Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to return to Sri Lanka from Singapore: Cabinet spokesman

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Colombo: Sri Lanka's former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not in hiding and is expected to return to the country from Singapore, Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena said on Tuesday.

Rajapaksa, 73, fled Sri Lanka after the July 9 uprising when people broke into the President’s House after months of public protests against him for mishandling the country's worst economic crisis since 1948.

Rajapaksa first fled to the Maldives on July 13 and from there he proceeded to Singapore the next day.

When asked about Rajapaksa at a weekly Cabinet media briefing, Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena told reporters that the former president was not in hiding and he is expected to return from Singapore.

Gunawardena, who is also the Minister for Transport and Highways and Mass Media, said he does not believe the former president fled the country, and is in hiding.

He, however, did not offer any other details of Rajapaksa's possible return.

Singapore has granted a 14-day short-term visit pass to the former president as he entered the country on a "private visit" on July 14.

A spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore earlier said that Rajapaksa has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum.

Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has said that visitors from Sri Lanka who enter Singapore for social visits will generally be issued with a short-term visit pass (STVP) with a duration of up to 30 days.

Those who need to extend their stay in Singapore have to apply online for an extension of their STVP. Applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, said the ICA.

Meanwhile, commenting on the request made to the Singapore Attorney General to detain the Former Sri Lankan President, the Cabinet Spokesperson said that if there is a situation, the responsible officials in the country will take steps to ensure no harm is done to the former president, the Daily Mirror newspaper quoted Gunawardena as saying.

Lawyers from South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) have submitted a criminal complaint to the Attorney General of Singapore requesting the immediate arrest of Rajapaksa for war crimes.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as the defence secretary during his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as president from 2005 to 2014.

Though dubbed as the “war hero”, his role in ending the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with the death of its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2009 is quite divisive as he stands accused of violating human rights, a charge he vehemently denies.

The case was withdrawn when he was elected President in 2019 and acquired immunity from prosecution as the head of state. That immunity no longer applies now he has resigned from office. This is believed to be the first criminal complaint against him.