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Easter Sunday attacks PCoI – Former leaders passing the buck

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The Easter Sunday attackers posing for a picture with their leader Zahran in the middle

By Rienzie Wijetilleke
rienzietwij@gmail.com

 

Sri Lankans around the world remain bemused at revelations from the on-going investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) has so far seen a roll call of former leaders and high ranking officials from the previous regime providing any number of vague excuses and abdicating responsibility for their inaction.

The former President, who is now a member of the ruling party and was the Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief at the time, must provide better answers than simply saying he was not informed. There is growing evidence that in fact he was informed. The former President has also stated that the Prime Minister was not invited to the National Security Council meeting because he suspected the latter of leaking the contents of the briefings to the press. This highlights the complete shambles of the previous government’s handling of the security apparatus. There was no cohesion, no alignment; there were only conflicting political agendas and the people are left to pick the pieces of their disastrous ineptitude.

The death toll numbers in the hundreds, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are perhaps thousands affected. Every family that lost a loved one must still be suffering daily at not having them close when they go to bed at night or sit for a meal together. The dreams of so many young Sri Lankans were shattered, livelihoods vanished, and hearts were broken. There were multiple funerals per street in some areas of the country and the victims pain is only exacerbated by the new details emerging weekly from the PCoI sessions. They deserve real answers and tangible relief.

As per CNN, Indian Intelligence services passed on ‘unusually specific’ information in the weeks before the attack, gathered from an ISIS suspect arrested and interrogated on Indian soil. Sri Lankan officials were warned on 4 th April of possible attacks against Christian Churches and tourist spots; the same warnings were sent two days before the attack and two hours before the attack. The government did nothing, and this amounts to ‘willful negligence’.

The name Zahran Hashim was disclosed by a terror suspect and even appears on a memo dated April 11th signed by the Police DIG, stating that there was a possible threat from him and his organization, the NTJ. In fact, the police and intelligence services had been aware of the NTJ for over two years before the attacks.

Explosives had been uncovered in the Eastern Province and even linked to Islamic terrorist activities. In January 2019, in the North West of the country, in Wanathawilluwa near Puttalam, a group was arrested upon the detection of 100 kilos of explosives as well as other materials required for the manufacture of bombs. Hundreds of detonators, wire cords, rifles and ammunition as well as six 20 litre cans of Nitrate acid, which is banned in Sri Lanka, were also discovered. Why weren’t the country and its people put on high alert and warned of the dangers posed by religious fundamentalism?

The chemical Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) is thought to have been used for the Easter Attacks. TATP is made from household ingredients such as nail polish remover and hydrogen peroxide. These items are supposed to be screened by police to prevent their purchase in large stocks. The operation to build the bombs was connected to the copper factory in Wellampitiya. We had read reports of militia groups operating with impunity in the Eastern Province. Some groups were vandalising religious monuments throughout the last few years. We know that radical Islam had taken hold of many parts of the Eastern Province. Radicalization and Arabization have been occurring in parts of the country, and what are the government proposals to prevent this from continuing? What are the implications of the spread of extremism for the question of devolution of power? Can the ordinary Sri Lankans trust local governments, given what has been brewing in the East?

Some of the barrels of explosive materials found near Puttalam had Indian markings on them. It should surprise no one that foreign influence played a key role in the radicalisation of the youth. Throughout the multi decade war against the LTTE, we remember how Western liberal democracies allowed ‘charity’ organisations to operate without sufficient controls, raising funds for terror activities in Sri Lanka. The President at that time, Mahinda Rajapaksa faced immense pressure from the international community to cease the onslaught against the LTTE. The President took decisive action at that time and deserves enormous credit for not succumbing to this pressure.

