at its height, does not mean that he was responsible for carrying out those attacks. His effort was to avoid unwanted controversies, not to create them. Everytime Fonny’s name was soiled, Gota had to play nanny to prevent demoralization in the army and to keep the war on track. The day after Lasantha Wickrematunga killed, on 9 January 2009, the then opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe kept saying repeatedly that this killing was carried out by an element within the armed forces that the government had no control over and that it was not only the opposition that was in danger but the government as well.

Even when Keith Noyahr was abducted in 2008 and that was followed by attacks on Namal Perera, Mahendra Ratnaweera and Upali Tennakoon, that was the same stance taken by the then Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera. The UNP knew that no government or politician would carry out attacks on journalists in that manner and that such actions could only be carried out by a non-political person wielding unbridled power.

When the Sunday Leader contacted Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and asked him about the allegations levelled against him over killings and abductions of journalists, he had stressed that he had never had any dealings or falling out with any journalist and that it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had serious disputes with media personnel. Fonseka had also said that Gotabaya Rajapaksa directly supervised all security and intelligence operations in and around Colombo through a separate chain of command packed with loyalists, bypassing the normal organizational structures of the three armed forces and the police and that it was through this group that the Rajapaksas carried out high profile assaults, abductions and murders of media personalities and others. Thus the Sunday Leader is literally falling over itself to accept what Fonseka says and to lay the blame for the Noyahr incident on Gota. Yet the very arguments the Sunday Leader puts forward points yet again at Fonseka.

Would anyone in his right mind believe, knowing who Fonseka is, that he would have had no issue with the person who wrote that article in The Nation titled “An army is not its commander’s private fiefdom” on 11 May 2008? Note that what is criticized in this artcle are the actions of the army commander, not those of the defence ministry.


(What follows is an abridged version of the ‘Military Matters’ column in The Nation that was published on 11 May 2008. Noyahr was abducted and assaulted on 22 May 2008. Attorney at Law Major Ajith Prasanna drew the attention of the media to this article at a press conference held before the New Year. His argument was that this artcle constitutes a motivation for the attack on Noyahr and the police should be pursuing this line of inquiry as well.)

An army is not its commander’s private fiefdom

The promotion criteria adopted by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka… have caused rumblings within the Sri Lanka Army… there are 27 Colonels eligible to be promoted Brigadiers, who have now been sidelined….However, this recommendation by Army HQ is yet to be approved by the Defence Ministry. Several Senior Army Officers had made representations to political authorities, stating that they should not be subjected to injustice. Even in effecting transfers, there is the possibility of affording key operational experience to favourites. Take the case of Col. Janaka Walgama who, has been at Staff College, Training or at Army HQ, almost all his military life, was posted to a key operational area, Trincomalee, bypassing several others. The new system has paved the way for military authorities to promote several junior officers to key positions such as Brigade Commanders and even General Officers Commanding several Divisions.

Brig. Samantha Sooriyabandara of the Commando Regiment, was put in charge of the main 53 strike Division in Jaffna. Brig. Sooriyabandara, who commanded the troops in Muhamalai, where a major debacle took place last month, has now been posted as the defence attaché to the Sri Lankan mission in Washington D.C…Not only did he lack the required experience to be given the 53 Div Commander slot, he has not held a single important Staff Officer job at Army HQ or even at Divisional HQ, to be posted as Defence Attaché to Washington D.C. Does he have the competence to handle the Navy, Air Force and Army on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government and, has he ever handled correspondence, so vital for this post? He was earlier in charge of the personal security of the Army Chief.

Maj. Gen. Dhammika Liyanage, another officer, who was in charge of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s personal security, with no battlefield experience as a Brigade Commander in the northern area, has replaced Maj. Gen. Parakrama Pannipitiya in the east as SF Commander. After a five-year period in Colombo, attached to different places, Maj. Gen. Liyanage was posted to the east replacing Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya. Army HQ had overlooked very senior officers when making this appointment, as Maj. Gen. Liyanage was 30th in the list.

The Deputy Chief of Staff position was filled by Army HQ, with the appointment of Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri. However, this appointment was later withheld. According to the order of precedence, it should have been Maj. Gen. Sumith Balasuriya who should have been appointed as the Deputy Chief of Staff.

Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya, who was relieved of the eastern command and later asked to vacate his official quarters at Summit Flats, challenged the decision of the military authorities, stating that his fundamental rights had been violated. Lawyers argued in court that, after doing what had to be done in the east, Pannipitiya was unceremoniously removed and his security withdrawn.

Meanwhile, Army HQ had also recommended that the Vishista Seva Vibushanaya (VSV) should only be conferred on service commanders and former service commanders who had not already been conferred with VSV. It is learnt that the Defence Ministry did not comply with the recommendation made by Army HQ that, only the serving service commanders and former service commanders be conferred with this highly respected decoration. The Ministry accepted the recommendations of both the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke for the award to be given to 17 serving Naval officers, including the commander, and seven serving Air Force officers, including the commander, respectively. This award should not be an elitist one for only the service chiefs, as few make it to the number one position in the services. Lt. Gen. Fonseka was the only one from the Army to receive the award while in uniform. The awarding of VSV to several serving Officers of the Navy and Air Force including the two service chiefs and only the Army Commander (while in service) might send out wrong signals. In this current phase of the war, while two dozen serving Officers from the Navy and Air Force have performed distinguished service, there are no distinguished Army personnel deserving the award, except the one who nominated himself.

The question on the lips of many is why was Fonseka not nominated by, five previous Army commanders, for the Uttama Seva Padakkama(USP)? General Shantha Kottegoda, General Lionel Balagalla, General Sri Lal Weerasuriya, General Rohan Daluwatte, General Gerry De Silva and General Cecil Waidyaratne had their reasons for overlooking Fonseka. Six months back Gen. Fonseka was awarded USP setting the stage for a VSV. If an officer has been charged for scandalous conduct and found guilty, one loses his unblemished record. Having deprived several Senior Regimented Officers from receiving this award, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Fonseka, at a recent meeting at Army HQ for Principal Staff Officers and Directors in an around Colombo, said, “If one aspires to ascend to the highest echelons in the Sri Lankan Army, he should perform and prove himself”.

At the conference, Gen. Fonseka said, “Simply carrying flower baskets to pay homage to gods, won’t help”. In the same breath, he said that certain Senior Officers were behaving in a manner not in keeping with their positions. He was referring to a General clad in sarong and dancing alongside a local politico, at an informal party. Gen. Fonseka said that by their actions, they have been reduced to the status of jokers. Insiders are of the view that, he had, by innuendo, directed those attacks at his No. 2, the Commandant of the Volunteer Force, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando and Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya. with whom he has a running legal battle.

Gen.Fonseka, no doubt, has been an excellent Army Officer, and needs to be saluted for his achievements, but there are many Officers who opine that he was no gentleman. Considering the manner in which he handled men and matters, promotions and awards. Many left the service saddened and are willing to come forward and testify, many more are digging their heels on how they were shabbily treated after much sacrifice.

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One Response to “The Keith Noyahr case: Gota as Fonny’s nanny”

  1. Christie Says:

    Sunday Leader run by India’s and Indians money at least according to Mr Pakiyasothy Sarawanamuththu.

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