1966 Coup Attempt

Dear sangam Editor,

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Ana Pararajasingham on his excellent  article entitled, "STATE TERROR"  "BLACK JULY OF 1983 REVISITED

I wish to take this opportunity to add my personal involvement in being made aware of the early beginnings of anti Tamil ethnic consciousness in the army in 1966. I was appointed as one of a specially selected group of Crown Counsel to prosecute the perpetrators of an attempted coup that year. This was ostensibly a coup against the U N P. This was the time when PrimeMinister Dudley Senanayake was engaged in attempting to effectuate the Senanayake Chevanayakam Pact. This was a time when the Federal party stood with the government. These moves towards reconciliation with the Tamil leadership were deeply resented by the rank and file of the vast Sinhala segment of the Army. Frustrated by the efforts of Mr Senanayake to placate the Tamils, a host of non commissioned officers planned an overthrow of his government. Ironically, Mr J R Jayawardena, as the all powerful Minister of State, was one of the prime targets of this coup. Equally ironically, Mr Jayawardena had his hand deep in making sure this prosecution succeeded. He personally approved the selection of Crown Counsel to prosecute and selected the Police officers to investigate the case. The known brutality of the officer selected to do the initial investigation resulted in two suspects committing suicide to avoid state terror against them. Another irony, but this was state terror aimed at those who sought to get rid of J R himself.

The underlying theme of those planning the coup was that the army should be made a pro- Sinhala establishment with virtually no Tamil involvement. Tamil commissioned officers were resented and were petrified of these elements.  One such officer, Captain Wignaraja, a Sandhurst product, who gave a statement to the police outlining the activities of these sordid conspirators, refused to testify at the preliminary hearing before Magistrate,  Mr P B S David.  He denied making any of the statements he made to the police,  through fear of reprisal  He was shaking with nervousness on the witness stand when confronted with his previous statements to the police.  "I would never have said any such thing," he proclaimed, while he looked at the accused with a benevolent smile on his face and in a tone loud enough for all the accused to hear.

The only commissioned officers charged in this poorly planned venture were Captain Sigera, a known racist, and General Udugama who was not that associated with racism in the army. The only non Army officer accused was the Reverend Gnanaseeha Thero,  a well known advocate of Sinhala supremacy, who had written many articles on that subject.

Even though nearly all were Indicted, they were all ultimately acquitted and made commissioned officers by Mrs Bandaranaike's succeeding government.  I had resigned as Crown Counsel and come to the US soon after they were Indicted.  Sinhala supremacy was raising its head increasingly. The ultimate acquittal may have again been a reflection of that despicable trend.

Yours sincerely,

Wakeley Paul

Barrister at Law, Middle Temple, London
Former Crown Counsel,  Ceylon
B A [Law] Cantab [Cambridge University, England
M A Cantab
L L M Stanford Law School, California