The Times of India (ToI) reported that Indian Intelligence had been studying the spread of Wahabism in Eastern Sri Lanka for some time. We have seen reporting of large charity donations emanating from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East and directly benefiting powerful politicians from the East. ToI also reported that the Eastern region of Sri Lanka could become an operational zone for terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the organisation responsible for the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. LeT’s own charity organisation; Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq was active in Tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2004. Another suspicious charity by the name of Falah-i-Insaniyat had been operating in the Eastern Province in 2016. Indian Minister Kishan Reddy stated that this organisation had been banned by the UN but still operated online.

Sri Lanka also must manage the optics of this issue very carefully. Already there is a circus related to the arrest and subsequent release of the brother of a prominent MP who was linked to the suspected terrorists. That same MP is now apparently under arrest for misappropriating funds in a separate case. People are asking a very valid question as to whether these two arrests are related in any way. What about the Governor and state officials of the Eastern Province, who allowed a terrorist outfit to organise and establish itself under their watch; shouldn’t criminal charges be brought against these officials?

A Muslim human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah, with alleged links to two of the suicide bombers, was arrested several months ago on terrorism charges. However Human Rights organisations including the usual suspects, Amnesty International, have claimed that he is being detained without credible evidence under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). These same rights organisations have been lobbying for the removal of the PTA and for reforms in Sri Lanka’s state intelligence services. What role have they played in creating the conditions for the Easter Attacks? Sri Lankans have traditionally been quite suspicious of non-governmental organisations due to their perceived sympathy and support for terrorist surrogates. However, Sri Lanka, as a responsible member of the international community, must act with a level of prudence as its image is at stake. Sri Lanka has always been a victim of terrorism, but the Western-driven narrative, derived from multinational extra-territorial organisations seems intent on painting Sri Lanka as the belligerent in most cases. In the case of the Easter attacks, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans were victims of violent extremism and we should not allow that narrative to shift once again.

Multiple officials from the Sri Lankan Police, Armed forces and Intelligence services have confirmed that the information was available and it was communicated to the highest levels. However, the former President and the former Prime Minister are simply saying they did not receive the security briefs. They are blaming each other and the state apparatus that was under their stewardship. There are thousands of Sri Lankan eagerly awaiting the truth about what happened in April 2019 and they will not take kindly to any administration that drags their feet on matters of such urgency. The authorities must expedite the inquiries. Officials in the security and intelligence apparatus have a duty to protect the citizens of the country. Which officials failed in their duty to protect, how did this failure occur given the information that was available and why was this information not acted upon? I urge the present government to charge all those high ranking individuals involved during the time of the Easter Sunday Attacks with manslaughter.



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Opinion

Need to prioritise national needs

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May the Gods give us timely rain,
May the harvests be bountiful,
May the people be happy.
And may the King be righteous.

I believe that there are many (here and abroad) who are ready to help our country to flourish and our people to enjoy the maximum benefits, out of the blessings that Nature has plentifully bestowed on us “Where every prospect pleases, and Man alone is vile”, or as that wonderfully expressive Stanza above, inspires us.

We have it all, but have (mis)managed comprehensively, to destroy our endowments, and reduced ourselves to disgraceful beggary. We have been blessed by our location in the Tropics. Had it not been so, we would have needed to invest all of our earnings, to merely keep ourselves warm in the biting cold of Winter and if we could not, possibly perishing.

One of the alarmingly helpless laments heard is this: “What is the point of writing or talking, when we are sure that nothing will happen?” The youth in the ‘Aragalaya’ have proven otherwise. The authorities seem to be deaf and blind, and ready to sacrifice all, in their greed for money or worldly comforts, for themselves and theirs – to hell with the “sovereign people”. Venality, like heroin, is addictive and is transmissible. We see this – crooked parents beget crooked children. Retribution, in this or future lives is bound to come.

Against the pessimism of several friends, and others, I am cautiously hopeful. This is what emboldens me to keep on writing. After all, it is the incessant beatings of little drops of rain that convert even the hardest of rocks into fertile soil. Persistence and patience in doggedly and relentlessly pursuing a worthy goal, are the operative words. The youth in the Aragalaya, display the courage of their conviction against corruption that we, the Seniors had not the guts to do.

