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May 09 violence: Explanation sought from State Defence Minister over security lapses

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Pramitha & Weerasekera

National security oversight committee head slams HRC, questions US Ambassador’s conduct

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, MP, has alleged that flaws in the government’s defence strategy particularly security lapses contributed to the unprecedented crisis that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of office on 13 July 2022.

In a letter to State Defence Minister Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon, former Public Security Minister has called for a thorough inquiry with the focus on incidents at Rambukkana on 19 April 2022. Prasanna Ranatunga served as the Public Security Minister at the time of Rambukkana protests.

The then government’s response to Rambukkana violence and particularly the decision to take punitive measures against the police for opening fire at a mob that tried to set two fuel bowsers ablaze on a railway track may have had a detrimental impact on law enforcement officers and the military, MP Weerasekera has said.

The former Navy Chief of Staff has underscored the need to investigate whether irresponsible handling of the Rambukkana violence discouraged police and the military men from taking tangible measures to counter unruly mobs. Rambukkana erupted the day after Prasanna Ranatunga took over as the Public Security Minister following Weerasekera’s resignation from that post on April 03.

According to MP Weerasekera, the killing of SLPP MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale by a gang led by serving Army commando and an Army deserter on May 09, last year in Nittambuwa should be examined taking into consideration the total mishandling of Rambukkana incidents. In the run-up to May 09 violence, Weerasekera resigned as Public Security Minister. The MP alleged that a group of fully armed troops including two officers who had been witness to the violence taking place had refused point blank to intervene in support of the police regardless of the Nittambuwa OIC personally requesting their support.

MP Weerasekera told The Island that he expected the State Minister to take up the issues raised by him at the highest level. “I have copied the letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Defence, service chiefs and the IGP,” the former minister said, underscoring the responsibility on the part of the government to bring investigations to a successful conclusion. The Colombo District MP noted that Public Security Minister Tiran Alles is on record as having said that the police were conducting a fresh inquiry into May 09 incidents.

Responding to another query, MP Weerasekera said that Minister Alles made that declaration after a group of lawmakers withdrew a court case filed against the failure on the part of the government to protect their property. The issues at hand were taken up with the State Defence Minister after the Sectoral Oversight Committee under his chairmanship discussed the entire gamut of issues with the participation of Secretary Defence and service commanders in parliament.

MP Weerasekera dealt with the Rambukkana incident with the focus on courageous effort made by police to bring the situation under control in the absence of active support from the Army as well as the Special Task Force (STF), highly irresponsible statement made by US Ambassador Julie Chung that encouraged mobs and the irresponsible stand taken by the Human Rights Commission.

According to MP Weerasekera, a mob that caused damage to public property at Rambukkana had taken control of two fuel bowsers and parked them across a railway track around noon that day. The mob had tried to set the two fuel bowsers ablaze after the then senior officer at the scene SSP K.B. Keerthiratne declared that petrol couldn’t be sold at a cheaper rate than the market price following the latest price revision, MP Weerasekera said.

SSP Keerthiratne ordered the police to fire in the air and shoot the person about to set fire to one of the fuel bowsers below the knee around 4.30 pm after all their efforts to control the crowd failed, MP Weerasekera said alleging that the Army and Special Task Force in spite of being present at the scene declined to assist the police.

Twenty police officers, including Keerthiratne, received injuries during clashes with protesters. Referring to the Judicial Medical Officer’s report on the death of the person due to gunshot injuries received at Rambukkana on April 19, MP Weerasekera said that the JMO stated that the bullet that entered the body of the victim ricocheted from a steel advertising board. The military veteran said that if not for the timely action taken by Keerthiratne, Rambukkana would have experienced a catastrophe and he could have been held responsible for the loss of life and major damage to private and public property in case of a major fire.

Regardless of them saving Rambukkana, the SSP and three constables were arrested and produced in court, the MP said, questioning why those in uniform who risked their lives had to meet legal expenses on their own.

MP Weerasekera has asked the State Minister whether the police and the military did nothing on May 09 when mobs killed eight persons, including one MP and set 150 houses ablaze due to mishandling of Rambukkana or special directive given prohibiting intervention at any level by a particular interfering diplomat in the internal affairs of this country that allowed mob rule.

MP Weerasekera also questioned the failure on the part of the Attorney General’s Department to represent SSP Keerthiratne in court. The former minister has explained the legal provisions under which SSP Keerthiratne could have taken appropriate measures to quell Rambukkana riots.

Weerasekera has strongly recommended that police should reimburse the SSP and the constables who had been forced to spend their own funds for their defence.

The ex-minister in his capacity as Chairman of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security flayed the Human Rights Commission over its one-sided report on the incident. Weerasekera said that the HRC approach undermined national security by discouraging law enforcement authorities and the Defence Ministry should challenge HRC’s flawed report.



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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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ADB country chief hopes Lanka could sustain policy reforms despite elections

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Takafumi Kadono

ECONOMYNEXT –The Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects Sri Lanka not to reverse its International Monetary Fund-led policy reforms despite elections soon, the ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono said.

The island nation has witnessed repeated reversals of policy reforms in the past due to greedy politicians who misled  the people to vote for them by sowing the seeds of subsidy mentality with unsustainable debts at expensive borrowing costs, economists say.

That led the country into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with a sovereign debt default. Sri Lanka is still struggling to come out of the crisis.

The IMF has strictly placed some reforms including in state sector enterprises, fiscal and monetary sectors.

Sri Lanka has implemented the painful IMF reforms so far including higher personal income taxes, but economists have raised concerns over the sustainability of the current reforms due to possible changes in the policies in the event of a new president or government comes to power after democratic elections.

“If that kind of reversal happens, we also cannot justify our support,” ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono told EconomyNext on late on Wednesday.

“We do expect these policy reforms to be sustained. So that is our expectation. That is the premise which we are providing our budget support. If they reverse, the whole premise will be collapsed. That kind of policy reversal cannot happen.”

The island nation had sought IMF bailout package for 17 times including the ongoing support. However, the authorities have failed to complete most of the past IMF loan disbursements due to politically motivated contradiction with the global lender’s tight fiscal policies.

Sri Lanka has shown some signs of recovery in the third quarter of 2023 with the economic growth turned to positive from contraction for the first time in seven quarters.

However, opposition political parties have promised to revisit the IMF deal if they come to power.

Higher taxes, soaring cost of living, and lack of salary hike have made President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government unpopulour among the public, analysts say.

Wickremesinghe has said the country will hold both presidential and parliamentary election by 2025.

Some government politicians have told EconomyNext that the higher taxes would be eased from April and the authorities will try their best to meet the IMF conditions for the third disbursement in June this year.

The presidential polls should be held by October this year, but opposition parties have said President Wickremesinghe is in the process to delay the poll.

However, Wickremesinghe’s office last week said Presidential Election will be held “within the mandated period”, without giving an exact time.It also said the General Election will be held next year, “according to the current timeline”.

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