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Sacked Sri Lankan minister detained

Sripathi Sooriyarachchi was held for alleged misappropriation of government property, reports PK Balachandran.
None | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON MAR 17, 2007 06:32 PM IST

The sacked Sri Lankan Minister of Ports Development, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, who had been a thorn in the flesh of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was arrested and remanded on Saturday, for alleged misappropriation of government property.

Additional Colombo Magistrate, Gihan Pilapitiya, remanded Sooriyarachchi till March 20.

The charge against the former minister was that he had not surrendered his official jeep after he was sacked by the President.

But Sooriyarachchi said that he could not return the vehicle because it was under repairs. Subsequently, when it was out of the garage, he had given it back on March 3, he said.

According to political circles there is more to the case than meets the eye.

They say that the significance of the detention lies in the fact that it followed Sooriyarachchi's much publicised allegation that he was present when Rajapaksa's brother and political advisor, Basil Rajpaksa, was negotiating with the LTTE prior to the 2005 Presidential election.

The two sacked ministers, Sooriyarachchi and former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, and the Mahinda Rajapaksa group, have been trading charges for the last few months. One of the principal charges they have been making against each other is about a "secret" deal with the LTTE.

While the Mahinda Rajapaksa group has been saying that the rebel ministers are acting at the behest of the LTTE, the rebel ministers have been saying that the ruling faction had had a secret pact with the LTTE to enable Rajapaksa to win the Presidency in December 2005.

They rebel ministers attribute Rajapaksa's victory to the LTTE's deciding to boycott the elections and appeal to the Tamils of the North East not to vote. The forced boycott had prevented the opposition United National Party (UNP) from getting the North Eastern Tamil vote it was counting on. The UNP lost the election because of this.

UNP chief, Ranil Wickremesinghe, seized the opportunity provided by the charge made by Sooriyarachchi and Samaraweera, and demanded a statement from the government.

Before arresting Sooriyarachchi, the CID arrested Lt. Commander (Rtd) Rohana Gamage, an official in the Youth Training Department which was under Minister Sooriyarachchi, to investigate suspected links with the LTTE.

Reacting to Gamage's arrest, Sooriyarachchi said that he had taken him on the recommendation of none other than Mahinda Rajapaksa's younger bother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary!

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