Three imperative goals for us (among many others) are:

(i) Population,

(ii) Environment

(iii) Law and order.

Some Cosmetic changes first…

Drop the “Sri” from our title. “Great Britain”, became “Britain”. Likewise, “Lanka” would be more modest, and less pompous than “Sri Lanka”. So also “Deshapalanaya” which carries with it the flavour of subjugation and control. A word more suggestive of humility and compassionate scholarship might be better, and a lot more accurate.

For this, the well-endowed Parliament library may be worthy of more presence by members.

Of the three supporting columns of democracy, the “Judiciary” could remain as it is. It must however be admitted that certain rulings, particularly those concerning politicians, are disturbing. “The Executive” (President as of now), should move to, and Head “The “Legislative,” whose function is to formulate Laws and supervise their intended implementation. “The Executive”, should logically be what we now loosely call “the Administration”. To “execute” is to implement, to act, to perform and to deliver. It also has the closest contact with the public, and most in need of radical change. This brings us to a concept of “Governance,” having as its credo and primary responsibility, “to ensure convenient and orderly life to all citizens” and thereby not to be seen as an avoidable nuisance, but as a friendly helping hand.

(1) We, as a nation have a very poor work ethic. Responsibility, integrity, courtesy and courage against interference from any quarter, are necessary and inviolate. Every effort should be made to ensure that efficiency, honesty and economy should be key. In the words of John F. Kennedy, the US President, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for yours,” That is, to maximize the “Give” and minimize the “Take”.

(2) Cabinets -should be established solely in the interests of serving the needs of the public. They have instead become an instrument, not for the common good but for electoral convenience. The first Cabinet at Independence, numbered only 11. Today, there could be near 50, (counting the Deputy, State, Subject and “over-seeing” Ministers), This is more to assure votes for the governing party, than to provide useful service. This is naked betrayal of trust.

Any subject that seeks to divide the citizenry should not be entertained. This is particularly so, when it ignores likely unrest. We have seen it happen. What need is there for portfolios such as for ‘Buddha Sasana, Christian Affairs, Hindu and Muslim Affairs”. It is sheer arrogance to think that these great religions need Cabinet support. How can we talk of Religious Amity, when these seek to divide rather than to unite?

Monks in Parliament have been a disaster. Likewise, Culture and Sports are entirely personal matters and need no Governmental interference.

Acts of supreme stupidity, even by our less than stellar Parliament, were the attempts to prevent conventional attire of Muslim women, the “Halal” issue, and burial of their dead. The worst was the opposition to singing of the national anthem in Tamil. No wonder that our country is near bankruptcy, when our Legislators were busily engaged in pettiness, trivialities and robbery.

(2) We do need radical reforms, if we are to have the three arms (or legs) of Government, to serve the Public, who are their ultimate paymasters. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” No system driven without this doctrine, can survive. Punctuality (the courtesy of Kings), application and pride in one’s job, are also crucial. Even in domestic employment, the first and dominant question is “How much will I get?” Seldom is it asked, “How can I help?” The ‘Public Service’ amounts to some 80 percent of the employed, while consuming about 70 percent of the Budget, makes it predominantly ‘an employment sink’ and a wide-open door for tempting or enticing marauding politicos. The diabolical dissolution of the former CCS, mostly comprising an elite and fearlessly independent set of Administrators, was a tiresome barrier to the corrupt. It had to be destroyed, and Felix Dias was the man to willingly and wilfully do it. Today, we have for the crooked politician, a comfortably compliant service in place of what should be one of such formidable propriety, that none will dare corrupt. A Public Servant who seems willing to double as Toilet Paper for a corrupt boss, is an unforgiveable scoundrel. One can identify several such. We were shocked to hear, from one of them, that half his colleagues in Cabinet were heroin addicts. So, then what?

