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Easter Sunday probe: SJB demands answers to specific questions, disclosure of Fathima Hadiya’s testimony  

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Manusha Nanayakkara says the government has not responded yet to specific issues raised by him and his parliamentary colleague, Harin Fernando in parliament in respect of the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.

Reiterating that the SLPP government bore the responsibility for punishing those who perpetrated the crime regardless of political consequences, Galle district MP Nanayakkara said that the government owed an explanation.

Responding to a query, the former UNPer told The Island that the SJB raised several pertinent questions, both in and outside parliament and of them the foremost was the alleged link between the Easter Sunday suicide bombers and the intelligence services. 

A senior official who had served the intelligence services at the time of the 2019 attacks told The Island that interested parties were propagating lies for political benefit. “We never interfered with police investigations or tried to influence the Easter attackers,” the official said. He said so when The Island requested him to comment on SJB’s accusations.

MP Nanayakkara emphasized that the SJB sought an explanation as regards the involvement of some members of the intelligence services on the basis of statements made before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI). Therefore, there was no need for the SJB to lodge fresh complaints with the police as accusations, assertions and claims pertaining to the alleged intelligence services link were entirely based on what transpired before the PCoI. Of course some of those statements were made in camera as well as before the media by intelligence and police personnel, both in service and retired.

Lawmaker Nanayakkara said that the SJB demanded in parliament government response to the following questions (1) Did two officers from the Intelligence services and the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) visit the home of Jamil, the person assigned to mount suicide attack at Taj Samudra, hours before he detonated himself at Tropical Inn, Dehiwela? (ii) Did Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) remove a person arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) following investigations facilitated by technical means (iii) Did relevant authorities conduct an investigation into the alleged links between the DMI officer who removed the suspect claiming the operation was conducted by them? and finally (iv) would the government reveal the identity of the DMI officer identified as ‘Sonic’ on whose intervention with a person known as Matale Zahran soon after the Easter Sunday attacks the ISIS claimed responsibility for the April 2019 incidents.

MP Nanayakkara also raised issue over the failure on the part of the government to conduct a proper inquiry into the disappearance of Sarah, the wife of the Katuwapitiya bomber Hastun in spite of the law enforcement officer who allegedly helped her to secure refuge in India being in police custody. 

Emphasizing that the Easter Sunday massacre couldn’t be swept under the carpet under any circumstances, MP Nanayakkara said that the public realized those responsible for negligence should be dealt with. Similarly, those who perpetrated the heinous crime should be exposed without further delay, the MP said adding that they wouldn’t allow the government rhetoric to deceive the public.

Nanayakkara said that in addition to those questions there were other unexplained issues as well. The Galle district lawmaker said that the security establishment owed an explanation why specific intelligence on the impending attack made available by India on April 4, 2019 was ignored whatever the shortcomings on the part of the political apparatus. The MP said that an explanation was also required from the Attorney General’s Department sitting on Zahran’s file since 2017 and the turmoil created by Namal Kumara whose unsubstantiated accusations in respect of an alleged bid to assassinate the then President Maithripala Sirisena and at that time former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The SJB lawmaker questioned the rationale in questioning Zahran’s wife, Abdul Cader Fathima Hadiya,  in camera. The government’s sincerity could be proved by making evidence before the PCoI public, the MP said, underscoring the importance of inquiring into the possibility of rogue group operating outside the government control backing Zahran’s gang. The MP also made reference to the members of Zahran’s group taking refuge in safe houses at Panadura and Ja-ela three days before the Easter Sunday attacks.

Claiming that they had discussed the delay in mounting the attack, MP Nanayakkara said that reference had been made to a person identified as ‘Boss’ who expressed concern over that.

The SJB spokesperson asked whether a person who headed a particular intelligence service regularly attended meetings chaired by the Attorney General to discuss matters pertaining to the Easter Sunday attacks. The MP declined to name the person when The Island sought an explanation.

Referring to Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando’s challenge to the SJB to repeat its accusations outside the parliament, lawmaker Nanayakkara pointed out his party was concerned about leaving out a section of evidence received by the PCoI  out of the Easter Sunday report.

When The Island pointed out that Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, had been provided with altogether 87 volumes, MP Nanayakkara said that they didn’t receive the entire report.

In spite of the government resorting to various pressure tactics meant to silence the SJB, the party was determined to pursue the case, MP Nanayakkara said.

How could Public Security Minister (ret.) Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera claim that they didn’t have information on Katuwapitiya Church suicide bomber Hastun’s wife Sarah, while the policeman who allegedly helped her to flee the country remained in the custody of the TID, MP Nanayakkara asked. The lawmaker also stressed the need to clarify matters pertaining to an alleged conflict between the DMI and the police intelligence (State Intelligence Service) at the time Zahran mounted the attacks.

The CID recently recorded statements from SJB lawmakers Eran Wickremaratne, Nalin Bandara and Ashoka Abeysinghe as regards accusations they made in respect of Easter Sunday attacks. SIS Chief Maj. Gen. Suresh Salley has complained to the CID regarding misleading statements made by lawmakers.



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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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