Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is yet to hand over his resignation even though he had promised he would do so on July 13; instead, he fled the island nation just after 1 a.m. and landed in Male, Maldives, around 3 a.m.
This is the second instance of Gotabaya fleeing from a position of responsibility: the first was when he was recalled by his brother, Mahinda, at a time when he was commanding a unit of the Gajaba regiment. The Gajaba position was overrun by the Tamil militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, about 10 hours after he fled the battlefield.
In a release, the Sri Lanka Air Force confirmed that the President, his wife, and two security officers left for the Maldives on a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) aircraft. Since the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the SLAF had no choice but to act on his orders.
Many Sri Lankan nationals, including prominent politicians and members of civil society, condemned the fleeing and the SLAF for allowing him to escape.
In the release, issued in Sinhala, the SLAF said: “Under the provisions of the Constitution and on a request by the government, the Sri Lanka Air Force provided a plane early today to fly the president, his wife and two security officials to the Maldives.”
The SLAF plane took off from the Katunayake air base, co-located with the Colombo international airport.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana told local mediapersons that he had not received the President’s resignation letter yet. On July 10, the President had communicated to the Speaker that he would resign on July 13.
Namini Wijedasa, a journalist, said on Twitter: “Speaker’s office confirms that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not appoint an Acting President before his departure. Via @TimesOnlineLKHe has not sent a resignation letter. And according to PM’s office sources his passport was processed as required by immigration after political parties prevailed upon the respective unions to do so. #SriLanka”
Shihar Aneez, another journalist, quoted sources as saying that Gotabaya will send his “resignation letter only after he reaches his final destination scheduled at 8 p.m. today. Before reaching the final destination, he is expected to fly out to a Southeast Asian nation from the Maldives and then to fly to his final destination.”
Frontline was the first to report that the Sri Lankan Intelligence Services Chief was spotted in Dubai last week. Information from two sources indicates that Dubai will be the destination. The Maldives was only a stopover to change planes, as well as to gauge the public reaction to the fleeing.
Resentment in Maldives
In the Maldives, opposition parties condemned President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker Mohamed Nasheed for allowing Gotabaya to land in Male (at Velana airport). The Maldivian Foreign Office refused to comment on the issue.
Even members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party were not happy with Gotabaya being allowed to land in the Maldives. “We are with the people of Sri Lanka. Gotabaya should leave Maldives immediately,” a local party official from Fuvahmulah City said on Twitter. Another called upon the President for the “immediate and unconditional” repatriation of Gotabaya to Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in Colombo, alarmed by reports that India had facilitated the fleeing, said that it had no role in the matter. It said on Twitter that it “categorically denies baseless and speculative media reports that India facilitated the recent reported travel of @gotabayar @Realbrajapaksa out of Sri Lanka. It is reiterated that India will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka…as they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework.”