(3) No politician can rob alone. There have to be compliant officials. It may take many courses of fierce purgatives to totally cleanse our corrupt Governance system. Corruption is so entrenched in every nook and cranny of the system, that unbelievably drastic action has to be taken. The complicit quickly learn the ways of the game and gleefully violate all principles of honesty, integrity, decency and culture. The whole structure cries out for urgent reform, and to be made leaner by trimming the superfluous. Some will need a new spine and, some others would warrant castration. In view of the fact that the Politician is often the source of the evil pollutant and source, I began to write about this in some detail. The text got to be so long, that I decided to leave it for the present, and resolved to honor it with an article on its own.

Population Issues

Every livestock farmer is familiar with the concept of “Carrying capacity” – which determines the number of chickens that can be sustained in a cage, or cows in a field.

What applies to animals surely should apply to the species, Homo Sapiens. Natural Laws are universally valid. A farmer culls his stock when it exceeds his capacity, by “culling”. This cannot be applied to human populations. Has Nature taken over, by inflicting periodic natural or self- inflicted disasters (conflicts or diseases), to restore some stability?

In 1798, Reverend Thomas Malthus, FRS, postulated that populations would increase beyond the capacity to provide adequate food. Population increases exponentially, while productivity of (food), does only increase linearly. Thus, sooner or later the latter outgrows the latter. At that time, this was condemned as a diabolical plot to deny the Benefits of the Industrial Revolution to the poorer countries or the poorer segments of society. It seems that the dire warning is proving its validity. Even at the risk of rejection as being unprofessional or superficial, the situation that confronts Sri Lanka is serious. Making some assumptions, our population of 21 million and increases (growth- rate) of 2 %, the annual population increase, (excluding deaths), would be 420,000, and birth rate would be roughly 1,000 per day.

The requirements of a few crucial sectors would be as follows, Rice (additional acreage), Schools (4 x 250), houses (assuming that all marry) 500, Universities (assuming 10%) 10, Transport (50- seater buses) 20, Hospital beds (assuming 1% sick) 10, Jobs (at 50 %) 500 and so on. One has to note that these are estimated daily requirements. Even If today’s requirements are met, tomorrow’s will loom menacingly. This assumes that the present standards of living remain as they are. This seems an impossible task. The only option is some sort of population planning, which of course be resisted.

The environment,

Global warming might seem a distant prospect that may not bother us at the moment. This is so, although recent observations suggest that the earlier projections were in error, and the worry is more severe than at first feared.

Several of our major rivers flow brown from eroded soil. This points to serious flaws in our land and water use. The Soil Conservation Act, prohibited forest clearance above high elevations but that continued nevertheless, mainly for tea planting. If such tea is left unplucked, (i) they would soon grow up to about 10-15 feet and also allow the establishment of secondary forests of tree types n natural to the area.

(ii) Sand for construction requirements are normally met by river sand. Remembering that most soils, have only a small percentage of sand, every ton of sand removed, would mean that several tons of soil has been eroded. It would take centuries to build back an inch of topsoil thus washed away.

(iii) Our forest cover, which is estimated to have been about 50% of the land area at the beginning of the last century, is now below 20% due to resettlement, urbanization and wanton destruction. It has to be noted that in even the much-decried Chena system, vegetation is only thinned. The land cultivated changes from time to time rotationally and thus the natural forest regenerates. Large scale clearance is manifest in mechanized logging operations and unsupervised encroachments. The same applies to illegal timber extraction and sand mining. Experience shows that co-operating with regular entrants to forested areas, is far better than the total exclusion of entry into forests. Firewood collection, from naturally shedding tree branches, and collection of medicinal herbs, are a centuries-old tradition.

Attention has been increasingly drawn to the question of pollution, particularly by long-life plastic wastes. Some regulation is sorely needed as the menace grows.

