Western intelligence services looking for ex-SL ambassador to Russia

Supplying small arms to Ukrainian rebels

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The US Embassy declined to comment on the Sri Lankan government’s request for its help to track down former ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga alleged to have supplied weapons to pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. The alleged transactions had taken place during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President, the Ukrainian government has alleged.

The US embassy suggested that The Island obtain a clarification from the Sri Lankan government.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith Perera yesterday said that external assistance hadn’t been sought so far to track down Weeratunga, a close relative of former President Rajapaksa. “We’ll catch him,” the Deputy Minister said.

Authoritative officials, however, said that Sri Lanka lacked the wherewithal to carry out an international manhunt. Sources said that Western powers would be able to track him down quickly.

Perhaps, Weeratunga’s whereabouts were probably known to Western intelligence services currently tracing the clandestine supply of weapons to Ukrainian rebels.

Sources acknowledged that the government wasn’t aware whether Weeratunga was still in Russia or had sought refuge in some other part of the world.However, Weeratunga wouldn’t dare move into Ukraine, sources said, adding that Ukraine could have requested Western countries to track him down.

Although the US Embassy in Colombo remained tight-lipped, the State Department has accused Russia of sending new weapons to separatists in eastern Ukraine. The US media quoted Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland as having told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Tuesday (7) that the continued resupply over the border was not compatible with a peace agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), too, has accused Russia of arming rebels.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa inspects troops from an army vehicle during a war victory ceremony in ColomboRussia has repeatedly denied Western allegations.

Deputy Minister Perera acknowledged that Sri Lanka hadn’t sought information from Russia regarding Weeratunga’s whereabouts. Sri Lanka maintains close relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Both governments provided valuable armaments, including jets, helicopter gunships as well as armoured fighting vehicles during the war against the LTTE.

In addition to the alleged supply of weapons to Ukrainian rebels, Weeratunga is also sought by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) to record a statement as regards his involvement in the procurement of four fully overhauled MiG 27s from Ukraine as well as overhauling of four MiGs already in Sri Lanka’s arsenal at the onset of the eelam war IV. The police said that Weeratunga had to be questioned regarding the death of Noel Ranasinghe, an employee of the Sri Lankan embassy in Moscow, also during the UPFA administration. The police recently exhumed Ranasinghe’s body on a magisterial order.

Weeratunga, a nephew of the defeated former president, operated a Sri Lankan food restaurant in the Ukrainian capital Kiev before he was appointed Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Moscow nine years ago.

He served in Moscow for a record nine years until the new government ordered his recall to Colombo.

However, Weeratunga did not return to Sri Lanka. His whereabouts are not known and he could not be contacted, Foreign Ministry sources said.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera promised to brief parliament regarding the ongoing probe consequent to the JVP raising the issue in the House last week.