Law and order issues

There is an increase in the civilian protests – related mostly to shortages of fuel and cooking LPG. Adding to this are civilian protests as is manifested in the ongoing “Gota go home’ rallies and the unleashing violence and destruction of Private properties, consequent to the raid of Gotagama protesters, and lately in gas and fuel shortages. The peace keeping apparatus is showing signs of fatigue and the crowds more and more hostile, ending often in unseemly confrontations. The situation is menacingly volatile. Open revolt the last thing we need now.

Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda

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Opinion

Chaos at petrol stations

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The Island editorial of 29/06/2022 aptly describes the pathetic state of the country where there is no end in sight with petrol queues, social unrest and an incompetent Government. When one looks at the daily reports of violence at petrol stations, I wonder whether there is law and order in this country. Queues are almost non-existent when the motorcyclists throng filling stations and the policemen on duty look the other way during this disorderly conduct. There are several reports of thugs controlling these stations often with the connivance of the police officers and filling their containers to be later sold at three times the market value of fuel. In addition, policemen on duty help their friends, relatives and other influential people to jump the queues and get their tanks filled. This is a national calamity which needs an immediate and effective response from the highest levels of the Government. Allowing thugs and goons to run fuel stations should be forcefully dealt with by shifting the control of petrol stations to the armed forces. Police sending a few constables to petrol stations is not enough and their senior officers instead of working in their air-conditioned offices should venture out to check the actual ground situation.

It was reported that one petrol station in Kurunegala is controlled by a set of underworld thugs who force the petrol station attendants to first fill their containers before supplying petrol to those who have waited for days. A similar incident was reported from Kalutara, where a politician forcibly refuelled his buses and his son’s vehicles and those of his friends at the expense of the people waiting in a long queue, and in full view of the policemen on duty. No wonder the people who have waited for days turn violent and often clash with the Police. Recently, we saw on television how luxury vehicles enter the Kolonnawa storage terminal and get their tanks filled without any hindrance and the question is who gave them permission to do this? So far neither the Minister nor the CPC Chairman has given any explanation about this blatant violation of fairness to the public. It is imperative for the Government leaders to wake up from their slumber and see that sanity prevails at fuel stations.

In Kandy, three-wheelers are doing a brisk business of selling petrol sometimes at Rs. 2,000 a litre which is a lucrative trade and this explains why there are only a few three-wheelers available for hire in the city. It is more profitable for them to sell the petrol they get to some other party and then rejoin the queue and this vicious cycle continues. Government should assign only two days of the week for three-wheelers and enforce the rationing system by providing petrol based on the last number of their vehicle. Government talks about these grandiose schemes but no action is forthcoming (NATO, no action, talk only). We have a law and order Minister who hasn’t uttered a word or given instructions to the Police to stop all the illegal activities, such as jumping queues, filling containers and selling fuel at black market prices.

The system introduced to ensure that health sector employees would be given petrol on Fridays at designated petrol stations has become an utter failure. Some owners of petrol sheds claim that they are unaware of this system and Police have been totally ineffective in preventing others waiting in queues from becoming abusive towards health sector personnel. This shows that nothing works properly in spite of government proclamations and the ministers involved should be ashamed for their incompetence. Our people too are so selfish that they do not realise the importance of the health sector that works to save the lives of others. This facility to give petrol on Fridays is given solely to Health sector employees but this has been interpreted wrongly by the Police who have decided that it is for essential services only and come in hundreds of their private vehicles to be served with scant disregard to all those people waiting in queues. This situation is best described as anarchy in which there is no organisation and control, especially in society, because there is no effective government.

Prof. O. A. Illeperuma

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Opinion

An open letter to 6.9 million

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Basil Rajapaksa has recently said that the Rajapaksas are not responsible for the dire situation in the country. He told the journalists not to pass the ball to him and he passed the ball to the people, especially to the 69 lakhs who voted the “Pohottuwa” into power.

So, my dear 6.9 million citizens,

You are my brothers and sisters. The Rajapaksas may blame you for the dire situation in the country but I do not blame you. I do not condemn you. For everybody makes mistakes. We are frail human beings. Now I am a senior citizen and in my life time I have been pickpocketed three times. It cost me three purses, a few thousand rupees and two ID cards to learn the lesson. But dear 6.9 million brothers and sisters your present political lesson cost all of us national bankruptcy, millions unemployed, unending queues for petrol, diesel, kerosene, cooking gas and passports, exorbitant price hikes of essentials, lack of essential medicines, looming starvation, anarchy, destruction and terrifying death. I hope you have learnt the lesson, at least by now.

Do you realise what kind of image you have shown to the world of our people, of us? Out of courtesy they will not voice it but they consider us damn fools.

Didn’t you know about the Rajapaksas and the tsunami funds? Didn’t you ever wonder how his three brats were spending like nothing and living it up like playboys? Have you never heard of Siriliya? Have you never heard of the deals between the Krish and the Rajapaksas? Didn’t you ever realise what an enormous amount of money has been wasted on useless white elephants, like the Lotus Tower, the Sooriyawewa Stadium, the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Conference Hall? Why is it that the murderers of Thajudeen and Lasantha Wickrematunga can never be discovered? The latest revelation, from circumstantial evidence, is that Adani Group probably has dealings with the Rajapaksas. The Pandora Papers expose has raised the Rajapaksas to the notorious status of International Crooks. This is only the tip of the iceberg; if you scratch the garbage heap you’ll find more.

I cannot understand how the 69 lakhs got so thoroughly fooled by the Rajapaksas. You believed scandalous tales about infertility Kottu, infertility garments and Muslim doctors making Sinhala mothers sterile, etc. Everybody knows but nobody says who the brains behind the Easter Sunday massacre are. I guessed who it was quite soon. In any crime, the prime suspect is the one who profited most from it. Ask any police detective. The monks, intellectuals, professionals, and artistes were taken for a ride. Therefore, I do not blame you, the 69 lakhs. But the world was surprised that the citizens of Sri Lanka have such low IQ and can be so easily fooled.

Never mind all that; now let us talk about how to remedy the damage done to yourselves, us and the country. Here are a few methods to keep the right attitude to the current reality.

No.1: Never tolerate or get used to the hardships we are going through. If you are in a queue, curse the government loud enough so that at least the men in front and behind can hear you. The problem is not organising the queue more efficiently; the problem is there should not be any queues. The scarcity of petrol and diesel is a deliberate ploy by the heartless government to suppress the protest by the people. The only solution is a new stable and respected government and sending Rajapaksas to jail. Curse the government when the power cut begins. When you go shopping, curse the government loudly for the high prices of things or their lack. Keep the public aware of the hardships they unjustly endure. Never allow them to get used to it. Rage, rage against Gota and the 225 thieves.

No. 2: Either organise yourself or get somebody to organise small neighbourhood groups everywhere in your village, town and work place. Get in touch with someone in the Aragalaya and tell them you are ready for a final showdown.

No. 3: Write a letter of appreciation and encouragement to each one of the people who are at the Gotagogama. Or send a Thank You card for the sacrifices they are making for us and for our children. Here is their address: (Name) The Library, Gotagogama, Galle Face, Colombo 2.

No. 4: If you believe in a Universal Force or God, as I do, pray insistently with grief and groans and ask him to save our country from the rapacious scoundrels and killers who are holding our people by the scruff of the neck and robbing them clean.

No. 5: The evil government is driving us to a famine and starvation. Let us not be selfish. Let us share what we have or what little we have with those who do not have anything. Let us be always kind and considerate to our fellow citizens whoever they maybe.

Forget race, religion, language or whatever divides us. All of us are brothers and sisters in this national calamity, all children of Mother Lanka. Let us save her and ourselves together.

Down with the Ali Baba and the 225 thieves!

Aragalayata Jayawewa!
Fraternally your co-citizen,
Fr Chryso Pieris SJ

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